The fifth emergency service

19 June 2017 UPDATE: I’ve just taken down the picture of my staff pass that sat at the top of this post – I’ve been advised that these days it’s thought to be uncool to share pictures of your pass online.

I’m quite new at the BBC so I’m still pretty wide-eyed about the whole experience. Actually being allowed into Broadcasting House and TV Centre still makes my heart race. I just wave my staff pass and I’m in. OMG.

People tell me I should take that staff pass off when I leave the building. I think that’s actually policy, in fact. Health and Safety, privacy and so on. But I don’t. I leave it hanging there and wander round like a big BBC dweeb. Partly because I’m proud of it (showing off a bit really) and partly because it gets me into the most interesting conversations.

And in the time I’ve been wearing the thing, of the literally dozens of encounters it’s triggered, only one has been even slightly negative: the old guy who leaned in close on the Central Line and said, quite loudly, “British Bullshit Corporation innit?” But even that one wasn’t really negative, since it developed into an excellent ten-minute chat about spin in politics.

And there’s more. Not only do people react in a positive and friendly way to my BBC pass, they go further and routinely provide evidence that they trust me more because of it. Evidently, working for the BBC puts me in that category of near-public servants, the AA men and commissionaires and bus inspectors and Salvation Army buglers who are routinely asked to help in public places. The other day, a woman practically jogged across Tavistock Square to ask me how to get to Euston Station: “I saw your badge, I knew you’d help.”

On the train to Birmingham I was asked to watch two small children while a bacon roll was fetched, an American asked me how to get a tour of Parliament, two women asked if it was OK to reverse on a one-way street. I’m the fifth emergency service – the one you ask to hold your brolly or steer your car while you push it (I’m not making this up). I was asked “Is this a good book?” in Foyles at St Pancras. There’s a kid on the till in a Central London supermarket who grills me about current affairs every time I go in.

And the message, of course, of all this happy, trusting behaviour (I can recommend it, it’s a proper cheer-up) is simple. Almost every day, my BBC staff pass provides me with evidence that the Corporation is not the Great Satan that some (even people who’ve got their own BBC passes) would want you to believe. And this, of course, encourages me hugely. The political classes and the haterz in the pop media may have scented the opportunity to topple the whole eighty year-old, self-contradicting edifice but the general public thinks it’s all right and would even trust it to help them top up their mobile (there’s another one).

Am I deluding myself? I don’t think so. I’m sure that some of the nice folk I meet harbour misgivings about executive pay or dumbing down or crowding out and it’s not inconceivable that some of my fellow commuters would like to work me over with a rubber hose or push me under a train because of where I work. It’s just that the data doesn’t support it. I’ve got data and you can’t argue with data.

Do people wearing the staff passes of British Gas or The Telegraph or Schweppes get this treatment? More to the point, do people stop Jeremy Hunt in the street and ask him where the oil goes in a Honda Civic?

Union trouble

Royal Mail strike billboard by

What’s with the unions? Can’t they see that working people in a globalised economy need smart, strategic representation, not belligerence?

Strikes are uncool. Strikers are uncool. They’re aggressive, negative, out-of-date. Strikers are defensive, anti-change, stuck in the 1970s. Everyone knows that. Strikes only happen in the backward industries: the dirty, blue collar industries. They’re counter-productive, anti-social, self-destructive. Even the left don’t like strikes any more: they’re an inconvenient reminder of where we come from: they’re the dirty-fingernailed id to our lighter-than-air post-industrial ego.

Wired metropolitan information workers like you and me just can’t identify with the strikers and their combative, one-dimensional, 20th Century model of work and life. Even progressives secretly suspect that strikers are just a bit slow. Why don’t they just get with the programme? Re-skill, learn to promote themselves, stop whinging and escape from the miserable zero-sum game of wage discipline, downsizing and workplace reform? Come on guys. Get a blog!

Of course, the unions don’t help. They’ve shown no readiness to update the class warrior image: they’ve made nothing of their extraordinary resources: twelve million members, vast assets and a guaranteed income to die for. The unions could, by now, have morphed into a powerful modernising institution, defending not doomed jobs in doomed industries but the future welfare of their members and their families. Why aren’t unions helping to prepare working people for change?

Why aren’t they building capacity, training and enabling? If the unions had ‘brand values’ they’d be all about defence, resistance, retreat. But the unions are really the natural owners of aspiration, improvement, progress. Generations of short-sighted leaders have allowed the unions to be pushed into this negative, bottom-rung position where it’s hard for them even to deliver their basic functions: defending the exploited and representing the voiceless.

Unions, in the space of one generation, have gone from glorious emblem of solidarity, organisation and resistance to shoddy irrelevance. The communications union, authors of the current mess at the Royal Mail, could have been leading change in their industry: they could have been in the driving seat, taking proposals to management, pushing reform of the business as a means to improve the odds for their members.

But what they’re doing is what they’ve always done: it’s a kind of industrial era Tourette’s. They know that a strike can only damage their interests but they just can’t help it. They’ve allowed themselves to be so thoroughly painted into a corner by decades of intransigence and avoidance of change that this kind of beat-yourself-up behaviour really is their only option. It’s heartbreaking and disappointing and it serves working people very poorly indeed.

(Picture by yousoundhollow)

Categorized as Uncategorized Tagged

Shaving for a living


A couple of months ago I blogged a company called King of Shaves, one whose product I had always admired and whose brand I thought was interesting – unconventional, quite funny, a bit knowing. I sort of thought it was American: a bit too much chutzpah for a UK company, I thought.

Anyway, it turns out I was wrong – they’re from Chesham in Bucks – and now, dear reader, I work there! I’ve taken a job as interim head of digital, working with the company’s founder Will King (the King himself), his MD Andy Hill and the rest of his small but perfectly formed team to – among other things – bring the firm’s already quite successful web presence up to date and to come up with interesting new digital stuff.

I’m going to be thinking about ecommerce sales, site traffic and opt-in data. If you have expertise or an interesting product in any of those areas I would, of course, be happy to hear from you.

Categorized as Uncategorized Tagged

Commuting again

As some of you know, I’ve been at home for a while now, developing a detailed understanding of my children’s appalling table manners (and helping my wife start a business, of which you will soon, I’m sure, be made aware). I’m not doing that any more, though. I’m working – in a glittering tower in the quite amazing Mediaeval walled city they call Canary Wharf.

I wear a swipe card on a ribbon, eat stone-baked pizza in a gorgeous cafeteria and shop in a supermarket that has its own sushi bar. It’s disorienting and quite exotic and I’m enjoying it a lot. I’m working with some clever young people (who humour me when I tell them stories about the old days) and after work we go to a bar where a girl dispenses Tequila from a sort of gun-belt.

Back in the office, we’re covering the walls in colourful plans and flow charts and filling the empty desks with more clever people as fast as we can. What we’re up to, though, is a secret…

Categorized as Uncategorized Tagged

More about work

Bill Morris’ series about work, Workaday World, is really good. Very nicely put together, sort of contemplative, focused on the voices of working people (and I’m pretty sure that’s Brian Eno on the soundtrack). It ought to be a set text for business and sociology students. Part two (MP3). This is a programme that really, really ought to be properly archived…

Categorized as Uncategorized Tagged