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?