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Not in Front of the Telly: 75 Years of the BBC's Complaints Department [Paperback]

Ed Harris , David Lock
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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Book Description

1 May 2002
Ed Harris reveals some of the reasons why millions of viewers and listeners contact the BBC to carp, complain and condemn. In this peek behind the scenes of the quirkiest corner of the corporation, Harris charts the transition of the complaints department from a cosy cottage industry through to outsourced high-tech Information Centre. As well as tweaking the collective memory of a nation glued to the box, the book should appeal to psychiatrists, psychoanalysts and other students of the human condition. After ten years managing the BBC's complaints department, Harris includes dozens of real-life examples ranging from the utterly hilarious to the downright dotty.

Product details

  • Paperback: 200 pages
  • Publisher: Polperro Heritage Press (1 May 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0953001253
  • ISBN-13: 978-0953001255
  • Product Dimensions: 20.4 x 14.8 x 1.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 2,488,598 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


"Hilarious. A very funny book." BBC Radio Devon

From the Author

"There's a book here", suggested one journalist after spending a day in the BBC Duty Office where, it seemed, half the population had telephoned to carp, criticize and complain about everything from sport fouling Star Trek to the demise of Dr Who. For love it or hate it, the British Broadcasting Corporation holds a particular fascination. Every day, millions of us watch it, listen to it, telephone it, write to it, email it, surf it, talk about it in the pub, on the bus, or to themselves. But while column metres regularly fill tabloid and broadsheet alike with Auntie's antics, little is known about that quirkiest corner of the corporation, cruelly or kindly known as The BBC's Complaints Department.

The spur to tell its story came in 1999 when what began as a cosy cottage industry in the 1920s was outsourced as a high tech information centre based in Belfast. It was 75 years almost to the day since John (later Lord) Reith personally took on the Green Ink Brigade and opened the floodgates to legions of ‘nutters, numbskulls and geriatric fascists'. So great was Reith's fear that too much of this might ‘induce considerable disgust with one's fellow creatures' that he created the august Programme Correspondence Section and later Rowena Pratt's Telephone Bureau, and later still the imperious Duty Officer at Broadcasting House. Now, deep into the New Millennium, the Cranks have become Customers.

When I arrived on the scene in the 1980s, the BBC's very survival was under threat from the Iron Lady herself. Whenever the average 1000 telephone calls a day came in all at once and it got too much for the two people on duty, the tabloids would have a field day, headlining ‘BBC Switchboard jammed'. It was my job to deflect the vitriol and ‘cut the crap' (to quote Reith's current successor) and try to appease and pacify even the patently unhinged. Drawn from 20 years of cajoling the public, the press and opinion formers, Not In Front Of The Telly is a unique peak behind the scenes of this very British pastime. If you think the BBC is rubbish, biased or bigoted, or are sick of too much sport on TV, or are wondering where all the sex and violence is, then Not In Front Of Telly puts you in good company.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Shepherd's Bushel 12 July 2002
This humorous study of the BBC's complaints department offers many tasty morsels of insider knowledge, as well as a well-written overview of the structure, organisation and general bureaucratic chaos of one of Britain's best-loved and least understood institutions. Falling somewhere between the Civil Service and the Inland Revenue, "Auntie Beeb" has dominated the thoughts, actions and viewing habits of several generations. Coming from the unique perspective of former employee, Ed Harris travels its sinister but homely corridors with good-natured aplomb. Part historian, part raconteur, the author fills our heads with jargon, double-speak
and wry turns-of-phrase, alerting us all the while to not take it too seriously. People watch television and then they call to complain--it's so quaintly English. Gathering material that would fill a dozen books, Mr Harris sallies forth, bludgeoning us with the daily accumulation of horrors, both public and internal. The book is very coy when naming names, or more specifically not, but a generous bibliography points us in the direction of copious research. If there's one thing I personally missed within, it's the lack of autobiographical immediacy. The "I was there" factor is mostly withheld, the author preferring to distance himself from the related events. Clearly Mr Harris knows whereof he speaks and his tongue in cheek approach constantly undermines any statistical long-windedness. All in all the reader takes away an appreciation for the sheer stolid dependableness of the Beeb's operatives--dedicated, anonymous souls barricaded against "the coalface of accountability." One hopes Mr Harris has other books up his sleeves, now that he's got this lot off his chest. A perfect book for a July 11th birthday.
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