The Call Centre, BBC3, TV review

A show about exactly the kind of misery most of us turn on the TV to escape

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The Independent Culture

If a breakfast TV studio in the Eighties strikes you as a stressful working environment, try spending an hour in “the third-largest call centre in Swansea”.

BBC3 docu-soap The Call Centre was a surprise hit last year, so now it’s back for a second series, along with CEO Nev Wilshire, a man for whom The Office is not a cleverly satirical sitcom, but a straight-up management manual.

It’s one thing to “motivate” your salaried staff with mid-call nipple tweaks, but giving offensive nicknames to the complete strangers at a job interview seemed a bit extreme.

Luckily, Stuart, who had ginger hair, glasses and a stammer, also had a generous enough temperament to take Nev’s merciless joshing on the chin. For his part, Nev saw Stuart’s speech impediment as no impediment to employment: “People want to help. If you can get to that stage where they’re rooting for him on the other end of the phone... they’ll buy off him.”

Any new recruits hoping to progress in their careers in telesales will have to come to terms with the company’s unapologetic nepotism. Nev’s son Phil is the company’s commercial director at just 22, despite the fact that none of his colleagues seem able to explain what he actually does for a living.

What he did in this episode was stack polystyrene coffee cups into a ceiling-height tower and organise a table-tennis tournament, ostensibly to boost staff morale, but actually to work out his oedipal rage in a Nev vs Phil final. For every keen-o employee cheering the boss on, you can bet there were five more hiding in the toilets, quietly weeping.

The Call Centre is fascinating, but it’s also a show about exactly the kind of misery most of us turn on the TV to escape.