The heavy-breathers find a voice


About halfway through Inside Story's gripping film about nuisance calls (BBC1), a cynical thought occurred to me. It was shortly after a shamefaced obscene caller, tracked down by one of British Telecom's investigation teams, had confessed that his vice began with sex chat-lines. Doesn't British Telecom rent out sex-lines, I thought? And doesn't it make quite a lot of money out of them, considerably more, perhaps, than the pounds 15m it spends on catching heavy-breathers? I rang its press office to check and was put right by Olga Hubicka. After all, BT is obliged to offer telephone services and it seems to have been doing its best to curb the handset pornographers - you can now only access British sex-lines if you register for a PIN code (there are currently 14,000 registered users) and the industry has shrunk considerably from its masturbatory heyday. But something about Ms Hubicka's reassuring tones were familiar, strongly reminiscent of the more corporate moments in the film I had just seen. This was hardly surprising because the narrator of "Telephone Terror" turned out to be Olga Hubicka, press and broadcasting officer for British Telecom. I blinked a little at this discovery, but on reflection the scandal is a fairly minor one. It seems to me to be a bad idea to compromise your editorial independence so lightly but Hubicka has an excellent broadcasting voice (you hear it also on BT's recorded advice line about nuisance calls).

You couldn't, either, argue that this was exactly the film BT would have wanted to make - on the contrary, it provided a perfect example of the difference between "good television" and a good information film. Of the cases in "Telephone Terror" almost all were obscene calls - the one exception being a nasty piece of work tormenting her boyfriend's ex-wife. In other words the documentary left you with the impression that the overwhelming majority of such calls are sexual in nature and male in origin. The truth is rather different - only about 15 per cent of malicious calls are obscene, about a third of them are made by women and the great majority are silent. But silent calls, for understandable reasons, do not make very arresting television.

Certainly not as arresting as a young woman picking up the phone and hearing a man whispering: "I get money by licking men's feet... licking men's feet in front of their girlfriends." "Have you got a juicy fanny?" asked another furtive voice, ringing a Kentucky Fried Chicken outlet. "Oh...hi," said the woman who'd picked up the phone, as routinely as if she had just been asked about that week's menu specials. You saw these things because Inside Story had attached video cameras to the phones in question, so they could stare at the victim as the calls came in. This undeniably voyeuristic device delivered the film's greatest coup - the story of Kym Ogilvie, a woman who had been receiving increasingly menacing obscene calls.

She had been assured that it is very rare for nuisance callers to act out their threats but she fell on the wrong side of the statistical divide. She was first attacked in her garden and then abducted while on a routine shopping expedition. Her persecutor bound, gagged and sexually assaulted her. On screen you saw her frantic partner, talking to the police and, at last, receiving a call from the bemused farmer to whom she had staggered for help. It was television which froze you in your seat - a raw depiction of the terror such crimes cause. It was also, in the grim way of these things, an astonishing stroke of luck for the film-makers. On the soundtrack Hubicka's comforting tones insisted on the extreme rarity of such cases but that was just words - the distant burble of facts. The unforgettable pictures, and the structure of the programme, told quite another story - that this is how such calls conclude.

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
War veteran and father of Peter and Laust Thoger Jensen played by Lars Mikkelson

TVBBC hopes latest Danish import will spell success

Arts and Entertainment
Carey Mulligan in Far From The Madding Crowd
FilmCarey Mulligan’s Bathsheba would fit in better in The Hunger Games
Arts and Entertainment
Pandas-on-heat: Mary Ramsden's contribution is intended to evoke the compound the beasts smear around their habitat
Iart'm Here But You've Gone exhibition has invited artists to produce perfumes
Arts and Entertainment
U2's Songs of Innocence album sleeve

tvU2’s latest record has been accused of promoting sex between men

Arts and Entertainment
Alison Steadman in Inside No.9
tvReview: Alison Steadman stars in Inside No.9's brilliant series finale Spoiler alert
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

    Everyone is talking about The Trews

    Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living
    Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

    Homeless people keep mobile phones

    A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
    'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

    'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

    British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
    Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

    Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

    Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
    14 best kids' hoodies

    14 best kids' hoodies

    Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

    The acceptable face of the Emirates

    Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk