Basil's legacy gives aid to managers

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The Independent Online
Watching Basil Fawlty writhing out pent-up frustration after fouling up yet another situation with his appalling management style can be tremendously cathartic. Perhaps that ability to typify the tribulations of the man in charge is why Fawlty's creator John Cleese has seen Video Arts, the management training company he co-founded 25 years ago, go from strength to strength.

Maggie Tree, who started out with Video Arts as a temporary production assistant in 1972, has watched the business grow and now oversees the day-to-day movements of around 80 full-time UK staff, along with partner Tina Tietjen.

The company, which uses the principle of "learning with laughter", produces videos in 28 different languages, many of which star Cleese, along with others including Emma Thompson, Richard Wilson, Dawn French, Rik Mayall, Rowan Atkinson and Hugh Laurie.

Only the Japanese have failed to see the joke, says Maggie. "The videos aren't very reverential, and we are no respecter of age, so frequently the boss comes over as a bit of a wally. Typically, he's quite young and may have subordinates who look as though they are smarter than him, and younger than him. The culture is very different."

The Unorganised Manager, a series of three videos which stars Cleese as St Peter, who instructs a manager on his earthly mistakes, was produced in 1983. There are some telling changes in the 1997 version, recently released and aimed at middle managers.

"When the original was made, the notion of the manager having a secretary devoted to him or her was widespread. Now, very few managers have dedicated secretaries; it's more likely they have a team assistant. There are lots of fun changes, and St Peter gets a golden laptop," says Tina.

Maggie adds: "I think the programme's a lot faster, which is always a challenge. It is an international product and you have to have it at a certain pace."

The company has aimed to harness advances in technology, using interactive programmes to teach skills such as selling, how to administer appraisals, report writing and phone technique. "A lot of organisations believe it's the employee's responsibility to get the training they require. Often our videos are just used as a trigger," says Maggie.

A video showing how to work at a call centre is to come, and the company is to expand in eastern Europe, Russia and the Far East. Government departments are one of Video Arts' biggest clients. The company tries to reflect demand in the changing marketplace, without following fads.

Video Arts is offering a 25th anniversary discount of pounds 700 on 'The Unorganised Manager' series: the price for all three is pounds 1,972. For more details, telephone 0171 637 7288.

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