It's good to talk, but I'd rather BT stopped being so personal, says th e co-writer of `Father Ted'

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Indy Lifestyle Online
A few months back I got a letter from a certain Michael Biden, Director of Sales and Marketing at British Telecom. The informal tone of the letter took me by surprise because I've never actually met Mr Biden and when it comes to correspondence of this kind I am a traditionalist. I must be addressed as "Sir" at all times. At no point must the subject of my personal life be broached. In fact all I need from BT is a bill and even that seems excessive and over-familiar.

"Dear Mr Linehan" it began and I suppose I should be grateful he didn't put "Dear Graham" or "Linno, how's it goin'?"

It went on: "Do you sometimes think, as I do, that there are peculiar laws governing certain aspects of our lives? Like the law which says that five minutes after you've stepped into a deep, hot bubbly bath the phone rings. And guess what, it's not your long lost mate from New Zealand but a double-gazing salesman. (This same law also says that when you're in the middle of a chat with a close friend you suddenly realise `Is that the time? Oh and it's pouring down. Lisa might be trying to phone me for a lift from the station. I'd better get off the phone.')"

I mean what the hell's all that about? The letter went on to suggest I make use of all sorts of dreary BT services that would no doubt prevent such occurrences and included the astonishing line, "When you'd love to hear from one sister but not the other the phone shows you who's calling before you pick up the handset". Now wait just one second! I thought it was good to talk! Why are BT nurturing family discord in this way? Rather than simply chucking it in the bin a fire took hold of me and I decided to reply.

Dear Mr Biden

Who are you? Do I know you? The tone of your letter (photocopy enclosed) was incredibly over-familiar. Have we met? What's that stuff in the second paragraph about "stepping into a deep, hot, bubbly bath"? What the hell kind of way is that to talk to a customer? I don't pay your exorbitant rates so fat cats like you can conjure up mental pictures of me enjoying a bath for your own degraded amusement. If you write to me do so in the proper formal manner. Even if we have met at some point I don't think we know each other well enough to engage in domestic discourse. And what's this about giving Lisa a lift from the station? Who the hell is Lisa? Would it be Lisa Shoreingham? I suppose I met you at one of her awful parties. Did she give you my address? Rest assured, because of this my friendship with her (and thus by association you) is over. Actually, now I think of it, I do remember you. If memory serves you were that awful little man with the beard. If you think that one "hello" over the punchbowl constitutes the beginning of a friendship you're way off the mark. And you leave my sisters out of this! How did you know about all that? It's true I had a little spat with Elicia but we patched it it up after a few weeks. How dare you bring her into this! I just phoned her - feeling very grubby indeed as I imagined a few more coins falling into our boated coffers - and she was inconsolable. Now we're not talking again.

While I did not appreciate your unsolicited first letter I certainly require another one to explain your behaviour. Don't phone. Use the proper formal procedure and write a letter.

Yours in disgust


PS. Thanks for bringing up the very painful subject of my friend, now living in Auckland, who I haven't heard from in three years. That's exactly what I needed at this difficult point in my life.

I decided to put my Christian name in there at the end to confuse him. It seems to have worked as I've received no reply as yet. But more importantly neither have I received another one of those form letters. The experience has given me a whole new lease of life. Opening my mail is once more an exciting prospect because if one of these sonsabitches sends me another "ha-ha-isn't-life-funny-buy-more-expensive-crap-from-us" type letters I might get another column from it. I'll keep you posted.