If you want to get ahead in life, try biting your staff

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The Independent Online

How the Mark "Jaws" Thompson biting affair makes me nostalgic for office life! I haven't yet been gnawed by a growling colleague, as Anthony Massey allegedly was by the BBC's Director-General, but I have been given a Chinese burn by someone who continues to enjoy a buoyant career in British media.

How the Mark "Jaws" Thompson biting affair makes me nostalgic for office life! I haven't yet been gnawed by a growling colleague, as Anthony Massey allegedly was by the BBC's Director-General, but I have been given a Chinese burn by someone who continues to enjoy a buoyant career in British media.

As far as I can see there are only two good reasons for leaving the safety of your domicile for the toxic wastelands of the average workplace: one is the chance of a snog over the photocopier; the other's the ill-concealed delight of observing the office psycho roughing up a defenceless colleague. After almost 15 years of office incarceration, the only incidents from my working life that are endlessly retold down the pub with the kind of hushed awe once afforded to the heroic deeds of Beowulf involve sex or violence.

While office romances are usually only of lasting interest to the participants, lunatic work colleagues exert a widespread hypnotic fascination long after they hurtle past your desk on all fours, howling at the moon.

When I worked at Private Eye in the early Nineties, fellow staff talked in gleefully scandalised tones of a former sub-editor who - according to legend - had gone berserk, called Ian Hislop something very nasty and thrown all of that week's copy into the Thames. At another office, I witnessed the company's MD drop-kick the fax machine down the corridor and into the work experience girl's shin after his blood sugar levels fell dangerously low when Prêt ran out of his favourite sandwich. The white-faced youngster said: "I've never seen an adult male behave like that before." And it is men who are the office kickers, thumpers, howlers and biters.

Deranged female workers find subtler ways of expressing disfranchisement, such as putting tea tree oil in their boss's yoghurt, casting hexes, or telling your colleagues you have pubic lice. One office I worked in employed an accountant, a manic depressive, dependent on Prozac. In three years of apparently auditing the company's books he never once produced management accounts and, if questioned as to the likelihood, could fling chairs across the room in floods of tears. The scenes always ended with the company's owners apologising for their crass insensitivity. Then there was the temp who was removed from the premises after pinning the office manager to a filing cabinet, his hand around her throat. Days later a letter arrived saying he was to sue for unfair dismissal as the chairman "intimidated" him "with big words", and I had "humiliated" him by phoning him and saying: "Is that Mark on the line?... Well, you'd better get off, because there's a train coming." (I know, no excuse.)

Soon after, I found a failsafe way to filter out psychopaths. Some colleagues and I were interviewing a man for the position of finance director. When it got to the "Any last questions?" stage, I said, blithely: "So, are you a mad axe murderer?" Somewhere behind his eyes, for a microsecond, there was a wild but utterly unmistakable glint, like a stoat's in the undergrowth baring its blood-spattered fangs.

When we turned him down for the job he phoned my boss, spluttering with rage and obscenities. Didn't we bastarding bastards realise that he'd had to change train three times to come to see us and he'd bought a brand new tie for the interview, so we'd better effing well refund him? Even as I write, he is probably squatting in a multinational's stationery cupboard, lapping at the entrails of the tea-boy.

He came to mind when I watched an episode of The Apprentice, the programme where would-be tycoons and assorted sociopaths perform straightforward business tasks with incredible ineptitude for Sir Alan Sugar. All the wannabes looked like the only thing standing between them and a mouthful of a rival's flesh was a vigilant camera crew.

The cult of celebrity entrepreneurs has helped foster such aggression. In the rock'n'roll professions de nos jours, football and cuisine, people talk with reverence of the manager who lobbed a boot at his star player and the chef who branded a junior with a red-hot knife. Such behaviour is held up as exemplifying a go-getting fiery temperament, when it's really old-fashioned bullying.

The politics of fear and loathing are in fashion, and the lesson filtering from Prime Minister downwards is to destroy your enemy before he even thinks of destroying you.

In such a climate, it's no surprise that the last Director-General of the BBC got fired after showing loyalty to his news staff, and the new one was promoted after biting them.

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