Review: You have to be mad to work here, it's essential

Tom Sutcliffe
Sunday 23 October 2011 04:06

TOM PETERS wants to rewrite that old office gag, 'You don't have to be crazy to work here but it helps'. In a world where a computer that's been on the market for four months is an 'old' product, he suggests that you stand more chance of success if the poster reads, 'You do have to be crazy to work here - it's essential'. Unfortunately he suggests this to a large gathering of suits whose idea of going crazy would be to use a Snoopy biro to fill in their triplicate inventory control reports. As he strides backwards and forwards preaching the virtues of the paperless office and perpetual revolution, his audience sat there scribbling like freshmen at their first lecture - 'we are hpllsly dull in undull wrld'.

They had relaxed a bit by the end of his pitch, a barn-storming, holy-rolling performance which offers the audience a little glimpse of heaven - a world where work is fun and non-conformity is highly profitable. There's a dab of millenarian panic ('We are re-inventing the planet for heaven's sake]'), a lot of parables (The Little Company That Did) and some simple expressions of faith ('I really believe that any job can be made pretty fabulous'). The package undoubtedly works for Tom Peters, who can persuade 600 middle managers to stump up pounds 500 each for a day of this stuff, and, in Crazy Ways for Crazy Days (BBC 2) it worked pretty well for television viewers too.

Peters is canny enough to slip in a little self-deprecation with the general assault on business bureacracy: 'I do a fair amount of corporate culture consulting,' he said at one point, 'it's one of the more legalised ways of stealing in the Eighties and Nineties.' But his test-cases, companies that had disrupted the pyramid hierarchy of most businesses, were certainly appealing. In the canteen of a Scandinavian hearing-aid company called Oticon, a large glass tube runs from ceiling to floor. Through it, visible to the company employees, flutter the shredded remnants of documents which have been discarded. Oticon has gone paper-free.

The glass tube was shown in passing, in a film which was mostly about the company's 'spaghetti organisation' (a fluid organisational structure that allows employees to solve problems outside their own field) but it made a nice emblem of the sort of thinking Peters was after - an expenditure for no bottom-line return but one which reinforced the company's atmosphere of relaxed inventiveness. After the hard-sell of the Eighties, which depicted business as hand-to-hand combat, we are moving to an image of business as a playground game - you can still win but the point is to enjoy yourself doing it. Peters even quoted Freud to press his point home: 'What a distressing contrast there is between the radiant intelligence of the child and the feeble mentality of the average adult'. The suits, by now born again or re-birthed, beamed and laughed like innocents.

Mama's Back (BBC 1) comes across as a second-rate imitation of Absolutely Fabulous: same gleeful puncturing of Eighties gloss, same uneasy wobble between wit and wordy malice. It's a surprise, then, to find that what you take to be imitators are actually originators. Ruby Wax (who was script consultant on Absolutely Fabulous) is executive producer, Ed Bye directed both and Jennifer Saunders (who was damn near everything else on Absolutely Fabulous) is script consultant on this.

Joan Collins makes a stab at the Joanna Lumley Career Enhancement Trophy with a portrayal of Tamara, a mini-series star brought low by temperament (she storms off the set of Florence Nightingale because the moans of the wounded are drowning her lines). She's not bad actually (and genuinely brave in joking about her own image) but the thing just won't fly, despite some funny lines and a great cast (Michael Gambon doing an Archie Rice reprise as an old ham and Rupert Everett as a buck-toothed Australian PA). It came at us pretty quietly - unannounced in my BBC publicity material - and I don't think we'll hear much more in future.

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