And the operator says…


In my early days working in the International Telecommunications part of the GPO (a bit that would later be hived off to become part of the new British Telecommunications) there were huge buildings in central London which delivered the international telephone operator services functions. They housed thousands of operators (mostly women and a surprisingly large number of gay men) who worked in shifts 24/7 to deal with callers’ queries and helping connect them through to overseas destinations. They were also the most militant centres of union activism in the early 70’s (the Communication Workers Union made the miners look like Sunday school teachers at times).

I can remember in my role as a lowly, young and rather naive safety and security manager, being confronted by a very butch and notoriously bolshie union official who threatened to take all the staff of the largest exchange out on a wildcat strike (thereby registering the entire operator service inoperative) unless I could absolutely assure her none of her members’s safety would be jeopardised by the huge lead-eating spider one of her members had come across in the rest room. Though intimidated I felt confident about giving such an assurance as I figured any creature which ate lead wouldn’t be around long enough to threaten 5000 staff. It’s an absolutely true story.

Telephone operators eh; they seem like a figures from Dickens novel now, as do miners for that matter. But what’s the point I can almost hear you screaming? Well yesterday I met up with my good friend and business contact R who is an independent TV producer. He calls me in from time to time – and we have an occasional office room set aside at my local pub for our meetings (the bar) – to brief me on his latest idea for a tv series and he very kindly asks me to write his synopses and presentations for the pitches to the ideas commissioning people. It’s not a huge earner for me but I do it because I like R a lot and am intrigued by his concepts which I love to write up. I can be writing about a classic car series one moment and a programme about some fascinating hidden historical facts on our great cities the next. And I need to do my research and produce some informative and compelling material. We have an understanding that if anything comes off then I’ll work on the script-writing. Cool.

The latest idea, without giving too much away, is a 7 part series looking at popular music culture – its roots and derivatives, successes and sad moments etc covering the timeline from the 50’s through to the present day. It’s quite an arc of work when you think about it I was driving along today, on the way to see our lovely daughter E and the super lads, thinking about what might be my favourite music tracks from that timeframe. Loads and loads came to mind, many of which I’ve written about in the past….stuff from the Beatles, the Stones, Free, Led Z, Rod the Mod, Oasis, Adele etc. How do you choose the best?

Then a more intriguing thought occurred to me; what would be my least likeable/most irritating song of all time? Not your crappy novelty horrors like Grandad, Ernie or Shaddap ya Face. No I’m talking about a serious yet pretentious song from a band of clowns dressed like renegades from the movie Deliverance with a band name that is just incomprehensibly stupid. I was racking my brains for something that would fit the bill. Something from Supertramp perhaps? Oh yes very close.

Then a song popped up on Terry Wogan’s Radio 2 show and the lyrics were relentlessly  grim…

Sylvia’s mother says, ‘Sylvia’s busy
Too busy to come to the phone’
Sylvia’s mother says, ‘Sylvia’s tryin’
To start a new life of her own’
Sylvia’s mother says, ‘Sylvia’s happy
So why don’t you leave her alone?’

And the operator says, ’40 cents more for the next 3 minutes’
Please Mrs. Avery, I just gotta talk to her
I’ll only keep her a while
Please Mrs. Avery, I just wanna tell ‘er goodbye

Sylvia’s mother says, ‘Sylvia’s packin’
She’s gonna be leavin’ today’
Sylvia’s mother says, ‘Sylvia’s marryin’
A fella down Galveston way’
Sylvia’s mother says, ‘Please don’t say nothin’
To make her start cryin’ and stay’

And the operator says, ’40 cents more for the next 3 minutes’

Oh please baby Jesus make it stop and tell that operator to pull the bloody call. Ah there’s the link….!

Who would write a song about a girl called bloody Sylvia in the first place and her dopey mother Mrs Avery? Especially as the singer’s only calling to say actually your daughter’s neurotic and I’m frigging off. It’s so depressing.

What about the band members, surely they wouldn’t have any guys looking like backwoodsmen or blokes who looked like their mums married their first cousins?  Err….

Dr Hook image

Well at the very least they’d have a sensible band name. Yeh of course … its Dr Hook and the Medicine Show.  Ahh I think we have a winner folks.

The only thing that could lose these guys the crown of ghastliest song from the saddest band of all time would be to find the bozos who recorded the song with the lyrics that went…

When you’re in love with a beautiful woman
It’s hard
When you’re in love with a beautiful woman
You know it’s hard

I don’t think it’s necessary to be quite so graphic.

pp

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2 thoughts on “And the operator says…

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