On being asked for a contribution to Fusion my first reaction was pride. What a splended [sic] choice had been made in asking me. Obviously I was destined to go far in Fleet Street. Peter Black would have a rival at last. Pendennis would have to look to his laurels. Lesser fry might as well fold their blotters and steal silently away. This mood did not last long.
Pride was succeeded by doubt. Perhaps I was miscast. Should I not be transferred to the Script Services Section? My doubts were resolved by the dragon ‘establishment’. It reared its ugly head and whispered in my car (just like the centre section of Floor 4). ‘By all means. Good idea, Ben. IF we have a vacancy.’ I knew we hadn’t. Another brilliant idea ruined by common sense. I felt almost as frustrated as a person whose application to be put on the authorised car users list had been refused.
It was only at this stage that the full import of the request struck me. All previous reactions were swept aside by the onset of horror. I was being asked to write ‘Fourth Floor Says’.
I cannot refute that I work on the Fourth Floor. I have a room on it – albeit in the fringe area. I have a carpet on the floor. It’s a little too big for the floor but I don’t complain of that. It makes it easier to climb up the wall in comfort. I have curtains in it. When new, they graced a Principal Officer’s room. Coming events, I say to myself in moments of depression, cast their shadows etc.
But I am not ‘of’ the Fourth Floor. Not for me the Olympian calm with which the Fourth Floor treat all questions, big or small, submitted to them. Not for me the measured and unhurried tread with which they pace from office to office along our stately corridors to arrange a ‘business lunch’.
I scurry about like a hunted rabbit trying not to be noticed too much and grateful even for the abuse that is often flung at me about the more flagrant of my errors. Definitely, I am on the Fourth Floor but not of it. Why, then, am I there at all? It’s really very simple. My staff, who are deeply shocked to learn that some people prefer Receptionists (Fusion 7), are too glamorous not to occupy a place in the company’s ‘Shop Window’. Where they are, I must be too. To such a strange chance of fortune is my Fourth Floor position due.
First I must say how grateful I am. Grateful to those who have given me an opportunity to broaden, in a nice way, my vocabulary. Let me give you a couple of examples. When I was young ‘gamma’ was the third letter of the Greek alphabet, which I mastered after great trouble and much pain. It may be still for all I know. Ancient Greek was not much talked in the Navy! Now I find that ‘gamma’ is a ratio (on a logarithmic scale of course) which technicians discuss extensively in Crew Rooms and inevitably in my room, also, on selection board days.
Grateful though I am for this particular piece of increased knowledge, ‘gamma’ has been a trifle overworked. I wish my selection board colleagues would ask what ‘lambda’ is for a change. I suppose they won’t. They’d say it wouldn’t be fair. The candidates might get muddled with Lambretta. (P.S. I have now come across a ‘lambert’. This only makes things more muddled.)
I find that no film cameraman or film camera (I can never remember which) is complete without a chap called a Grips. Previously I had only associated grips with bulldogs. The ‘double entendre’ of the last remark will only be fully appreciated by those with a naval background. Sorry! It will be appreciated by all. I forgot we commissioned H.M.S. Rediffusion on 22 September 1955. So its never too late to learn and I am grateful for having the opportunity to acquire these useful/useless pieces of information.
I must confess, however, to holding one very heretical view. I shall probably be banished to ‘The Third Floor Back’ for mentioning it. The fact that the company is an Independent Television Contractor is only of academic interest to me. I and my section would do much the same work if the company were manufacturers of tooth-paste or razor blades.
You must all have holidays, paid or unpaid. Some fall sick and want sickness benefits. You insist on buying Premium Bonds. You like to be reassured that you haven’t got tuberculosis and won’t get poliomyelitis. You give gallons of blood away free every year. Some of you enjoy (though you shouldn’t, they’re provided for your guests) smoking cigarettes provided by the company.
Others of you enjoy watching programmes at home on TV sets provided by the company. A few of you drive about in your own cars on company business provided you comply with a few simple rules devised by supermen like Vosper and myself to confound you.
The law of the land requires the company to employ a certain percentage of disabled persons. The General Manager requires me not to employ more than a certain number of people, able or disabled. Prospective employers of ex-members of the staff require references.
Building societies want to know, with your permission, a lot about some of you. Banks and estate agents want to know even more. Management want to know most. Foreign students come and go. Younger members of the staff go to Outward Bound Schools at the company’s expense. Twenty people a day want to join the company. ‘I know I’ve got something that television wants.’ I can rarely find it, but they must have the courtesy of a reply.
Some of you need recompense for disastrous accidents to your best clothes. These accidents, of course, are never your own fault. Annual salary reviews and bi-annual wages reviews cause much burning of midnight oil. Changes in union rates of pay increase my consumption of Disprin alarmingly. Theatre Ticket Lists require constant revision.
Somebody is always doing someone else’s job. Temporary Responsibility Allowance must be authorised. Every month many people complete two years’ continuous service and expect an increment to their pay without asking for it. Selection boards require to be presided over. Contracts need scrutiny. I could go on like this for hours.
These sort of things don’t just run themselves. They require a great deal of detailed work and the keeping of very accurate personal records. This is the main work of my small staff to whom I am delighted to have the opportunity of expressing, on paper, my thanks for all they do.
Glamorous as some of them are, they are very much backroom boys and girls. Publicity ignores them. They are not news. They don’t often get thanks for what they do. More often the reverse. ‘I can’t have had all that leave this year. You’ve got the records wrong. Can I see Captain Fisher?’
Of course you can. If the door’s open and nobody else has got in before you, you’re always welcome. The answer you get may not always be the answer you want but I hope it will be a fair one. If you have any problems, unconnected with Television, come and talk to me anytime.