So you want to work in TV; you finally get that dream job; you race eagerly into the office for your first day of making television programmes – and then you have your first meeting with The Boss. But what is your TV boss really like? Inspiring and supportive – or challenging – maybe even bullying?
This story of one TV producer’s experience with a ‘challenging’ boss is completely true. It’s also hugely entertaining. Behind it though is a cautionary tale about bullying in the work place, which is not in any way funny to many people. A serious subject for another article some time. For now, read laugh and thank your lucky stars you don’t have a boss like this (naturally we name no names):
I’ve had some strange bosses in my time. As a Saturday boy in a carpet shop, there was the Scottish woman, Rosamund, who used to get so angry with the staff that she’d discipline us over the store tannoy. My favourite occasion was the time she announced, in her very strong Glaswegian accent:
“Can the member of staff who has just shite-ed in my toilet come to my office immediately.”
God knows what the customers thought. Another loon was the supervisor of a Garden Centre where I was a sales assistant. He got off on pretending to customers that he had Tourets, giving him license to bark at customer’s dogs, just to amuse himself.
But none of those bosses in my years before working in TV could have prepared me for the loonacy that I would encounter from my superiors in the world of television. Strangeness is a quality you might even consider endearing. But so many of my TV bosses have been strange with an extra dollop of mad, which pushed the trait well passed endearing into the realm of psychopathic. So there was my first producer, who proudly enjoyed showing off his sizeable, if slightly bent appendage to any unsuspecting staff member who happened to have a spare 30 seconds. At a push, you might excuse this behaviour from a drunkard in the pub. But at 6.30am on a morning show? Something’s wrong there. Or the series producer who liked to creep up on her staff when they were carrying out sensitive phone chats, and screech the word “yurp!” at the top her voice. Then complain when the guests had second thoughts about coming on the show.
But even this bizarreness pales into insignificance when compared with my all time favourite loonatic TV boss, who I shall, for diplomatic reasons, refer to as Ding Dong (think Wizard of Oz).
It was my first week in a new job, and I remember feeling very pleased with myself because I’d finally been promoted to producer. I wanted to prove to my new exec that she’d picked the right man for the job. In our first meeting I had to pitch contributors whose lives would make them worthy of a home makeover.
I started with a story I thought she’d love.
“This chap is fantastic. He was in the war, got shot in the leg during the Normandy landings, but carried on fighting and saved two of his comrades’ lives. Before the war ended, he was attacked by a shark, which bit off his hand. Still, he survived. Now he’s older, he’s not been so well – had two heart attacks, and a stroke. But he’s still fighting on! His daughter’s written to us, says her dad needs a bit of help”.
That was my pitch. I thought she’d snap up the story. But instead:
“Why can’t he do his own DIY? Is he lazy?”
Okay, well, how do I answer this?
“No, not at all. Just, he’s only got one arm that works, and he’s had two heart attacks and stroke. So I assume that’s why he can’t decorate.” Surely this is justification enough, I thought? But apparently not.
“Have you asked the question?” she screamed.
“Have you asked his daughter, ‘why can’t your dad do his own fucking DIY?’”
“Well, no, sorry, I didn’t. I assumed, because he’d lost his leg and a hand, and had two heart attacks and a stroke, that he wasn’t very good with a paintbrush.”
“Well we don’t know if that’s the reason do we? We don’t know because you didn’t ask the fucking question! You just assumed- and you know what happens when you assume?”
Obviously, by this point, I was slightly upset that my first big pitching meeting with the boss I was out to impress was going so horribly badly. In all honesty, the only way I could possibly reconcile this woman’s behaviour was to think that she must be a veteran of the Second World War, who had suffered a much worse fate than the chap I was describing, and so she considered his heroic story to be pathetic in comparison to her own. But unfortunately the maths didn’t add up- she was born after the war ended. Maybe her Grandfather was Hitler.
Then it was time for the humiliation to begin. “Write it!”, she screamed again.
“Write what?” I knew my cheeks had betrayed me by turning crimson, but I was trying to stand up for myself, even though it was tough in a room full of other producers.
Ding Dong opened her drawer and threw a marker at me, waving towards a white board in the corner. “Write it! Write it down!”
But I still didn’t know what she wanted me to write.
“Write it! Write the word ‘arse’.”
I wrote the word ‘ARSE’ on the board, in very shaky, slanty capitals. I thought it was an odd time for a spelling test.
“Now write ‘you.” So I did.
“Now write ‘me.’ And read the whole thing aloud to everyone.” Ding Dong looked very pleased with herself. She wanted to teach us something, I sensed.
But then I looked at what I’d just written, it didn’t make any sense. I read it aloud to the room anyway. “ARSE-YOU-ME.”
If she was angry before, she was frenzied now. “No, you idiot. Are you thick? You’re supposed to write ‘ASSUME!’ You’ve spelt it totally wrong. It doesn’t have a ‘Y’ in it. It’s a lesson: when you ASSUME, you make an ASS of U and ME. Get it? God, you’ve absolutely got no idea, have you?”
“But you said arse-you-me…that’s not a word.”
So this was my first encounter with Ding Dong, and it set a precedent really, because over the course of a year working underneath her, nearly every meeting ended in her screaming like a banshee. In her defence, at least her comments were memorable. I remember writing a line of voice over to describe a nautical themed makeover: ‘So it’s all hands on deck to get this house looking ship-shape.”
Her reaction? “You want to know something about yourself? You write like a fucking Edwardian.”
She also loved to suggest there was a medical reason behind my seeming incompetence. “I think I should refer you to be tested for dyslexia,” she would tell me, after reading my scripts, as if she was a doctor making a prognosis. “I’m not dyslexic. I just have a different turn of phrase. I’m from the West Country,” I explained.
“Well I think you can be cured”, she explained, optimistically.
What made all this bearable, entertaining even, was that I wasn’t the only ‘victim’. Forgive me, but I cannot describe the absolute joy of being sat within earshot of her office when she was bellowing at other colleagues. It was at these moments that I really learnt the meaning of the word schadenfreude. “Engage your brain!” I once heard her screaming. At one of the company lawyers.
The fact that she wound everyone up this way meant that she was a constant source of gossip. We would get carried away, acting out impressions and re-telling our favourite stories. One day, even the work experience lad joined in, doing impressions which were spot on, and hilarious. When we sent him on a run to fetch some tapes, Ding Dong popped her head into the edit suite and asked after him. “How’s my son’s best friend getting on? I hope he’s not annoying you too much?” I thought I had about 5 minutes left in the job, but obviously word never got back.
Obviously his best friend’s mum had been an endless source of amusement to him and his friends for years.
A year was all I could take, or perhaps my contract was never renewed. Whatever, a few years later, I wasn’t the only one who rejoiced when I learnt of Ding Dong’s eventual dismissal. I imagine the emotion was similar to that felt by Dorothy and the Munchkins as the wicked old witch melted away. I assumed she’d been pushed because of her terrible management style and bully tactics. But I never found out for certain.
I never asked the question.”
Thank you, Anonymous! A true story very well told.
If you find yourself being bullied at work remember you don’t have to put up with it. Go and talk to someone in Human Resources about the situation if you are finding your work place too stressful due to a boss or colleagues management style. A demanding boss is one thing you may need to work with, but bullying is not acceptable.
A useful link if you are worried about bulling: http://nationalbullyinghelpline.co.uk.
This is also a good resource on the subject: http://whyteambuilding.com/resources/the-appalling-mental-physical-impact-of-bullying/
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