Why BT should have got Mandy naked

"Please enter your pin now, and don't pull the chain"

Yesterday BT sent a letter to Lord Mandelson threatening legal action if he follows through with his plans for broadband liberalisation, but today it lightened the mood somewhat with daring real-life tales of people conducting conference calls in their birthday suit.

BT handles roughly 15 million audio conferences a year. It has now conducted research which finds that 68 per cent admit they have dialled in to a conference call while wearing pyjamas: the most common colour or style is not recorded. But presumably those 68 per cent are among those people who are able to work from home, rather than those who take their conference calls at the office. Not least because nearly half say they have joined conference calls in their undies, and 20 per cent say they have joined a conference call starkers.

The telecoms giant said the growth in the use of conference calls (the number of people using BT audio conferencing was up almost 20 per cent year on year) has led to calls being conducted not just in the nude, but in some rather odd places, too.

The most popular place to hold a conference call was in bed (you see, the wearing of pyjamas is actually rather sensible, given the circumstances), followed by the toilet.

Why so many conference calls should be taken in the smallest room in the house is open to debate. When you've gotta go, you've gotta go, one supposes. But there is also the fact it's often the only room in the house with a lock. And with children, pets and partners around, people might want others on the call to have at least the illusion that they are focused on work, and not merely skiving off to play with the kids/dogs/PlayStation. (Another recent study found that one in four men has pulled a "sickie" in order to stay at home and play video games, the dweebs.)

With many respondents telling BT that they had been disturbed while on a conference call by babies crying, cats miaowing, dogs barking, or kettles boiling, you can see why so many people head to the bog when about to "face" their colleagues on a conference call.

This is not without its dangers, though -- many respondents said a conference call had been interrupted by the sound of a toilet flushing, which is surely bad call etiquette in anyone's book. Those taking the call in the smallest room could at least save their flush until the call has ended?

But BT is trying to make a serious point too, natch.

It says that in 2008, using conferencing helped it to cut out more than 700,000 face-to-face meetings and 1.4 million journeys, saving 53,000 tonnes of CO2. Which is certainly not to be sniffed at (and anyway, CO2 is odourless, unlike the atmosphere on many conference calls, judging by the research).

But perhaps all these naked, loo-based conference callers could soon become an endangered species, as the analyst firm Ovum says that 26 per cent of conferences will be held by video by 2012.

So perhaps, instead of sending Mandy a "letter before action" about his broadband liberalisation plans, BT should have got him on a naked conference call. It might have been our last chance to see whether he's a conference call flusher.

Jason Stamper is the New Statesman technology correspondent and editor of Computer Business Review


Jason Stamper is editor of Computer Business Review

Grant Shapps on the campaign trail. Photo: Getty
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Grant Shapps resigns over Tory youth wing bullying scandal

The minister, formerly party chairman, has resigned over allegations of bullying and blackmail made against a Tory activist. 

Grant Shapps, who was a key figure in the Tory general election campaign, has resigned following allegations about a bullying scandal among Conservative activists.

Shapps was formerly party chairman, but was demoted to international development minister after May. His formal statement is expected shortly.

The resignation follows lurid claims about bullying and blackmail among Tory activists. One, Mark Clarke, has been accused of putting pressure on a fellow activist who complained about his behaviour to withdraw the allegation. The complainant, Elliot Johnson, later killed himself.

The junior Treasury minister Robert Halfon also revealed that he had an affair with a young activist after being warned that Clarke planned to blackmail him over the relationship. Former Tory chair Sayeedi Warsi says that she was targeted by Clarke on Twitter, where he tried to portray her as an anti-semite. 

Shapps appointed Mark Clarke to run RoadTrip 2015, where young Tory activists toured key marginals on a bus before the general election. 

Today, the Guardian published an emotional interview with the parents of 21-year-old Elliot Johnson, the activist who killed himself, in which they called for Shapps to consider his position. Ray Johnson also spoke to BBC's Newsnight:


The Johnson family claimed that Shapps and co-chair Andrew Feldman had failed to act on complaints made against Clarke. Feldman says he did not hear of the bullying claims until August. 

Asked about the case at a conference in Malta, David Cameron pointedly refused to offer Shapps his full backing, saying a statement would be released. “I think it is important that on the tragic case that took place that the coroner’s inquiry is allowed to proceed properly," he added. “I feel deeply for his parents, It is an appalling loss to suffer and that is why it is so important there is a proper coroner’s inquiry. In terms of what the Conservative party should do, there should be and there is a proper inquiry that asks all the questions as people come forward. That will take place. It is a tragic loss of a talented young life and it is not something any parent should go through and I feel for them deeply.” 

Mark Clarke denies any wrongdoing.

Helen Lewis is deputy editor of the New Statesman. She has presented BBC Radio 4’s Week in Westminster and is a regular panellist on BBC1’s Sunday Politics.