I thought it was outrageous. So did Roger and Helen. Sarah was an excellent researcher, but now came the news that her short-term contract would not be renewed. Something had to be done. Roger and Helen looked at me. Yes, I was happy to stand up and be counted. I'd go along to the powers that be and sort it out.
That left one question. Who were the powers that be? Roger thought a likely person might be Dave Paterson. Nobody knew his title, but we could all remember hearing that he'd been appointed to a top managerial post in radio. The problem was that no one had seen much of him since the day of his appointment, when he'd gone round every office in Broadcasting House assuring us that his door would always be open (without mentioning that this would serve only to provide constant evidence of his absence from the building).
Did Dave have an assistant we could confront? Helen recalled an e-mail announcing that Janet Crowther had been appointed as Operational Director (Radio). But she also remembered popping along to see Janet about the lack of available studio time and being told by a secretary that Janet no longer had responsibility for operations now that her department had been subsumed under Premises Management.
This is not another complaint about BBC bureaucracy. I have no reason to believe that Dave and Janet are currently living an irresponsible life in the Maldives after finding that their brand-new jobs failed to entail any specific duties. What is at stake here is the current impossibility of finding anyone in management who might correspond to a good old-fashioned boss.
Years ago, when I regularly sold copies of the Labour League of Youth newspaper with headlines proclaiming the immediate need to smash all bosses, I had no doubt about their precise location at the rayon factory where I worked. My boss was Bill Keatinge, who answered to Frank Tidyman, who answered to the assistant sales manager, Leopold Handley-Derry, who answered to the sales manager, Tom Sheriff.
Sheriff's status as absolute boss was confirmed by his possession of a volatile temper, a booming voice and his habit, whenever he picked up the telephone, of never announcing his title but simply bellowing down the receiver, "Sheriff here". Without Sheriff, there would have been little camaraderie in our sales office. Nearly all our jokes were imagined confrontations with him, in which he was variously run over in the staff car park by Ken Marshall's ramshackle Vauxhall Victor or shot through the head in his office by a stray bullet from Dennis Rowan's airgun.
But now that real bosses have been replaced by layers of co-existing managers with amorphous responsibilities and no known location, and employees are not so much a coherent workforce as a tangle of short-term contractual obligations, work provides about as much opportunity for the development of a stable and histori-cal identity as ownership of a Tesco loyalty card.
Meanwhile, in our bid to save Sarah, we're still trying to find the right door on which to knock. It was not encouraging to learn from Helen that, last year, she'd been sufficiently incensed by the increased charges for using the BBC's pronunciation unit that she'd offered her resignation to no fewer that five separate managers, who'd all equally promptly declared their incapacity to accept it.
There'd been only one concrete result from all her endeavours. Two weeks after her series of outbursts, she'd learnt from an anonymous e-mail that she was no longer considered suitable material for a five-day residential course on "How to Be More Assertive".