Undercover in Kilburn

OUR office in Camden Town is set over a couple of floors, it’s not big enough to get lost in, it’s no King’s Place, but everybody knows everybody by name and face. Certainly, it would be hard for the chief to go on Undercover Boss. We’d rumble him straight off.

Otherwise I’d recommend to him signing up for the Channel 4 programme, not because the paper doesn’t tick but because the programme seems more like an hour’s worth of free publicity on national TV rather than an expose of faults.

All you have to do, it appears, is find the kind of mild problems that all businesses have at some stage, a frayed carpet near reception will probably do it, then show you are dealing with them… before spending the rest of the camera time showcasing all the amazing things your company does.

Take the latest edition screened on Monday night where we looked inside the Kilburn High Road branch of bookmakers Paddy Power for a short while with company director William Reeve, who had slicked back his hair and worn jeans and some big specs to make him more me-and-you front linish.

In Kilburn, after I guess we were all supposed to laugh at a punter dancing a confused jig across the floor of the shop, he learned that the branch had been hit by armed robberies and the employees had soldiered on without much care from head office. William gulped a couple of times at the camera outside and said robberies to him had always in the past just been a number on a spreadsheet marking how much money had been lost. Staff could be coming to a “warzone”, he had realised. He gulped again. And then it was time for an ad break.

But this was pretty much as bad as it got in terms of revealing company failings. A couple of staff in Kilburn were rewarded with a holiday for their dedication and genuine bravery but even if they bathed on a boat off Saint Tropez for a month, got bronze on the Gold Coast or took a busman’s to Las Vegas, the cost of booking ad space as long as Undercover Boss on national TV would have been far greater.

The show went on to show how people can bet over the phone (who knew it was as easy as they showed it?) or over the internet with Paddy Power, a company which has shown it knows how to get noticed wih crude adverts about blind footballers kicking cats and people considered to be ‘chavs’ being snipered by tranquilisers darts while at the races.

This was a no lose for PP. Punters will still go to Kilburn High Road. In fact, they were more likely to exclaim ‘there’s me’ while watching it, than thinking about finding a bookies more deserving of the weekly surrender of their pension money on the basis that bookmakers, a fact we all know, can be targetted by armed raids. This happens regadless of which company is running the shop.

And with no income risked in Kilburn the rest of the programme (for the cost of a small section about one grumpy call being poorly dealt with in customer services) explained all the platforms Paddy Power operates over and therefore teaching us the different ways we can lose bets with them. It was hard to see a downside for the company by taking part, despite the premise of the show being hinged on flagging companies in need of a shake-up.

You can see the braveness of a pizza parlour chain boss uncovering unhygenic errors and then showing them to viewers on Undercover Boss. That leaves memories which stick. But Paddy Power were onto a winner all ways up.

And in doing so Channel 4 were broadcasting a wonderful promotion, not for an apple pie bakery or a love-spreading florist or something equally sainted, but a betting shop. A betting shop. Oh, well done.

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