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Nev: TV's new, pure gold hero

If Nev Wilshire from BBC3's new docusoap The Call Centre didn't exist, someone – most probably Ricky Gervais – would have to make him up. The lighthearted docusoap has been moribund as a genre since the heady days of Airport and Driving School. The Call Centre, which began last night, brings it booming, bellowing, head-locking, hugging and speed-dating (more of that presently) back to life.

Or rather Nev does. The CEO of Swansea's third-largest call centre, Nev is solid television gold. He's David Brent made flesh – lots of flesh, inflated like an oversized parade balloon to the point where you're convinced he's going to burst at any moment, spraying motivational gas and bits of middle-aged Welshman all over the walls.

If, that is, the heads of his 700 sales staff, average age 26, who make 10,000 cold calls a day to a largely unappreciative, frequently hostile public, don't explode first. It's a 50-50, frankly.

Nev is not just a handful, he's an earful too, his overpowering, never-take-no-for-an-answer philosophy barging through everyone he encounters, like a rhino driving a tank with a jammed gearbox through a porcelain factory.

EMBARRASSMENT

Nev's inspirational sh**-speak consists largely of interchangeable mantras: "Happy people sell, miserable bastards don't. Smile as you dial. Swallow that frown. Proper planning prevents p**s-poor performance."

In the first episode, Nev reckons the most miserable bastard (a favoured expression of his) in the office is his administration assistant Kayleigh, who he treats with an avuncular affection.

Kayleigh discovered her boyfriend, who Nev elevates to the level of "complete bastard", was cheating on her. "Her self-esteem is through the floor at the moment," says Nev, deciding it's his sworn duty to find her another man – and fast.

"Any single blokes here?" he roars, leading a reluctant Kayleigh through the open-plan office, "I have a desperate female here. Anybody need a hug?"

There's a couple of takers among the single blokes; Kayleigh, meanwhile, comes the closest I've ever seen in my life to a human being actually, physically melting into a puddle of embarrassment.

"I don't BELIEVE he has done that," she says in one of the programme's rare quiet moments (ie, a moment when Nev is off-screen). "I should have known, shouldn't I? He's not going to stop until he's found someone."

Which brings us to the speed-dating. Nev hires a downstairs room in a pub, pays for all the food and drink, and invites – nay, orders – everyone in the company to come along. Wielding an old-fashioned school bell, he marshals the evening with his usual unstoppable enthusiasm.

Kayleigh lands Dwayne, the self-appointed office ladykiller ("It's not my fault if I'm handsome"), who's as smooth as a smoothie made from engine oil and armpit sweat, and every bit as appetising. His work done, Nev departs into the night and leaves everyone at it, as it were.

NAPOLEON

The next morning, he's having doubts about the suitability of Dwayne as a suitor for Kayleigh. "Kayleigh's looking for a nice bloke, and you're not a nice bloke with women," he bluntly tells him. Dwayne duly withdraws (Nev, he says, promised to throw him down the stairs if he broke Kayleigh's heart), allowing Nev to select a replacement from the available male singletons.

To call Nev's management style in-your-face, and indeed all-over-your-body, is a bit like saying the Nazis' march into Poland was a minor invasion of privacy. Happily, Nev doesn't model himself on Hitler; his hero is Napoleon.

The little Frenchman might have been a dictator, reasons the large Welshman, but his troops loved him – although history hasn't recorded if Napoleon made new recruits sing along to The Killers' anthem Mr Brightside, which is the induction ceremony every employee of Nev's has to undergo on their first day in the job.

The funny thing is Nev's troops, who are a cheery bunch, seem to love him too. Well, most of them. "What a character, that's all I can say," said a nervous young woman who'd just received her first Nevving. "It's pretty cool . . . unless, you know, it carries on."

Oh, it will, it will!

The Call Centre HHHHI


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