Diary

20th September 1996 at 01:00
Curious sound effects accompanied the Today programme interview with Labour's industry sprog and former chair of the Council of Local Education Authorities, the dapper Stephen Byers. In the wake of the little contretemps over the state of the marriage between Labour and the unions - when Mr B apparently suggested to lobby hacks over dinner that a separation, if not divorce, might be imminent - a live interview on Radio 4 was called for.

For some mysterious reason, it had to be conducted from a phone box on Blackpool's windswept seafront. Trying to concentrate on tricky questions from Today's finest, Mr B found himself distracted by the increasingly frantic gesticulations of a chap outside the phone box, clutching a wet cloth.

It transpired that the would-be intruder was a telephone sanitiser - on piece rates - whose wages depend on the five minutes he normally takes to complete the job. On this occasion it took 15, despite loudly doing the outside glasswork to a pitch of (literally) squeaky-cleanliness, clearly audible to millions of Radio 4 listeners. Had the worker recognised Mr Byers, he would no doubt have treated him to some trenchant views on the subject of the minimum wage.

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