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100 years ago: Telephones and typists

22 January 2021

January 21st, 1921.

OUR allusion to “hordes of officials” in the paragraph dealing with the new telephone rates appears to have been misunderstood. The term was not intended to apply only to Post Office officials. We have no quarrel with them; indeed, there are few institutions upon whose efficiency the public can congratulate itself so unreservedly as the Post Office. Our point was that the unfortunate telephone user is called upon to pay for the lavish telephone equipment of the countless mushroom departments that have spread like locusts over our parks and cities. Every table of the least of the officials seems to have its telephone extension, and we have ourselves seen eight table instruments in a room occupied by five clerks. Similar extravagance was revealed this week by the third report of the Select Committee on Official Reports of Debate and the Expenditure on Stationery and Printing. It appears that the Ministry of Labour has three thousand typewriting machines, one thousand duplicators, and three hundred calculating machines. The three thousand typewriters are doubtless fitted with typists. Yet the Board of Trade, an old Ministry with most important, varied and complex duties, is able to do its work with no more than a hundred typewriters. Just as Dr Addison demands many more houses than the Registrar-General says are needed, so our bureaucracy generally stints itself in nothing. Well may the Civil servant of the old school be alarmed, since he, like the rest of us, is suffering from the fruitless activities of the Civil servant of the newer sort. The Civil Service was formerly something to be proud of, and an institution which other nations envied. In too many departments to-day the Civil servant has given place to the uncivil master — the bureaucrat.

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