Lengths

 

The office has been the mis-en-scène for comedy sketches for decades. Harry Tate, with a juvenile Hughie Green as office boy, committed his office sketch to film. Wood and Walters, among many others, have shown us the minutiae of the office worker's day, and of course Ricky Gervais put his very special stamp on the TV mock-documentary version. Here is how Peter Cook and Dudley Moore saw the department called - Lengths. My thanks to Yvonne Oliver, who took the trouble to send me an .mp3 file containing the sketch.

Pete and Dud play the whole thing in high-pitched, slightly camp, suburban nasal whining voices. They are surrounded by colour-coded telephones, all part of an incomprehensible complicated communications system. One of the phones is buzzing.

 
 
Peter:
(as George) Someone comin' though on green, Reg.
Dud:
(as Reg) It'll be Alan from Sales if it's on green, George...
Pete:
Alan, Sales? D'you want to talk to him?
Dud:
No... that bloke gets up my nose.
Pete:
Have a word with him, otherwise he'll hang up - you know Alan.
Dud:
Yeah...
Pete:
Hello... George here... Hullo Alan!
Dud:
Who is it?
Pete:
It's Alan, Sales, on green.
Dud
Oh... I'll have a word with him...
Pete:
Reg is just comin' through on green, Alan
Dud:
Uh.... hello Alan... its, uh, Reg here... yes, I'll just hand you over to George, OK? George, it's Alan...
Pete:
Hullo - Reg has just handed me over, on green... No, no, we've not got 'em. You haven't got the lengths? (to Dud) He hasn't got the lengths.
Dud:
Oh, Gawd...
Pete:
Reg is just coming on green, Alan...
Dud:
Alan - I'll be very brief, look, the lengths go through to you direct via Admin, not via us. Read the orange handbook, love.

He hangs up.

Pete:
Alan I appreciate your position, of course, but it's not really our pigeon. No... well I'll get on to it for you, and get back to you on blue, OK? No, I can't really talk, 'cause he... he's here... Yes, I love you too...
Dud:
Huh! How can he have not got the lengths?
Pete:
I dunno how he hasn't got them, but he hasn't got them - I'd better get on to Bernard right away.
Dud:
I bet Daphne's fouled the footpath here.
Pete:
A weak link, you know, that Daphne. (On phone) Sylvia, would you get me Bernard, please? Yes... Bernard! um - sorry to trouble you, but I'm ringing up re some lengths which are missing, I've got Alan on my back, and the whole office is going mad up here. Yes Bernard, there's no trace of dockets - I've been right through to Roneo.
Dud:
What are you on, George?
Pete:
I'm on yellow, er - Reg is coming on yellow...
Dud:
Hello Bernard, Reg here, sorry to interrupt...
Pete:
It's Reg on yellow
Dud:
Bernard, I've just had a look through the files, but there's no trace of a docket. Unless we have your docket, love, we can't move - no can do.
Pete:
Can't move - not without the docket, love... No, our hands are tied ... hmm yes, well I'll get on to Dorian in Maintenance, all right?
Dud:
Bernard, George is getting on to Dorian, Maintenance.
Pete:
Er, Sylvia - would you get me Dorian on grey, please?
Dud:
Did you really? What, Daphne? You randy old toe-rag!
Pete:
Hello, Dorian... Dorian, it's George here, ringing up re some lengths which haven't been Roneo'd, and we've no trace of docketing from stereotype or YOP control. Yes, it does put us in a bit of a bind... so if you could pull out all the stops your end, I'd much appreciate it.
Dud:
Yes, I know Bernard, it's not fair on us, it's not fair on you, is it? Anyway, I can't talk to you, 'cause he's here... Yeah, I love you too...
Pete:
I'm on here... I'm on to Dorian... No, Dorian, look if you could do that for us I'd very much appreciate it. (snigger) Yes... that's what I told him.
Dud:
Hullo? Oh, hello Barbara! How are you? It's Reg here - yeah - er, George - it's Barbary, on red.
Pete:
Er - Barbara who?
Dud:
Your wife... you wanna talk to her?
Pete:
Ummmmm - no. Tell her I'm on to Dorian, on grey.
Dud:
All right... Barbara, love ... George can't talk to you - he's out. Um - I can't talk 'cause he's here... I love you too.
Pete:
Is that Barbara?
Dud:
It's Barbara, on red...
Pete:
Dorian, hold on, I'll call you back on blue, right...
Dud:
You wanna take it?
Pete:
Hullo, Barbara... love, you've come through on red again. Yes, how many times do I have to tell you not to come through on red? We're up to our eyes here, we've got lengths missing ... my position. Well, untie him, and replace the strawberry jam... And you! (hangs up) That was Barbara, just come through on red!
Dud:
Barbara on red?
Pete:
Yes - I can't understand it.
Dud:
You know, I think Daphne's the weak link in the chain here.
Pete:
D'you know what I think, Reg?
Dud:
What?
Pete:
I think.. sorry, I'm talking to Reg... I think Bernard is mixing business with pleasure.
Dud:
Yes...
Pete:
I mean a 48-inch bust is all very well, but it doesn't get the dockets in.
Dud:
Certainly doesn't... Hullo? Yes... Hullo? Look, Alan, don't keep badgering, it's bloody murder up here - I've only got one pair of hands...
Pete:
Alan, I can confirm that - I've double-checked - he's only got one pair of hands...
Dud:
Alan, I didn't invent the bloody rules - read the orange handbook!
Pete:
Look, Alan, love, if you're going to take that attitude I'll check again by filing control, but it's water under the bridge... hold on, Just checking, Reg... (filing drawers opened and shut) ... let's see... wait a moment... Alan I've just double-checked and there's no trace of docketing... yeah, I'll call you back on blue. Bu-Bye! Hullo? Sylvia... I've just blown my nose... would you get that Roneo'd, docketed and stereotyped... we don't want any more mistakes, do we? Bye.
Dud:
Yes, hullo?
Pete:
Who's that?
Dud:
It's Sybil.
Pete:
Sybil who?
Dud:
Sybil Thorndyke.
Pete:
What does she want?
Dud:
Well, it's about the cider commercial.
Pete:
Stall her...
Dud:
Sybil, love, been looking through the file - I'll have to be brief, we're in a bit of a pickle up here... we'd love to use you for the cider promotion, but we can't really promise anything at the moment... wouldn't be fair to you, wouldn't be fair to us, would it love? No... very best of luck with St Joan, dear... OK?
Pete:
Hello, Fernando?
Dud:
Yes, but I can't really talk to you, 'cause he's here... I love you too...
Pete:
Fernando, I can't hear you, this is a very bad line. Call me back on blue, would you love? There's a sweetheart... Just been on to Fernando, it's a very bad line he's got down there.
Dud:
Yes, it's always bad there, isn't it?
Pete:
Always bad with Ferdy, and he's got no trace of dockets, and there's no sign of lengths.
Dud:
It looks pretty dicey, doesn't it?
Pete:
I suppose I could just try getting on to Lengths...
Dud:
We-e-erll, it's a chance in a million, isn't it?
Pete:
A shot in the dark, but give it a whirl... Sylvia would you get me Lengths, please?

A pause... then a phone buzzes

Dud:
Hello. Reg Lengths, here...
Pete:
Hello Reg, it's George here.
Dud:
Hello, George!
Pete:
Long time no - er - ... long time no talkee-talkee!
Dud:
Certainly not-ee not-ee! How are you, Squire?
Pete:
All right! I'm sorry to trouble you at this late hour of the afternoon...
Dud:
Not at all...
Pete:
I realise you must be up to your eyes down there...
Dud:
Oh, we've got our headaches, I'm sure you've got your share...
Pete:
I'm sure you have, but I'm ringing you up on the off-chance, re some lengths, which Alan has been on to me about...
Dud:
Yes?
Pete:
The Montevideo lengths - are they by any chance down your way?
Dud:
They most certainly are, yes! We've had the Montevideo lengths here for four weeks, I was waiting for Alan, from Sales, to pick them up personally.
Pete:
I see, so you've got the lengths down there...
Dud:
Yes...
Pete:
Well this is much as I expected, Reg... um - if you could get them up to me via Transport, and through Central Docketing, we can have them pooled and sent off to Roneo by Tuesday.
Dud:
Only too pleased to oblige!
Pete:
Very nice talking to you...
Dud:
And... by the way, I can't really talk, 'cause he's here... but - er - you know how I feel.
Pete:
I love you, too.

Phones are hung up and filing drawer closed

Pete:
I've just been talking to Reg, down at Lengths...
Dud:
Yeah?
Pete:
... and apparently the lengths are down there.
Dud:
You're joking...
Pete:
No, they've been down there for a while now...
Dud:
(irritated) Why didn't he send them straight up to Alan?
Pete:
Well if you ask me it's Daphne who's the weak link in this whole chain...
Dud:
(back on phone) Hello, Florrie, hold on darling...

They simultaneously rabbit on for some time to various people, on various coloured phones... Pete tells the audience to talk among themselves for an hour or so....