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The Beginnings of the Modern Office

15 minutes
First broadcast:
Monday 22 July 2013

Programme 1: The Beginnings of the Modern Office

Writer and satirist Lucy Kellaway traces the origins of today's corporate culture

In today's Britain, more of us spend more time at an office than ever before. It dominates our lives. It's made more of us middle class, transformed the lot of women, raised standards in education and been the reason for many technological advances.

But the office itself seems to have no history. We accept without question the way we work now. We endure the charade of the annual appraisal. We gawp at endless PowerPoint presentations in interminable meetings. We work in open plan offices where we can overhear our colleagues phone calls to their plumber. That's how things are done. But why?

For the last twenty years, writer Lucy Kellaway has been an observer of the peculiarities of corporate culture in her column for the Financial Times. In this series, she looks back at the history of office life. How did it end up like this?

Part 1 of 10:

Lucy looks at essayist Charles Lamb's account of life at the East India Company in the early 1800s.

From its headquarters in Leadenhall street in the city of London, the East India Company created a complex bureaucracy to enable the governing of empire. Charles Lamb worked there for over thirty years and left a rich account of the frustrations and consolations of office life. With Huw Bowen of Swansea University.

Readings by Richard Katz, Sasha Pick, Adam Rojko and Kerry Shale
Historical Consultant: Michael Heller

Producer: Russell Finch
A Somethin' Else production for BBC Radio 4.


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