Chris, Switchboard Manager at 10 Downing Street
My name is Chris and I worked in Number 10 for 25 years. I worked for 17 years on the Switchboard and then I went down to the IT department where I stayed for 8 years.
I worked with 5 Prime Ministers. It was very relaxed at the beginning but with Mrs Thatcher everything was done on time, nobody was ever late for anything, everything was in place at the right time, ready for her to do or go wherever she was going.
We were based on the third floor in the attic, the Switchboard. There were only 8 operators at the time and at the time I started we had just a little keyboard. There were no screens or anything and all our information we used to collate ourselves and write in a little book. Over the years, once we got new technology, we used to transfer it onto the screen but initially that’s how we did it. Everything was by word of mouth and put in the book so that the next person knew where to find the information.
It was the best career decision I ever made because I don’t know what I would have done otherwise. I just loved working there, every moment of it. The job in Switchboard was not like a telephonist where you just answer the phones and put an extension through; you got involved in the calls and the more that you put into the job the more satisfaction you got. Even if you weren’t interested in politics, you became interested in politics because you used to read about the people that you’d spoken to in the paper. It was very nice because it was all a first-name basis; it still is, you don’t call anybody ‘Mr’. I don’t know about now but we never used to call Lords ‘Lord’ or ‘Lady’, they always wanted you to call them by their first name. It made you feel a bit more special.
Once they started using mobile phones, then the Switchboard got busy because people were available at all times of the day or night. There wasn’t anybody that couldn’t be contacted. In fact we even contacted somebody down the Amazon once. I mean not in my time but previously somebody was contacted down the Amazon. The criteria was 'we find anybody anywhere'. You don’t say you can’t find them; you get them and that’s it, that’s your job and we used to do it. Quite amazing really. It was good fun!