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No Joke: BlackBerry Problems Began With 'The Office'

ricky gervais smiling 640

Ricky Gervais.AP

Talk about a black comedy!

BlackBerry-maker Research in Motion's European hub -- a three-story building where engineers have been racing against the clock to fix an outage that left customers on five continents without email or instant messaging for days -- sits in an estate known to many as the setting for the BBC comedy "The Office."

The series, starring Ricky Gervais as a hapless manager in a paper-making company, mocked the tedium of corporate life in a widely mocked town known for its many roundabouts and concrete car parks.

Slough is the butt of many jokes among Britons. Comedian Jimmy Carr said of his hometown, "I grew up in Slough in the 1970s. If you want to know what Slough was like in the 1970s, go there now."

It's a more an apt location than the company knows: RIM has been the butt of many jokes and the target for worldwide anger over the past several days by business users unable to get their jobs done and consumers unexpectedly disconnected from their digital networks.

In one of thousands of Twitter messages poking fun at RIM, British technology entrepreneur Alan Sugar said: "If the BB server fault is in Slough they need Ricky Gervais to sort it."

It's no joke to smartphone maker RIM, however. 

Inside the building, engineers have been racing against the clock to fix an outage that left customers on five continents without email or instant messaging for days.

Stephen Bates, head of its British arm, made an appearance in the office car park to update the media on Thursday, speaking over the roar of buses, trucks and cars passing by on the main road to Heathrow Airport.

"Thousands of people are working around the clock," Bates told Reuters.

He paused as a passing truck driver wound down his window and shouted "BlackBerrys are rubbish." An aide stepped in to say: "We've had a lot of that this week."

The town houses many multinational corporation's European headquarters. Taiwanese smartphone maker HTC opened a European HQ there in June. According to tech news website The Register, personal computer maker Dell also just decided to invest in a new data center in the town.

Nonetheless, Twitter users lamenting the interruption of their BlackBerry services swapped updated versions of a 1937 verse by English poet John Betjeman in which he denounced Slough's industrialization with the line "Come, friendly bombs, and fall on Slough! It isn't fit for humans now."

The 21st century version? "Come friendly bombs, and fall on Slough, I can't get Blackberry Messenger now."

News wires contributed to this report.