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Sometimes a practical joke can come off so perfectly that even the best plans are surpassed. Ivan Browne was not the brightest life insurance salesman you could hope to meet and had to be the most na´ve person I ever encountered. Long before everything became computerised, our whole of life insurance rates had to be calculated using a huge book of tables. These books were so huge they didn't fit in your briefcase and were normally kept in your desk.

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There were literally hundreds of thousands of permutations in these whole of life rate books based on age, date of birth, premiums and sum assured. The problem was that most whole life rate books got borrowed and never returned and on one particular day Irwin Browne, who was known as Ivan the Terrible because of his huge frame needed to borrow a rate book and approached me. (the last life insurance salesman he should have asked.)

"Have you got a whole of life rate book I can borrow?" he asked.

"Sorry Ivan, mines been nicked, Mike will be here in a minute, ask him." I said craning my neck to look up at him.

"Will he have a whole of life book with him?" he asked half disbelieving that Mike would be lugging a rate book around with him.

"No." I said. "He has memorised the whole of life insurance rate tables, just ask him any permutation you like, he'll be able to tell you." I expected Ivan to respond with an expletive but instead he asked.

"Does he sell many whole of life insurance policies?"

"No, he's never sold any." I said with all seriousness.

"Can't see the point of memorising the whole thing if he's never sold any." Said Ivan and walked off in search of some real help.

I looked across at Howard Sherwin who had been party to the conversation who was biting on his fist to suppress his laughter. I just shook my head at him not to laugh and give the game away in the hope that Ivan would ask Mike when he came in. If he did, I wasn't a party to it but it gave me a clear indication as to how na´ve Ivan was.


So one afternoon after a particularly gruelling and unproductive session of cold calling it was time to have a bit of fun and the target was "Ivan the Terrible". The whole thing was totally unrehearsed; I just happened to have one of Ivan's business cards with his home telephone number and felt like I needed a laugh. So I picked up the phone and dialled his number which was answered almost immediately by the man himself.

"Mr Browne?" I asked doing my best to disguise my voice. "British telecom technical engineers, just testing your line. Have you noticed some problems lately?"

"Yes I have." Said the unsuspecting Ivan.

Mike put down his phone to listen to the fun and waved some other insurance salesmen to come over and listen in on the wind up.

"I just need you to help me with some simple tests to ensure we have fixed the problem. Could you just whistle as hard as you can down the phone please." Ivan duly complied.

"That's fine, could you please step about five feet away from the phone and whistle again please." Ivan was only to happy to help.

"I'm still getting an echo." I said when Ivan returned to the phone. "Do you have a chair or table in the room?" Ivan conformed that he had. "Could you please stand on a chair or table and shout as loud as you can please?"

"That's great, that's that problem fixed." I said "Could you please put the phone down, step about ten feet back and sing a song for me."

"A song? What song?" asked Ivan.

"Anything you like; waltzing Matilda works particularly well if you know it? I said trying desperately not to laugh. I could here Ivan singing Waltzing Matilda in the back ground then returned and picked up the receiver.

"Sorry." I said, not believing my luck. "We are getting a little turbulence, do you mind repeating the exercise but this time hopping up and down so that we can adjust the reverberations." At this point I though I had gone too far. I was pointing to the phone and nodding my head to the other life insurance salesmen who were all in hysterics that he was actually doing it. He came back to the phone and just about controlling myself but unable to continue, I thanked him and hung up.

Later that evening Ivan came into the office and the salesmen who had been present that were still at their desks hung there heads to stifle their laughter. I got up and started to hop past Ivan's desk singing Waltzing Matilda as the office broke into peels of laughter.

Ivan looked up at me for second as if he didn't get the joke and then a look of realisation and then pure anger appeared on his face and he jumped up and started chasing me around the office. Too fast for him and fear giving me extra speed, he eventually sat down at his desk and ignored me.

I sat down and said "that guy really hates me." To Mike. "Only you would look on that as an achievement." He replied and he was right; it had been the perfect practical joke.

Some things are funny at the time, others only funny when you look back at them. One particular episode almost ended with my own life insurance settlement.

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