SELF-SERVICE tills in supermarkets, ATMs at banks and the recorded voices of my insurance, gas, electricity and water companies are all taking their toll.

In the past I’ve been disdainful and unresponsive to their chat up lines – ‘How can I help you’ – and claims – ‘You are a valued customer.’ Recently I found myself bowing to their blandishments. Now I’ve started talking to the machines.

When the Marks & Spencer self-service till asks ‘Have you swiped your Sparks card?’, I explain that No, I don’t have a Sparks card and I have no idea what one is.

But I say this in a polite, quiet manner, not like one customer at Sainsbury who grabbed hold of the machine, started to throttle it and shouted ‘No, I don’t want to spend 5p one of your silly old plastic bags. Don’t you get that? They harm the environment. You shouldn’t be selling them at all.”

These machines are not only smug, politically correct robots, they are dangerous economic exterminator agents roaming the land to see how many jobs they can destroy.

According to the Bank of England, 15 million jobs are at risk of being lost to robots who do increasingly sophisticated work previously the sole preserve of humans.

One BBC colleague, Mark Watson, used to work in retail and his wife still does. “We’ve seen jobs go. I’d rather deal with a human being. I won’t use the self-service tills on principle. If more and more customers continue to use them, fewer and fewer people will be required to serve. People will lose their jobs.”

I asked if he had taken the same principled stand on using ATMs at his local bank. “Oh no. That’s different. ATMs have always been there ever since I started banking. They are just part of the story. I accept that.”

I don’t. The ATMs have already bent the banking industry out of all recognition. Thousands of bank clerks have lost their jobs. I used to see customers go up to the tellers for a chat and a friendly smile. The tellers got to know their customers. When one NatWest teller discovered a mutual friend of ours had fallen off a cliff and would be in a wheelchair for life, she asked me for his contact numbers so she could visit him in hospital.

A Summertown shopper who did not want to be named, took a different stand. “I always use the self-service tills. I like them because I don’t like people. Just when I think I’ve made my purchase and by-passed people, the robot gets all hot and bothered and an assistant turns up to say soothing things and cool it down because the machine is too stupid to figure out what I’ve done.”

And this people-hating person took an even more extreme position on grey-haired people. “I don’t think old people should be allowed to use self-service tills. They really are for young, computer literate people only. If someone is a bit slow it defeats the purpose. They should get out of the express lane like they have to do legally on the motorway.”

Computers do overstep the mark sometimes and get above themselves. For instance the most common phrase every self-service till I use is “Unexpected item in bagging area”. How can a computer ‘expect’ something if expectation is an emotional state?

The computers in Tesco in Summertown have definitely crossed a line, according to one customer. The machines have succumbed to the tyranny of merriment. They no longer say “Welcome, thank you for using Tesco’s self-service machine”. You now hear only the gentle jingle of some sleigh bells at the start.

At the end of your ‘paying experience’ you will hear the machine say “Ho! Ho! Ho! Merry Christmas!” That was when one customer blew his cool and started shouting at the machine: “How dare you impose your religious beliefs on customers and wish me a ‘Merry Christmas’!”

He stormed up to a human staff member, a Muslim as it happens, and said “This is outrageous. I demand that you stop this ‘Merry Christmas’ religious propaganda.”

The cashier calmly said “Sir, if you can get upset about that you have too much time on your hands. The next visit, get in the queue and pay me.”

Another BBC colleague, TV presenter Jerome Sale, told me “I believe you, Bill, only because you said this all happened in Summertown.”