Seventy receptionists from 20 general practices in Newcastle upon Tyne were interviewed using a questionnaire to determine their demographic and social characteristics, tasks performed and training experience. The majority of receptionists were mature married women working part-time; only 13% had received any formal training. Most receptionists had no career structure and only 9% had ever been given a written job description. Thirty-one per cent of receptionists did not feel appreciated by their general practitioners and more (49%) felt unappreciated by the general public. However, they believed their main function was to help patients. From the description of their work receptionists are clearly integral and essential members of the primary health care team.To achieve the development of primary care services it is likely that practices will need to employ more ancillary staff, and these staff will require more pre-service and in-service training.