TV Times, ensured that the public was constantly aware of the sheer loveability of Bernard Walton.

On the other hand, though Charles Paris could, and usually did, balk at the social invitations, he never turned down any work that came his way through Bernard. In fact, he hardly ever turned down any work from any source. His was not a career of constant decision, weighing the advantages and disadvantages of one job against another; it was a career of grabbing whatever he was offered quickly, before anyone changed their minds.

And so, when he discovered that Bernard Walton, star of West End Television’s hit sit. com., What’ll the Neighbours Say? had recommended him for the tiny part of Reg, the golf club barman, in one episode of the series, Charles had had no hesitation in accepting it. He was not then to know. and nor was his magnanimous sponsor, that the success of the minor characters, Colonel and Mrs Strutter (played by George Birkitt and Aurelia Howarth), would be so great that they would be promoted from Bernard’s neighbours and sidekicks into the stars of a new spin-off series called The Strutters. And that, because of the convenience of the golf club bar for linking scenes (and because the company saw an opportunity to save the expense of a new set), Reg the golf club barman would be a regular character in the new series (if it passed the test of the pilot currently in the studio).

Bernard Walton had condescended to take a guest part, as his old What’ll the Neighbours Say? character, just for the first episode of the new show, to provide a link for the audience and speed the setting up of the new situation, but he had expected more recognition of his generous gesture. Not just to be dismissed with a ‘with’. Nor to be demoted from Dressing Room One, traditionally his on What’ll the Neighbours Say? recording days, to make way for the recently promoted Aurelia Howarth who, whatever her achievements in a long stage career, had not, to Bernard’s way of thinking, anything like his stature in television.

A deeper anxiety, not spoken out loud but hinted at by the cast of The Strutters, may also have affected Bernard Walton’s state of mind. Though West End Television had an option on dates for a further series of What’ll the Neighbours Say?, they seemed slow in taking it up. Rumour had it that the company’s Director of Programmes, Nigel Frisch, was waiting to see how the public reacted to the spin-off before making a final decision on the parent show.

Which posed a considerable threat to the career of Bernard Walton.

Charles Paris was aware of all this as he talked to George Birkitt about the threatened star. So too was George Birkitt. When Charles had declined the suggestion that he should smooth Bernard’s ruffled feathers, saying it was the producer’s job, since producers must make themselves useful sometimes, George commented, ‘Pity about the dressing room, though. It would have been easier if they’d put me in Number One.’

Responding to Charles’s raised eyebrow, he hastened to correct the false impression. ‘No, no, I’m not getting big time. I just mean that I could have pretended there was some mistake and done a discreet swap with Bernard. I don’t mind having Three. Whereas, Aurelia. . By the time you’ve got that old dear safely installed, it’d be cruelty to move her. And by the time she’s got Cocky settled, it’d be impossible.’

Cocky was a singularly revolting, aged Yorkshire terrier belonging to Aurelia Howarth. He was said to have been named after the impresario, C. B. Cochran, one of whose ‘Young Ladies’ the actress had been.

‘Anyway, the dressing rooms aren’t our problem,’ said Charles. recapturing the Olympian detachment of the slightly drunk.

‘Suppose not. Who sorts out who gets which?’

‘I think the PA does a list.’ It was likely. Production Assistants are responsible for a surprising range of duties in television.

‘Ah, the lovely Sadie.’ George Birkitt grimaced. ‘Well, I wouldn’t be surprised if she were deliberately trying to antagonise Bernard. She really seems to enjoy making trouble. Do you know what she said to me this morning?’

‘No,’ Charles fed obligingly.

‘She said, ‘Enjoy your brief day of stardom — it’s the only one you’re likely to get.”


‘Yes, I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone with quite her knack for being gratuitously insulting. I mean, what she said may well be true, but it’s not the sort of thing an actor welcomes first thing in the morning on a studio day.’

‘No. I think she gets her name from her direct lineage from the Marquis de Sade.’

George Birkitt chuckled politely. There was a pause. He looked at his watch. For the first time he betrayed signs of nervousness. ‘If we don’t start soon, we’re not going to get in a Full Dress Run.’

‘What is the time?’

‘Nearly five to five. We were meant to start at quarter to. They’ll stop at six, however far we’ve got.’

‘Oh, they’ll let us finish if — ’

‘No, they won’t. Got to have their forty-five minutes to line the cameras up, and then their hour’s meal-break. Union rules. Actually they’ll stop on the dot tonight. There’s a union meeting at six. In the Carpenter’s Shop or somewhere. It was announced over the speakers at lunch — didn’t you hear it?’

‘No, I. .’

‘So maybe all our efforts will be in vain. If they call a strike, the show won’t get made.’

‘That likely?’

‘No, I think we’ll be all right tonight. But there’ll be trouble soon. I’ve got friends in the know who say all the ITV companies could be out by the summer.’

‘What, because the BBC have just got a pay award?’

George Birkitt nodded.

‘Yes, of course,’ observed Charles Paris sagaciously. ‘The BBC went on strike to achieve parity with ITV, so it’s only a matter of time before ITV goes on strike to achieve greater disparity from the BBC.’

At this moment the object of their earlier odium, Sadie Wainwright, the PA, appeared on the studio floor from the Production Control. She was tall, blonde and attractive in a thin-lipped way. Her tan seemed to be permanent, as if in homage to her South African origin. She was neatly dressed in beige cord trousers and a flowered shirt. Gold chains clunked round her neck and wrists. She moved purposefully, clutching a pile of white camera cards.

In her wake, hesitant but not daunted, came the trainee PA who was trailing her. At outside rehearsals, where Charles had first registered that she was rather attractive, he had discovered that her name was Jane Lewis. By contrast to Sadie, her skin was almost white, sprinkled with tiny freckles. Her eyes were water-colour blue, but their paleness, together with that of her face, gained distinction from the defiant blackness of her hair, which was centrally parted and cut short.

Sadie made a considerable production of handing out the white cards to the cameramen. ‘The Director,’ she pronounced, ladling contempt on to the word, ‘has changed so many shots in that Sitting Room scene that I’ve just had to type all these out or you’ll never find your way around.’

As she did her tour, she was followed by a tall angular figure in pale green trousers and sympathetically green striped shirt. This was Mort Verdon, the Stage Manager, who was in charge of the outside rehearsals and the organisation of props and a thousand and one other small duties around the studio. One didn’t have to see the diamond stud in his ear or hear the swooping drawl of his voice; his every movement had the desired effect of advertising his proud overt gayness.

As he followed behind Sadie, he kept trying to get her attention. ‘Sorry, boofle. Sorry, lovely. Quick whisper, eh?’

When she had distributed all her cards, he got his quick whisper. But, though he may have wanted to be discreet, she had no such desire. When she’d heard Mort’s request, she snapped, ‘No, of course we can’t do anything about the dressing rooms at this stage. He’ll have to lump it.’

Another fluttering whisper.

‘No, the bloody dog has to stay there. Now can we get on with this bloody wake?’

The Floor Manager, a hearty young man called Robin Laughton, who had ambitions to direct, took this as a cue for the start of the dress run. ‘Okay, boys and girls, let’s have a bit of hush. We are in a Dress Run situation. Can we have all the artistes for — ’

‘Not yet!’ blazed Sadie Wainwright. ‘I’m not in the box. You can’t start till I’m in the box.’

‘But Scott says — ’ Robin Laughton gestured ineffectually to the earpiece which kept him in direct

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