Wednesday, 22 July 2009

Careers Day

 Last week I met a friend who was considering a new teaching post. 'Sounds good,' I said. 'Well, not so much,' she pulled a face, 'It's hardly prestigious work and the pay isn't great.' I was puzzled, it sounded like a fantastic job to me, and we both started wondering what my own criteria for taking work might be.

           1. Is it indoors?

Seems simple enough, most people when thinking about the kind of career they might like, consider whether they are indoor or outdoor people, even if they do so unconsciously. For some, office work would be too confining while others do not have the call for the wild. Some people perceive the elements as a necessary evil of the job. But should they find themselves say, policing a neighbourhood, or supervising Year Two's lunch break, they will, at least, wear a coat when it is raining, which will be absent when it is sunny. That seems like common sense, some employers even provide appropriate work clothing. 

            They will not be swimming off the coast of Brighton in January wearing a full-length woollen bathing suit and matching cap, all day. They will sensibly refrain from donning overcoats in a heat wave and camisoles in winter fields when the moon is full. This is because they listened to their career advisor and didn't become actors. Of course, part of the wonder of the job is the different challenges that each day brings, but shivering through a thunderstorm wearing nothing but a silk shift loses whatever charm it might once have had very quickly. Since the locations are often charmless themselves (see previous posts on disused mental hospitals, tunnels, caves, quarries) there is much to be said for working in a purpose built studio , particularly on period dramas. Which brings me to:

            2. Will I have to wear anything extremely uncomfortable for a long time?

Astronauts probably have to dress up in heavy gear when repairing the hulls of spaceships, and fire workers, while looking obviously very attractive in addition to being well-protected, may get quite sweaty running up and down ladders in the middle of a blazing inferno. But on the whole, if you were told you weren't going to breathe much or eat solid food when wearing your uniform, you might think twice before accepting the position. 

            The costumes on one film I was in were so enormous that we were unable to sit down and were supplied with leaning boards. Corsets pulled so tight that you regularly faint, sleeves that give you track marks, wigs and hats that cut off the circulation in your scalp. All beautifully made and incredibly expensive and everyone is very sorry that the skintight tweed habit that a child has peed on under the Tunisian sun, cannot be dry cleaned even though you are wearing it for another six months.

            Filming days are not short, lights are quite hot. It is something to bear in mind when offered the job. But not, perhaps, as important as:

            3. Will I get to wear anything at all?

Self-explanatory this one. Also, remember the indoors/outdoors question and consider the terrain. Naked, usually in close proximity to another naked body of some description, in public, might be enough joy for one day. Add a gravel pit or a haystack to the list and you could succumb to feelings of negativity. I hesitate to mention bodily fluids (exchange thereof) and I refuse to give them their own heading, lets call it 3a, but surely they must figure slightly in the 'how much do I want this job' equation.

            Yes, it’s all fairly sordid in this part of the career forum. Moving swiftly on .

            4. Will I be working more than a sixty-hour week?

Doctors and nurses often work these hours, emergency services don't look at their watches and clock off as they go into overtime, prime ministers and presidents age visibly by the day with the sheer amount of work. But these are important, life-saving jobs, not involving mascara and tear sticks and magic pants. Well, apart from the politicians anyway.

            The standard union contract for an actor in the UK requires that they have at least eleven hours off between filming days and at least one day a week for a rest day, or three days over a fortnight. You might be working for eleven days at a time, fourteen hours a day including travel, in a corset.

            Something to think about,  when you consider:

            5. Will I be well paid?

            Ah, the nub. As we are all aware, some actors are exceptionally well paid; they park their jets in the garage and wear new clothes every day. Good for them. They are paid that much by businessmen earning similar quantities and purely based on the 'return'. Stop earning for the suits and those stars will be selling exercise videos before you can say 'The Power of Now'.

            And what of the average actor? What remuneration might they expect for an honest day's work? Well, the actor's union, Equity, just tried to get the weekly salary for all West End actors, raised to a minimum of £500. They didn't quite succeed. In the rest of the country, including the smaller London theatres, the average is about £350. Filming can pay better, with the starting rate at about £100-150 a day.  Voice-overs and advertisements can supplement/supply an actor's income. 

When my friend and I had finished my list, she looked thoughtful. ‘Your bar is set pretty low,’ she said, ‘I don’t think our positions are comparable’. But she took her job. 



  1. Thanks for this insight in what an actor has to put up with. My sympathy and respect! I would also like to thank you for making me like my own job a lot better!

    I teach at a technical college, where they do provide a roof over my head but not always any walls (we have a few open learning centres). I am rarely expected to wear anything really uncomfortable or weird, except on the occasional Open Day when we are equipped with rather loud and/or fluorescent shirts which come in two variants: either 2 sizes too small or 3 sizes too big. Guess if the prospective new students think we look cool... Not good for one's self-worth. (On the other hand, those students who decided to take the chance and enrol often seem rather relieved to find out that we do look relatively normal after all on an average day). Other than that, no dress code. If I decide to teach in bermuda shorts and sandals on a hot day – no problem.

    When it comes to about one third of my working hours I can decide when and where I work, and although my pay isn't exactly princely, it's more than I need, really. Most of all, I appreciate the fact that my employers have always been extremely obliging and have granted me leave of absence whenever I started feeling restless and wanted to go play/study/loaf about/travel the world.

    There is a scale going from 'greatest job in the world' via 'fine' to 'what the h*** am I doing here?' with occasional deflections of the needle, which is mostly in the area between 'fine' and 'great' in my case, but reading you last post made the needle point even closer to 'greatest job...'

    Thanks again!!!

    So, what about the rest of you? What trials do you have on your jobs?

  2. Career Gal, Working Mom, Sophisticated Lady - so far; and Dame Sophie, abit later on

    'Twas on 30 December that year: the year of 1964, when God blessed London City, England

    According to local folklore, there was born the cutest babe folks ever did see. That little pink miracle, all tiny and enthralling, but dribbling abit

    Then, years passed. Little changed. Except, in her early career, she promoted poshness. She exuded upper-crust elegance

    She spoke with exquisitely-cultured, well-rounded vowels. As in " ... clarse, I've got real clarse ..."

    And so achingly beautiful to behold, reliable rumour has it that even the then Daily Mirror tabloid hack, Mr Alastair Campbell, felt helplessly smitten

    From Career Gal to Working Mom, but, above all, towards the Gloucestershire lass the English aristocracy, for years, had yearned for - A Sophisticated Lady, Miss Sophie Ward

    Already in high places, it's been muted she'll one day end up titled Dame Sophie of The British Empire, for her selfless services to provincial theatres, stage, movie and tv screens. And doughnut franchises, too

    Strikes me - because that's one helluva narrative - shove that on your Career CV, Sophie. Quickly

    Blessed be, Sophie Ward

    Trevor Malcolm

  3. "...hardly a prestigious work." What's that look like these days? I've been to a few parties lately where I've said exactly what it is I do and been dismissed immediately by a not-so-furtive glance at the wristwatch.
    Here's one job I'll always remember. Just 19 I was and took a job at the Marine/Mammals Center and spent the summer caring for two hilariously cleaver dolphins. I fed them and swam with them daily and they, in turn, never let me forget who was the poser in the tank! As summer came to a close, I cried buckets leaving them behind for University.

    How about anyone else? Sophie, what's your fondest non-theatrical employment memory?

  4. I loved working in a book shop as a teenager. Never took home any pay though, I'd always spent it on the stock by the end of the day.

  5. Prestigious work.. . . . . ? Beneficial, influential or famous?

    That’s a difficult subject. Every job I have done has held prestige for me at the time: after all, I wouldn’t have done it if I hadn’t thought it significantly worthwhile or contributory. Whether it is contributory or not is a difficult question, depending upon the viewpoint. For example, oil exploration in SE Asia might contribute more to both the world and the most local of the native people but might be equally damaging to (both the world and) the native society overall. In my project, we didn’t find oil, yet I have often thought about the impact we had on the local area at the time and what change might have followed.

    Now, having turned to helping the conservation of ‘natural’ habitats in the UK, I’d like to think that my involvement is worthwhile now and will be so into the future. I’m probably a bit naïve though!

    For you and your fiend, as a teacher or actor, the impact your work has on people must be influential, significant and immediate. Surely such work is, at all times, prestigious?

    Just in case you are looking for alternatives though, oil exploration scores quite nicely on your list of criteria –
    1: Is it indoors? Yes, except when you’re sent to a hot country
    2: Uncomfortable clothes? Not usually, unless you’re sent to a very hot country
    3: Wear any clothes at all? Not much call for a nudist oil-rig!
    4: 60 hour week? Why bother measuring work in less than 1 month on- 1 week off?
    5: Tolerably…!

    Nature conservation offers a different perspective –
    1: Is it indoors? Only if it’s raining
    2: Uncomfortable clothes? Only if it’s outdoors
    3: Wear any clothes at all? I dread being called to work in the sun.... (Studland United Nudists!)
    4: 60 hour week? Why bother measuring work in more than 1 week on- 1 month off?
    5: The pay is the beauty of the countryside we work in, OK?


  6. The Sophie Ward CV – Mind, Body, but what about Spirit?


    Sophie, where you live, intrigued to hear the villagers embracing “The Power of Now” and pleasantly stunned to hear the word of Eckhart Tolle spread, especially down Gloucestershire way, regarded more often as the home of the well-heeled, horsey Royals than the spiritually enlightened

    Home to oddball eco-toffs, like the wife of the Marquis of Worcester, the former tv actress Tracy-Louise Ward, now turned film director. Yet still the most delightfully eccentric of the English aristocracy

    So, how spiritually enlightened are the neighbours your way, exactly? Are the green wellington-boot-wearing locals marching into town – waving placards, announcing, “Now I Know Who I Am” – as yet?

    After all, when it comes to mentioning your mentors on any CV, best to remember that Planet Earth has few “Living Masters” and Eckhart Tolle is one

    Now, that’s not a bad number, is it, considering?

    Perhaps some future blog will shed light on the spiritual side of the Venerable Sophie Ward. One deep YES to the I AM that remains - when all the storylines of the Little You vanish

    A delightful prospect to ponder. And a change from all this acting palaver and Equity pay-wranglings, haggling over which actress deserves both £20 banknotes to take home

    Blessed Be, Sophie Ward
    From Trevor Malcolm


  7. Violently Urgent BBC tv News Update

    Sophie on Monday 7 September 2009, and all this week, too


    … Oh, to be in Nottingham
    Now that Sophie Ward is there …

    I feel sure the poet, Robert Browning, (1812-89), would complain it’s such a shame Sophie Ward doesn’t twitter – at least, not to my knowledge, she doesn’t

    You know, same as celebrities like Davina, Stephen Fry, Alastair Campbell, and film actresses like Denise Richards and Demi Moore do, so incessantly. At least, that way no-one would’ve missed the first episode of the BBC1 series this week, Land Girls, broadcast at 5:15pm this tea-time. Following episodes, same time, same channel, this week

    Those with outstanding memories will recall you mentioning the palaver at the outset of putting this unusual BBC series together in your blog, dated Monday, 18 May 2009

    Just imagine being in the city of Nottingham all this week: you get to see Sophie Ward’s portrayal of the haughty Lady Hoxley on the BBC at tea-time, then toddle along to the local theatre, to watch her perform live on stage, later that same evening, in the play, The Grass is Greener. Enough to make me wanna be Robin Hood of Sherwood

    Although I already have strong reservations your Lady Hoxley portrayal is destined to become one of my favourite Sophie characters. I found myself wondering how such a magnanimous chap as your screen-husband, Lord Hoxley, got lumbered with a wife like, uh, well, like you: that poor bugger

    Although, as a small compensation, His Lordship did get to save the “damsel in distress” – poor gal had got all her kit off, to wash her naked body in the poshest bath tub, even though she be but a humble Land Girl. Just at that moment, his wife, Lady Hoxley, decides she wishes to bathe, too. You swine. Even after this first episode, I can appreciate why the cast and production team were booing Sophie Ward, during the read-through. Another “Nurse Ratched” style of convincing character portrayal, a job deceptively well-done

    Trevor Malcolm



  8. One after-thought to that violently urgent BBC tv News Update, please

    Sophie on Monday 7 September 2009, and all this week, too


    About your current tv series, no wish to spoil the week, by giving the game away, but episode one’s ingredients, eg “ … soldiers, land girls and alcohol, all in one room … “ to quote your Lady Hoxley. Then, Yankie darkies turn up at the charity dance you organise, led to believe they’d all be warmly welcomed, regardless of skin colour, leads to petitions against segregation, too. Bags of conflict and potential

    So, the war effort lasts all week, with promise of more than a few young land girls joining the Women’s Land Army, in search of a few snogs

    No idea such things happened in Dame Vera Lynn’s time, disgraceful

    Tomorrow, Annie and Billy track down the father of Bea’s unborn child. Next day, Annie struggles to come to terms with Harry’s death. Thursday, a break-in at the Manor House leads to a riot

    Finally on Friday, you can bet the character Nancy will be shocked to learn Lawrence’s secret, all breathless stuff, eh?

    And gee, the relentless tweets of BBC Media Folks sure know how to ruin any suspense in a storyline. But at least they’ve commissioned another series, complete with Sophie Ward as Lady Hoxley

    Years ago, when the BBC could afford to finance lavish period costume dramas, it’s rumoured whenever casting directors needed an actress who “ heaved bosomy beauty and substance, plentiful cleavage, all they needed to yell would be “ … phone Bonham-Carter, now … “ The simplicity of BBC casting. And poor Helena, typecast again

    Seeing you portray Lady Hoxley, so convincingly, I shalln’t be surprised if the same casting directors in future, whenever they want a “plum in her mouth, Complete Lady Posh Rat-Arse” – they simply yell “ … call up Sophie Ward, now” - shameful

    Bless you, Sophie Ward. I reckon you cornered a tight niche market in character portrayal, hence solved a BBC casting dilemma, for the corporation’s future, well done. They should thank you, really

    Wonderful to see you back on the telly, please forgive me preferring you as Dr Helen Trent in the series, Heartbeat, and hope to hear how well-received the tour of your current stage-play is going

    Trevor Malcolm