In which The Author has an odd phone conversation
Quite a number of years ago, at about this time of year, a school wanted to order 25 copies of a play from Dillons Bookshop in Cardiff. Glenn was on holiday, so I was looking after the account sales office for the week. Usually, getting hold of a script wouldn’t be a problem; there’d be an edition available from Methuen, or Faber, or Penguin, and the order would go through the normal channels.
This one was a bit more unconventional. The only script available was the ‘acting edition’ (which comes complete with stage directions, a list of props, and so forth), from the venerable London publishing house of Samuel French Ltd. I knew from bitter experience that the Teleordering system and Samuel French weren’t exactly compatible at the best of times. I decided not to run the risk of the order going AWOL, so I picked up the phone instead.
It had probably occurred to me even before I dialled the number that anyone working in a West End bookshop and involved with the theatre probably wouldn’t play rugby on his days off. The actor Joss Ackland once told a great story on the radio, about the time he dropped the bombshell to his family that he wanted to tread the boards. His father took him to one side and offered a note of caution:
‘Have you ever been to a tailor’s to be measured for a suit?’ he began. ‘Did you notice that the man took rather more measurements of your trousers than were strictly necessary? Well, you’ll find a lot of people like that in the theatre.’
Anyway, the phone was answered by an extremely camp gentleman who sounded as though he was auditioning for a Julian and Sandy tribute show (see No Laughing Matter
.) More than likely, he was just filling in while resting between engagements.
‘Good morning, French’s Theatre Bookshop, how may I help you?’ he fluted.
I have to be honest, I nearly laughed as soon as he spoke. It really didn’t help that Marilynne was standing a few feet away. She was a huge fan of Kenneth Williams, the Carry On films, Tony Hancock, Round the Horne, and all the great comedy that I’d grown up watching and listening to. I looked away so that I wouldn’t catch her eye and laugh out loud. The shop was fairly quiet; for a second I wondered whether to put the phone onto speaker mode, so that she could hear the Bona Bookseller for herself. Then I realised that we’d both collapse into fits of laughter, and thought better of it.
I steeled myself, forced myself to keep a straight face, and spoke to Sandy’s stunt double while trying not to laugh:
‘Good morning, I’m calling from Dillons in Cardiff. I’d like to order 25 copies of a play, please. I can give you the ISBN, if that’s any help.’
‘Oh no, I’d much rather have a title,’ our actor manqué replied.
Goddess only knows how I managed not to say, ‘I’m sure you would, luvvie, but we can’t all be Olivier, can we?’