Outside Edge: Jasper Rees meets the arty types' money-minder

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CHARLES LAMB used to live next door to the secretary of the Charles Lamb Appreciation Society. He may only be an accountant himself, but his own appreciation society is just as highbrow. Lamb is a tax adviser - if not to the stars, then to the toilers of the entertainment industry.

Currently, he's thinking of withdrawing his advertising campaign from The Stage because, 'You get all sorts of enquiries from time- wasters who want free advice but clearly don't need an accountant.' Actors who don't need an accountant are ones who either have full-time jobs and are taxed at source or - far more numerous - don't have jobs at all. Unfortunately, quite a proportion of Lamb's clientele have found themselves between jobs for several tax years in a row. 'They've disappeared down the drain,' he says mournfully.

There's nothing like being an accountant for seeing how strapped the arts have become. 'Even some of our boys that are earning 40, 50, 60 thousand a year,' he says discreetly, 'which is very big money for people on the pure acting side, are nowadays lucky to get 20, 25.'

About a quarter of Lamb's practice, which he set up with his wife in West Hampstead 12 years ago, is in the entertainment industry. 'We deal with the sort of problems these people have. They can have National Insurance deducted when they've still got Schedule D income. Several years ago all people who were working for production companies had to go under PAYE, which can be a serious pain in the neck. Then you've got a mixture of Schedule D and Schedule E income and you can have some nasty peaks and troughs in your taxable earnings, which you need to deal with.'

Lamb first entered this niche when a flatmate of his, a lighting engineer, needed his taxes sorting. The whole thing mushroomed from there, mainly by word of mouth. Now he has more than 150 clients from television, theatre, music and all-round entertainment. Does it make the job more interesting, troubleshooting for all these arty types? 'Not really. I naturally expect them to be totally bloody hopeless, and am very surprised when some of them are actually quite astute. One or two of the well-known ones are quite nice people. But all I care about is whether they pay my fees or not.'

And does the firm patronise the arts? 'We do go to some of the shows. I've got one cabaret artist - a famous juggler - he's actually quite good. But I'm not going to make a habit of going. One or two things we have been invited to were fairly boring.'