In response to the travails of Devon Malcolm, Ann Widdicombe and the personal staff of the Duchess of York, we embarked on a survey of the horrors that can come with a job. We returned with tales of humiliation, abuse, ingratitude, physical assault - and the perseverance of the British worker in search of a crust. Photographs by Martin Morrell
Magnus Miller, 41, is a London bus driver whose route includes the West End. He takes home pounds 160 a week and tells it like it is

Last October, on the night the clocks went back, there appeared a notice at the bus garage threatening "disciplinary action" against anyone late for work the next day: you have been warned. Why someone should be late when the clocks have gone back was not explained. Still, there was nothing unusual about this. The walls of the bus garage are covered with all sorts of warnings. We're told to never jump red traffic lights, to never run early, to always check the vehicle is roadworthy, and, of course, to always stop at bus stops when requested. In other words, we must remember we're professional drivers. That is why we are paid pounds 4.72 an hour.

All right, let's get moving. Out in the shed, all the buses are lined up ready to go, and you better leave on time because there are inspectors lurking around with watches more accurate than yours. Yeah, I know buses are supposed to run on schedule, but I can do without these people on my back all day. Maybe I'm just sensitive.

Once I'm installed in the sanctuary of the cab, I can start to take revenge on the world. After all, I've got a reputation to live up to. Everyone knows what complete bastards bus drivers are - how they just pull away from the kerb without even looking! As you can imagine, this takes weeks of training. Learning to ignore that huge mirror on the side of the cab is not easy. More often than not, the bus driver does look in the mirror and can hardly believe what he sees. "Does that guy really think he can come through this gap?" Apparently so. Judging by the hand signal he's giving me, he seems to think it's all my fault. Oh, really - the middle finger?

Now it's time to pick up a few passengers. Well, I suppose they're passengers. The way they stand in a loose group around the bus stop suggests they are. A few are scowling: they've been waiting half-an-hour, and now three buses come along together. (Why do we travel in convoys? Because it's bloody dangerous out there.)

Now then, is anybody going to put their hand out? No? Well, I'll stop, anyway. It's a bit mean leaving them behind when they're trying to get to work. Not that they'll appreciate my gesture.

My poor conductor goes under a deluge of passengers. They're all moaning at him: "You're late." We're not. And my favourite, "Your driver wasn't going to stop." What are they, mind-readers?

Luckily, I only get to meet them occasionally. Such as when we're waiting at the terminus. It's like being interrogated by the Gestapo sometimes. Over and over, always the same question.

"When are you going?"

"In a minute."

"Yes, but when exactly?"

"We're going at five past."

"It's five past now."

"All right, we're going when my watch says five past."

"Well, when will that be?"

"IN A MINUTE."

Which is why, I suppose, people think bus drivers are rude. Well, I'm afraid we have to be. We are, after all, professionals. Jennie Halsall, who is in her forties, runs her own PR consultancy in west London, with an annual turnover of pounds 300,000. She says her take-home pay is "less than pounds 50,000". In a career spanning 25 years, her clients have included Elton John, Gerald Ratner and now Riverdance

I started out in the music industry, as an assistant in the press office at EMI. I particularly loved soul music. But I was a bit naive. I remember EMI had a party for Edwin Starr, who had a big hit with "War". I asked him: "Is there anything I can do for you?" He just looked at me and said, "Yeah, two hookers in my room in 30 minutes." I thought he was joking, I was only 20. Nobody had ever asked me anything of the sort before. I grew up after that.

It's a sexist business, the music industry, so Rule Number One: don't fuck the clients. I was once doing the PR for Ritchie Blackmore's Rainbow, the heavy metal band, in Germany. We were all supposed to attend this record company dinner, but the band had told the tour manager to wind me up. Ten minutes before the car was leaving, he pushed me in the hotel swimming pool. I hadn't brought many other clothes with me, so they gave me this T-shirt to wear which said chauvinist pig in German. I took it at the time, but later I've felt I wanted to kill them for the disrespect. Now I wouldn't put up with it at all, because the one thing you have to be in this business is professional. For all the things written about Elton John, he was a sweetie to work with.

It can be very hard. One of the music journalists once wrote a very cruel but very accurate review of Rainbow when they were playing the Castle Donnington festival. They were still my act, but I cried with laughter when I read it, it was so funny. Then the manager walked up to me and said, "Come with me", and that was it: I was fired. After six years. Worth it, though.

I don't do so much music business now. It was such a relief to do someone like Gerald Ratner. Brilliant. You worked with him, not for him. There was mutual respect. Clifton Reynes Diane Shadwell, 32, a former film student and stand-up comic, does a nanny-share for two families. She has been a qualified nanny for 14 years (a daily nanny earns a minimum of pounds 4 an hour). She lives with her boyfriend in London

Most parents are at their best at the interview. When you like someone, and they offer you the job for less than you really want, it's difficult to say no, because being happy with them is so important. Sometimes we'll agree a salary, then when you turn up, they'll say, "Oh, will you accept pounds 2 less?"

The two things most likely to cause friction are money and time-keeping. If you never get a pay rise, or you didn't get the baby-sitting money or whatever, you begin to lose respect for your employers. It's the same if they're always late back with some excuse.

You can find yourself in very embarrassing situations. If I walk in on a row, I sing loudly so they know I'm there. At one job, the phone rang and the woman on the other end thought I was the children's mother. "I'm going to tell you everything," she said. "I'm having an affair with your husband, but he's too scared to tell you. I've even got photos." When I explained I was the nanny, she became hysterical and wanted to know what he was like to his wife and family. I didn't know what to do. But I rang the husband at work. He came straight home and tried to laugh it off, but then said I would get a bonus at the end of the week. Of course, I didn't take it.

The woman kept ringing. It was a terrible time, especially as the mother treated me as a friend. She knew their marriage had changed since the children had come along, but she had no idea what was going on. She'd say things like, "I must do something about myself." I used to suggest that she went and bought some new clothes, but I felt awful. At the same time, the husband used to complain to me that they never went out any more. He'd say things like, "I wish she'd wear eye make-up." They moved eventually, and I don't know to this day what happened.

However much you like a family, there are bound to be little niggles - like they don't want the children watching the television during the day but they let them when they are at home. They feel guilty because they've been away all day. I turned up at 8am one morning with a family who had four children, and a few hours later the parents went off to America for three weeks. They'd never met me before. The oldest child was seven and the baby was only two weeks old. I really have no time for people like that.

I love the fact that you can be spontaneous with children, and that you've helped them along. Looking after other people's children has made me want to have my own more. But I would never employ a nanny. Penny Jackson Albie Smosarski, 48, is the head teacher of the Green Church of England School, a state primary in Tottenham, north London. He has held the post for 13 years. He works a 70-hour week and earns pounds 29,000

The stress starts first thing in the morning with the worry over whether I will have a full staff. The dreaded phone calls from sick teachers come in from 7am - today there were two, last week six - and I have to find supply teachers to deputise at short notice, which I do between wolfing down breakfast and finalising my forward planning.

I get to school at 8am and join the caretaker in cleaning up the grounds. For the past two years, our site has been abused after-hours by people from nearby estates who use it for shooting up and sexual intercourse. We find crack bottles, needles, used condoms, dumped handbags, stolen purses, beer bottles, burning debris, broken glass and fast-food litter. Our school sign has been carved up by a Stanley knife, our front doors have been stabbed, and they've tried to burn them down.

One morning, I arrived to find pounds 10,000-worth of computer equipment stolen. The police appear unable or unwilling to control it. We've put up high grille fences which make the school resemble a prison, but people still manage to scale them.

The pupils arrive for 8.55am, and I do a walkabout to see that the classes are settled. Although we draw from one of the most deprived inner-city boroughs in the country, our school has a good reputation and our pupils are generally well disciplined - but we do have a growing minority of disruptive students. I have to deal with physical fighting in the classroom, pencil-throwing, pupils who deliberately ignore their teachers.

Another stress factor is handling children who have been abused at home. One pupil had weals all over his legs, so I pulled him aside and asked where he got them. He had been whipped from head to toe - it was the worst case of physical abuse I have ever seen, and I went straight to social services. Sexual abuse is more difficult to spot. Sometimes the child tells us, sometimes they write it down. This morning I was given a note which an eight-year-old girl had given to another girl. It said: "Please may I have sex with you?" Below were two little boxes marked "yes" and "no", with instructions to tick one of them. Obviously, we have to do something, though we usually run the gauntlet of parents who say it's none of our business.

I've had parents attack my staff, and I've had to exclude a parent from the site for being verbally abusive to my secretary. Flashpoints are hard to predict. One afternoon, just as the parents were congregating to pick up their children, two mothers started swearing at each other. "F*** you! Don't you ever speak to my child like that!" Then they started attacking each other physically. We had to stop these mothers taking lumps out of each other.

I get home any time between 7 and 11pm. Often I take work home. My workload is exacerbated because I have been without a deputy head for the last term. The position has been advertised but nobody has taken it up. Despite all I've said, I enjoy my job. But recently I've noticed things like insomnia and illness creeping in. Sometimes I crash through a week and think: "Gosh, did I come through all that?" David Cohen Helen Peters 33, handles customer relations at Thomas Cook's head office in Peterborough, earning between pounds 15,000 and pounds 20,000 a year. She receives up to 300 letters or calls a week. She is married to Flight Lieutenant John Peters, the British airman held hostage by Saddam Hussein during the Gulf War

There are occasions when people will swear, rant and rave, abuse you and threaten you with newspapers and lawyers before you have even had time to speak. Inside, you think, "Well, go off and do it then", but you have to maintain your calm.

I draw the line if people swear at me, especially when they use the F- word or if they come on the telephone saying, "I don't want to talk to a stupid little woman." It's usually men who say that. If they don't stop swearing, I hang up.

I've lost my cool only once or twice - times when I came off the telephone physically shaking. I had one customer last year who called every day from Portugal. Each telephone call lasted two hours. He used our emergency number, so we paid. He complained about everything, from the fact that the brochure said the swimming pool was 50 yards when he'd measured it to be 51, to the fact that they played music at the swimming-pool bar at 2 in the afternoon when he felt it should be quiet. He wanted a room overlooking the swimming pool, but asked to be moved because of the noise. Once in a quieter room, he complained he could no longer see the pool. He was shown 16 different bedrooms. None were quite right. In the end, he locked a courier in his bedroom to force her to listen to his complaints. We offered to fly him home, but he wouldn't come. He just kept calling me.

Recently, I spoke to a father in America whose young son had lost his cuddly toy. The man claimed the hotel maids had stolen it and sold it. He was claiming pounds 200 compensation for mental anguish. He couldn't see that the prospect of a black market trade in well-loved, fluffy bunnies was most unlikely.

Very often, the ones who shout are the ones with the more trivial complaints. They're angry because their flight has been changed by two hours or something (although it specifies in the contract that this can happen). I don't know why this is, it's just one of those things. I'd say about 10 per cent of everything is justified. But we must put the same effort into investigating every individual complaint.

Insurance claims can be difficult. It's strange how most of us probably buy our underwear from Mark's & Spencer, but, when a suitcase goes missing, they will say it was full of designer knickers or Vivienne Westwood dresses. Many people don't just lose a watch - they lose a Gucci. Cases like these make it harder for the genuine customers.

People think it must be depressing having to listen to complaints all day, but I get an incredible amount of job satisfaction. It's like detective work - you analyse the information, ascertain the grievance, and decide how to help.

I am a steady person, not necessarily tough. When my husband was in the Gulf War, people asked me, "How did you cope?" Well, I just did. Perhaps that's why I'm not too sympathetic when people ring up complaining about cobwebs on their lampshades. Lesley Gerrard

Robyn Pearce 30, has worked for a central London minicab company for two years. She earns approximately pounds 23,000 a year, before deductions. When not ferrying drunk customers around SW10, she works as a photographer

The worst times are Christmas, New Year and the office party season, when people throw up in the back of my cab. Generally, people are quite good when they feel sick and they ask you to stop or open the window. But, if the worst happens, the standard procedure is to charge them pounds 40 and take the car straight to a valet service. If you're nowhere near one, or they're all shut for the night, you have to go home and get the bucket and sponge out and do it yourself. Those nights make me feel like leaving the job.

The last time someone was sick in my car was a few weeks ago. I picked up a group of people from a restaurant near Piccadilly. There were four of them. One the girls didn't look very well, but I forgot about it until I looked in the rear-view mirror and saw her vomit into a plastic bag. Someone was obviously expecting her to be sick if they were carrying a bag.

I thought, "Oh, shit!", but everyone kept shouting, "It's OK. It's in the bag. Don't worry." When we got to SW10, they all got out, and one of the guys was brushing his suit as he paid me. I looked round at the back seat and part of it was covered in dried sick. My heart sank. I hadn't charged them any more, and the car was out of action for the night. I guess the girl had rolled sideways when one of the people got out and the sick dribbled out of her mouth. Ugh. It was the bucket-and-sponge situation back at my house. I was furious because these were regular customers and I thought they'd have more respect for me.

Smoking is the other irritating behaviour. Most people ask if they can smoke, and I will usually let them, but some people are so rude and act as if they're in their own house. If they just light up without asking, I turn round with a withering glance and sigh, "Yes, you may smoke in my car."

I've never really felt under threat in my job, but there was a point a few weeks ago when I'd had ten horrible customers in a row. I call them the "Master and Servant Class" types. They will get in the car and bark out their destination like "Camden!". No please or thank you. Then, after a long period of silence, they'll bark "Left!" or "Here!"

Some people assume cab drivers are as thick as two short planks. In my experience, most cab drivers I know are just doing the driving to earn extra cash. The drivers I work with are also solicitors, teachers and furniture designers. I'm a photographer when I'm not driving people around, doing rock bands, and driving is perfect to fit around my work. So when people assume you don't have a brain, you just boil inside.

When I get these Master and Servant types, I just want to give up. You know, they're not nasty but just arrogant and plain rude. I also get the odd man who gets in the front of the car and, while fumbling with their seatbelt, puts their hand on my knee. And those who just keep leering and asking, "So, do you have a boyfriend then?" The main thing to do in those circumstances is to take control, and I usually tell them they've got a choice, "Either shut up and sit quietly until I get there, or get out now." They usually shut up at this point.

It's annoying when someone gets in the cab and then can't remember where they live. That's a good one. You spend hours driving around until they recognise their own street. I would say that 70 per cent of people don't know their left from their right, either, or they will point from behind you so you can't see them. You have to have infinite patience.

You pick film types up in Soho. They're so wanky. They sit in the back going, "La, la, la, so-and-so said", and dropping names like there's no tomorrow. They know I'm listening. I do like it when people ask my opinion, though. You get to feel that someone knows you're smart for once.

When I started in this job, there was this one guy that I picked up from a club in the centre of London, and someone got in with him. I wasn't listening, particularly, but I did hear him say, "Listen, I don't usually pick someone up and go home with them like this." I dropped them both off and didn't think anything of it.

Two weeks later outside the same club the same guy got in the cab. With someone else. And, after a few minutes, I overheard him say, "Listen, I don't usually do this you know..." I tried not to laugh, but the guy noticed I was the same cab driver from before, and we exchanged glances in the rear-view mirror. When he got out, he said, "Um, you won't say anything, will you?" And I just smiled and said, "Well, the customary, yet optional, tip in this situation is a fiver." He gave it to me as well. Sophia Chauchard-Stuart

Abdul Bari 31, has been the manager of a small tandoori restaurant, The Empress, in Manor Park, east London, for three years. He was born in Sylphet, Bangladesh, and has worked in Indian restaurants since moving to England in 1981. He declined to give his annual income

I work a minimum 60-hour week, working six days a week. Sometimes, like now, when my partner is on holiday, I work seven days a week and many more hours.

I don't think the general public realise how stressful this job can be behind the scenes. You can be sitting doing nothing for two hours, waiting, then the restaurant will suddenly fill up with people and 20 take-away orders will come in at once. A big order or a complicated dish can throw the whole timetable out.

You can sense if someone has come in for trouble and is not genuine. They will start off politely, very politely, but you sense they intend not to pay. It's young men, mostly. They can be black or white. Colour is not relevant.

The other night, three young men came in. They ordered large meals and champagne. The bill was in excess of pounds 70. I sensed they were trouble, but once you realise this in the middle of an order, there's nothing you can do except watch them. You cannot get involved in a nasty scene.

After the meal, one said he was popping out for cigarettes. After ten minutes, the other said he was going to look for him. Five minutes later, the one who was left ran for the door. Two of my colleagues chased after him and, as he ran into the street, an off-duty police officer stopped him and arrested him. The case went to court, and I had to give evidence. It was then I began to get really frightened. He and his friends were there, and they were giving me very, very bad looks. You realise after giving evidence that you are putting yourself in future danger. The court ordered the criminal to pay for the meal and costs and damages, but I've still not had my money, and probably never will.

A few days later, I delivered a take-away and handed over the food. I just knew they were passing me a bogus cheque because they wouldn't produce a cheque card. There was no way I was going to argue on their doorstep. I came back to the restaurant and called the police. If the police had gone round and made them pay back the money on the spot, that would have been all right, but no, three weeks later I got a call from a detective. They'd made an arrest and would I give evidence? I said no, not after the last ordeal in court. The detective was very cross with me.

At that point, I was angry myself, not at any one person but because justice cannot be done. To get up and face a criminal in court is too frightening. But it doesn't seem the justice system can protect honest people like me.

Luckily, the great majority of my customers are very patient, very polite. So even if one of them were racist, they're not likely to air their views in front of me, in our restaurant. There is one who comes in and keeps saying, "The Asians should go home, they shouldn't be here taking our jobs." He's entitled to his opinion. But, if I overhead someone saying "Paki this, or Paki that", I'd tell them politely that they should not say these things.

People might say it's wrong to back down all the time, even when you knew you were right. But I say I am not in a position to teach such people to be better. By having an argument, you will make things worse. They could come back later and put a brick through your window and hurt you, your wife or your children.

There was a case of another restaurant, somewhere up North, where the owner closed for the day because it was a holy festival. But some customers wanted a meal, and a fight broke out between them and the staff. One of the customers died later in hospital. Some time later, when the restaurant was open and people were inside eating, gunmen came up and fired through the windows. The customers had to hide under the tables and on the floor.

If that owner had known the trouble and tragedy which would have come from his decision to close for a day, I think perhaps he would have changed his mind and served those customers.

Lesley Gerrard Graham Le Saux, 27, plays full back for the League Champions Blackburn Rovers and for England. At present, he is suffering from a broken leg. Annual income is about pounds 250,000

"Well, you're just the product of a German rape, anyway," barked the manager. He said it because Graham Le Saux was born in Jersey. "He was trying to be funny in front of the lads and they all laughed. I had to as well, but I got home and realised how distasteful it was."

In the highly macho world of professional football, Graham Le Saux is a rarity - an outstanding player, with wide interests, some cultural. In his early days as a Chelsea player, the word went round, quite incorrectly, that he was gay, mainly because he formed a friendship with another player and the two went to art galleries together. He has since heard "rent boy" being chanted.

"If opposing fans want to put you off, they will find a way. But that's OK. It means you are a threat. Ninety-nine per cent of the time I laugh it off. I look at that section of the crowd and smile. Sometimes I will have a joke, because I am the type who likes to get his 5p worth in."

Le Saux is tough enough to look after himself. Last November, in the full glare of cameras during a European Cup tie in Moscow, he lashed out at David Batty, a Blackburn team-mate and a noted "hard man", after a volley of verbal abuse.

"You accept a lot during a game - mistimed tackles, for example - but there is a line between that and the malicious, like elbows and high tackles. There are players who are known to be callous, but not as many probably as 20 years ago. It's spitting, pushing you in the face. If you were fouled, then trampled on, that most upsets players."

After a game, he spends an "uncomfortable" evening, his body exhausted, usually aching and dehydrated, having lost up to 6lbs in weight, but mind racing. Often he cannot sleep till 4am. He prefers not to drink lager after a match but will have a glass of wine with dinner in a restaurant.

Of his current injury, he says, "that much damage reflects the pace and the agility we normally show during the course of a match. But I have reached the highest level and all the lumps along the way seem worth it. With the finance, the profile and modern stadiums, I know I am playing at the best of times." Ian Ridley

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