Last week two special commissioners of the Inland Revenue gave an oral judgment in favour of two actors, Alec McCowen and Sam West. The commissioners decided that the two men should not have had tax deducted at source on their stage earnings. A spokeswoman for the Society of West End Theatre which, together with the Arts Council, helped to fund the case, said: 'We are very, very pleased. We regard it as a very important victory.'
Since the decision to tax stage actors at source, several thousand actors have been forced to go on to Schedule E for their theatrical earnings. Equity is now hoping that the Inland Revenue will give up the fight and will allow theatrical earnings to be taxed under Schedule D.
However, the Revenue has three months to appeal against the commissioners' decision and could even end up taking the case to the House of Lords.
Both actors appeared before the special commissioners. Mr McCowen, now rehearsing Prospero at Stratford, and Mr West, currently on tour in Tom Stoppard's Arcadia, talked about the need to pay out money on clothes, make-up, scripts, agents' fees, photographs and other kinds of expenses. Mr McCowen, like many other actors, also always tips his dresser.
Mr McCowen frequently appears in fringe and regional theatres in new plays which, he told the commissioners, might no longer be staged if actors have to make the financial sacrifice of being taxed under Schedule E. Mr McCowen has frequently supported new productions by agreeing to appear for the Equity minimum wage - currently fixed at pounds 186 per week with a subsistence allowance of pounds 49. The earnings are low enough already, he believes, without actors having to pay tax under the tougher conditions of Schedule E.Reuse content