Father Christmas gets new image at school for Santas

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The Independent Online
FATHER Christmas has suffered an image problem in recent years. Behind the red tunic and white beard, the jolly figure upon whose knee children perch in innocent expectation has too often turned out to be a drunkard, thief or sex offender.

Now, one of the fraternity feels it is time that Santa Claus's good name was restored. He has set up an eight-week course at Weston-super- Mare College designed to turn out worthy examples; and he also wants to establish a national federation of Santa Clauses.

On page 91 of the college prospectus, under special interests, are details of Father Christmas Training. "Ho-Ho-Ho! ... the traditional role of Father Christmas helps make the season a magical one for children," runs the blurb. "We would like to contribute by training people specifically for the role, thus returning to the spirit of yesteryear."

But the college is taking precautions that reflect our times: anyone enrolling will need official confirmation of fitness to work with children, via a Subject Access Form 462 - "available from police stations for a fee of pounds 10, returnable on receipt of result".

The tutor, who has played Santa Claus in Weston-super-Mare for 18 years, is serious about his role. A condition of his talking to the Independent on Sunday was that he remain anonymous. "For the sake of the kids, my name mustn't be used - it would kill the magic," he said. "All I want to do over the eight weeks is teach the techniques of being a good and reliable Father Christmas."

The course, which starts next month, costs pounds 42.50. One recruit has been sent by the management of a Bristol shopping centre, and the college has begun a drive to enlist many more. "We are sending out mailshots to department stores, garden centres and Jobcentres throughout the South- west," said its marketing manager, Stephanie Stephenson. "One requirement is that people should grow a beard, but that does raise equal-opportunities issues. Women who want to do the course won't be turned away: they'll be allowed to wear a costume beard."

Said the course tutor: "Students will have a `psychological profile' of Santa drummed into them. There's a lot of ways in which Father Christmas can put his big foot in it.

"They'll have to learn that children are little adults and should be treated with respect. You can't have father Christmas drinking or smoking - I constantly suck breath fresheners.

"The role of Father Christmas has been an open invitation to paedophiles, drug addicts and thieves. But recently there has been a shortage of Father Christmases with some people afraid to employ them."

Those successfully completing the course, which includes tips on acting, make-up and voice-training, will receive a diploma from the college. Meanwhile the doyen of the Somerset Father Christmases is working on his plans for a national federation. "I have talked to a broker in Bristol who is willing to insure it," he said. "It would cost me pounds 250, plus pounds 10 per Father Christmas.

"For that they would get legal cover: an indemnity against any employer taking action against them. We would also be able to guarantee supplying a suitable Father Christmas wherever a vacancy arises."

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