Miles Kington: A not altogether unwelcome interruption

'Out!' thundered the actor. 'You are a disgrace, sir! I insist that you leave the theatre and do not return'
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The Independent Online

I was up in London earlier this week, putting the starting touches to my Christmas shopping, when who should I bump into in Soho but my old friend Adrian Wardour-Street, the eminence grise of the public relations world, the man who makes Max Clifford look like John Birt.

"Adrian!" I cried. "Where are you away to so fast?"

"Come with me," he said, "and I'll show you. I have a spare ticket, as it happens."

"Spare ticket for what?"

But he was already speeding ahead of me, along Old Compton Street, into Shaftesbury Avenue and then, surprisingly, into a theatre.

"We're going to the theatre?" I said. "I can't afford to spend two and a half hours in a matinee, Adrian!"

"An hour max. That's all it will take. You'll be free in an hour."

And 10 minutes later I found myself sitting in a very good seat in the stalls, preparing to watch a play by someone I had never heard of, starring someone who quite honestly I thought was dead. It wasn't bad, actually. It wasn't good, either, actually. It was just ... all right. The actor I had thought was dead was definitely alive, even if not as alive as I remembered him. But every time my interest waned, I did at least have one problem to occupy me: what on earth were we doing here?

"About a minute to go," muttered Adrian in my ear, and before I could even begin to guess what he was talking about, it happened. The air was split by the sound of a mobile phone going off.

I nearly jumped out of my skin.

It was Adrian's.

"Turn that bloody thing off!" I said urgently.

He did not move. He just let it ring. I was on the point of diving into his pockets to find it, when suddenly the lead actor strode to the front of the stage and pointed an angry finger at Adrian.

"You are a disgrace, sir! How dare you ruin the enjoyment of so many people! You have no right to be here if you cannot behave! I insist that you leave the theatre straight away and do not come back!"

Adrian rose, half-protesting, half-apologising.

"No!" thundered the actor. "Out!"

Adrian stumbled along the row of the stalls, followed shamefacedly by me. The audience burst into a huge ovation for the actor's firmness and our departure. A moment later we found ourselves in the street outside. Adrian looked at his watch.

"Fifty-six minutes," he said. "A little earlier than usual."

"Adrian! What on earth was all that about? Why on earth didn't you turn your phone off ...?"

Adrian raised his hand for silence.

"I am surprised you have not guessed," he said. "That actor is a client of mine. His career has not been going well. This play has not been going well. He asked me if I could think of anything to help. Well, I had read that whenever an actor asks someone with a mobile to leave the theatre, he always gets a huge wave of sympathy and sometimes even headlines. So I decided ..."

"... To stage the same event yourself?"

"Exactly. I volunteered to be the man with the mobile."

"But how can doing it just once help?"

"Just once? It happens every performance! I always have someone in with a mobile! Goes off at the hour mark. Always works. Tremendous wave of sympathy. Endless curtain calls. TV offers. The man isn't acting any better than he was, but he's getting a lot more publicity than he ever did."

"But surely ... if a phone goes off every time at the same place ... won't someone guess?"

"They would, if they knew. But nobody ever comes back to see a play a second time, do they? And the theatre staff are squared."

His mobile rang again.

"Adrian here ... Hi, there! Interval already? Well done! That speech went really well today. You didn't think I left the theatre too meekly, did you? Good."

He rang off.

"That was my client. He was very pleased. He's looking forward to the second half now. Talking of the second half ..."

"Yes?"

"I often wonder what happens in the second half. I must see it some day."

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