Letters: An actor’s life for...low wages and exploitation

These letters appear in the Saturday 31st May edition of the Independent
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In reference to Nick Clark’s article (“BBC fails to cast unknown actors”, 28 May) I’m not surprised by this at all nor, unfortunately, by some of the comments it’s attracted.

I’ve been a professional actor for nearly 27 years, working at all levels of live and recorded work. I work exclusively as a performer. I don’t need (at the moment) a second job, and after expenses have been taken off my turnover, I make between £18,000 and £19,000 a year, which is less than the starting wage for a teacher or nurse or trainee manager at McDonald’s.

For my money I work very long hours all over the country, and must endure exploitative and sometimes unsafe working conditions.

Why don’t I do something else? I don’t want to: I’m good at my job and don’t see why I shouldn’t be sufficiently rewarded for it.

Chronic low pay is endemic in the arts, for particular reasons:

1. Funding – before anybody splutters: “Why should my hard-earned wages subsidise some arty nonsense that I won’t want to see anyway”, the simple fact is that for every £1 invested in the arts, the UK Treasury makes back at least £2.

Yet despite this, funding is cut and in some local authorities non-existent; but without it the arts cannot flourish and artists cannot survive financially.

2. Exploitation – the arts, sadly, is full of examples of exploitation, bullying and abuse (verbal, physical and sexual) and many artists do not feel empowered to speak out because they might get labelled as “difficult”; nothing moves faster than a negative reputation.

This means that employers, producers and bookers will always drive down wages and conditions to their own advantage and artists will take their offers; it’s a self-perpetuating circle which drives this old “luvvie” bonkers.

Unions such as Equity do some very good work to combat this but they are hampered by restrictive labour laws and their own members’ unwillingness to speak out, and feelings of powerlessness about speaking out. When I hear an actor interviewed and they say: “Oh yes, I’ve been very lucky”, this just perpetuates this idea that we should be somehow grateful that we’ve got a job handed to us by some benevolent master from above. I want to say to them: “You aren’t lucky; you’re considered the best person for the job – that isn’t luck, that’s talent. Well done.”

There needs to be more respect for the artist and, to my colleagues I say, self-respect is a big part of that. 

We’re worth more money. Let’s end poverty wages – for everyone.

John Gregor, London N16

I’m delighted to see that Equity has protested at the BBC’s use of the same actors all the time. I can’t be the only viewer who

feels profound boredom descend at the sight of the same bunch of actors on the screen yet again.

I remember once when Dr Who went to a museum/library in a galaxy far, far away in time and space, and five more visitors arrived – and I recognised four of them!

I’ve always thought that the BBC should use its power to seek out new talent, give them their chance to be widely seen and get more work, then find new people.

But on the contrary, they just lazily use the same people over and over again, often typecasting too, which can’t be good for the actors’ development.

Henrietta Cubitt, Cambridge

Chilcot a disgrace and an insult

It is a complete disgrace and insult to all those killed and injured in the Iraq war that the Chilcot inquiry is to be gagged by the Whitehall machine determined to protect confidentiality by hiding behind issues of national security.

It seems that those families who have waited nearly five years for the outcome of the inquiry have waited in vain, as no real evidence will now ever surface as to the truth in the matter.

Dennis Forbes Grattan, Bucksburn, Aberdeen

Another British whitewash, as expected. Why should Sir Jeremy Heywood have a say in any political decision on the Chilcot inquiry or anything else? He is an unelected official who works for us.

The public know that Blair and Bush went on an oil grab and to destabilise the Middle East and will never let history be rewritten to say that the WMD excuse was anything other than a pack of lies.

Blair did it for personal wealth and power. Bush was being manipulated by the Pentagon war machine and armament companies.

P Cresswell, Enniskillen, Co Fermanagh

What are they trying to hide? We elect individuals to represent our geographical area. They are called Members of Parliament. Is it not right that we should be told what has been said on our behalf?

Martin Levin, London E4

During the Iraq invasion, Tony Blair’s leitmotif was “It’s the right thing to do”. How, in his barrister days, would Mr Blair have dealt with someone under cross-examination who used that justification for their actions? He was, after all, reputed to be competent at that job. 

S Lawton, Kirtlington, Oxfordshire

Correspondence between George Bush and Tony Blair:

GB: Yo, Blair. If you bring your army to Iraq, kill Saddam and reclaim my Daddy’s oil wells, I’ll make you a millionaire!


The End.

Paul and Rose Willey, Worthing

Driverless cars and jobless people

Driverless cars are here and, like every other innovation, will no doubt rapidly multiply. You spelt out the benefits that they may bring (Editorial, 29 May), but as always, there is another side to the coin.

How long before driverless lorries are introduced? What then of the jobs of the thousands of lorry drivers?

No doubt technology will enable lorries and vans to be burglar-proof, so goods will be transported safely, requiring only loading and unloading, poorly paid jobs and less demand for intervention by human beings. This is part of a trend that no politicians seem able to grasp, let alone to consider.

Bill Fletcher, South Cerney, Gloucestershire

Your leader claiming that driverless cars could save a bit of fuel misses the point. We don’t need minor energy reductions, we need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 80 per cent. No vehicle running  on pneumatic tyres will ever get anywhere near that. Tyres are inherently energy-inefficient. The savings that we need necessitate steel wheels on steel rails.

Luckily, we already have such ways of getting around without having to drive ourselves: they’re called trains and trams.

Jon Reeds, Wallington, London

I predict dodgems ahead if these cars cannot cope with downpours or thunderstorms, as those still driving for themselves have to negotiate the abandoned and stricken driverless cars. Is this what we have to look forward to?

Jason Levett, Tunbridge Wells

King Charles the patriot

My namesake, David  Ashton, wants our next monarch nicknamed “Charles the Meddler” (letter, 28 May).

Charles is as entitled as anyone else to lobby the Government – while ministers are free to disregard his concerns, however well informed.

But I suggest that, following Bolingbroke, he will be renowned as “Our Patriot King”, when this battered nation needs one more than ever.

David Ashton, Sheringham, Norfolk

In suggesting that William the Conqueror was the last English king to have a memorable sobriquet, David Ashton is surely forgetting Richard the Lionheart – and his brother John Lackland.

Jonathan Wallace, Fenham, Newcastle upon Tyne

Prehistoric Pakistan

Following 9/11, the Bush administration was said to have threatened that the US would bomb Pakistan “back to the Stone Age” if it did not cooperate in the “war on terror”.

Following the recent outrage against the woman who wanted to marry the man she loved, and the incredibly wide acceptance in Pakistan of her relatives’ actions, it would seem that bombing would have been superfluous.

Jim Bowman, South Harrow

From one loo to another

Katherine Mangu-Ward’s article about texting while on the lavatory (“Out of the (water) closet”, 29 May) reminded me of one of my mother’s stories.

Eternally harassed by the demands of her three small children, she saved a letter from a friend to read in the only private spot available to her.

Finally seated on the loo, she opened the letter, only to read: “Dear Jean, I am sitting on the loo to write this letter, as it is the only way I can get away from the children”.

Plus ça change!

Catherine Rose, Olney, Buckinghamshire