Norman spends his time in the artists' room with his feathered friends Harold, Pepe, Maurice, Cyril, Edward, Jean-Pierre, Peter, Klaus and Freddie Halfpenny (who is, apparently, Ken Dodd's favourite bird)

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Thirty people are crammed into Stage 3 at the Park Royal Studios, a maze of concrete passageways in that glamorous media location, Harlesden. They haul bits of wires around, spray things and try to avoid tripping over two-year-old Archie, three-year-old Kameel and Norman Barrett's suitcase of budgies. The same phrase is on everybody's lips: "Never work with children and animals".

This particular idea is where the worlds of film and advertising diverge. Because, where the world of celluloid avoids the young and the multipedal like the plague, the sellers of products tend to take the line that one should work with them wherever possible. The pounds 50m campaign that will accompany the launch of integrated communications giant Cable and Wireless (with, among other things, Mercury, Nynex and Bell Cable Media under its umbrella) on 15 September - under the banner slogan "Getting to Know You" - uses toddlers, animals, a panto horse and a space alien. And today, in one ghastly swoop, these poor people are filming both budgies and babies. Production hell. I realise, arriving at lunchtime on the Thursday, that to make one 40-second film and two five-second idents they have been cajoling Archie and Kameel since yesterday morning.

Archie and Kameel are not only angelic-looking children, they are amazingly good-tempered about being ordered around under the glare of a dozen spotlights, but all the same. Sweet enough to threaten your insulin levels in dressing- up-box gear - Archie in a silver jumpsuit making up part of a deep-sea diver's costume, Kameel in a green tabard and plastic armour breastplate - they are required, when I arrive, simply to walk across the filming area. "Okay, Archie, when I say, walk over there. No, when I say. Wait! Okay, walk, Archie." Archie drops to hands and knees, huge grin on his face, and crawls. "No!"

"Archie! Walk! Stand up! No, don't sit. Stand up! That's right! Good, now walk!" Three feet from the outstretched adult, he takes a few steps, waves his hands around and gurns. "That's great, Archie. Now if you'd just go back to mummy and do it again..." Between shots, adults take it in turns to turn the boys upside-down, tickle them and generally keep them good-humoured.

Norman, meanwhile, spends a lot of time in the artists' room with his feathered friends Harold, Pepe, Maurice, Cyril, Edward, Jean-Pierre, Peter, Klaus and Freddie Halfpenny (who is, apparently, Ken Dodd's favourite bird). There are 14 of them in all, but all the yellows are called Pepe.

Norman has put on a show for everyone, and it's music hall at its corniest: lots of going "sit", balancing the perch on his face, wiping his eye and saying, "I said sit". The crew loves it, bursting into applause as cheeky Pepe trundles back and forth on the portable table, sabotaging tricks. Despite the certitude among agents that variety is dead, Norman is booked up until the year after next. He's an old- fashioned end- of-the-pier entertainer. Now he travels the world with his beaky buddies.

The oldest working member of the troupe is nine-and-a-half. And they are all boys, because when he had some girls, just like in real life, fights kept breaking out. "I've got probably the only homosexual budgie act in the country," he says. Then someone appears to tell him he's on. Today we are filming close-up shots of Pepe and Freddie Halfpenny looking around for someone to make friends with. The camera is placed six inches from the perch and Norman calls out to his charges to attract their attention. Freddie sits for a while, has a poo, ignores everyone. They try finger- snapping: Freddie turns his back.

Half an hour later, a man in a T-shirt approaches, glaring at the heavens. "You know what they say in this business? Never work with..."