The whole shopping centre was in on the act - even Father Christmas

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The Independent Online
Today I bring you the second and final part of our Christmas story set in the tough world of retail trade.

There is far too much shop-lifting going on in the trendy Atrium shopping mall, so general manager Don orders security head Gerry to show that his security men mean business. Gerry seeks publicity by getting out-of-work actor Lenny to pretend to be a shop-lifter. Lenny is pursued by two guards down the street, where the public step in - and beat up the security guards! Now read on.

"This wasn't the sort of publicity we were looking for, Gerry," said Don. "The idea was that you would show how good your guys are at spotting, chasing and apprehending shop-lifters. But your hired man, your fake shop-lifter, got away. That sends out the wrong message, Gerry."

"Oh, come on - I wasn't expecting the public to intervene!" protested Gerry. "Normally, when you cry `Stop Thief', the public is expected to stop the thief, not side with him. But my men were deliberately set upon to allow Lenny to get away with this decoy jacket he was making off with!"

"Did we get the jacket back?" inquired Don.

"Sure we did," said Gerry. "At least Lenny is honest! You may not get shop-lifters returning things, but you can generally trust an out-of-work actor. Especially if he hasn't been paid yet."

"Did Lenny have any comment to make on the cock-up?" said Don.

"No. Well, he did, but it was only a rather silly suggestion."

"Tell me."

"He said, jokingly, that we should have had two fake members of the public, played by actors, ready to leap out and tackle him."

"Two actors arresting another actor?"

"Yes."

"I like it," said Don. "Do it."

They did it. Lenny ran away again, and was again pursued by the security men, but this time he was stopped in his tracks by the two actors in the crowd, who, disguised as real people, leapt out and put him in a terrible arm-lock.

Unfortunately, this annoyed the rest of the crowd, who didn't like to see an unfortunate shop-lifter set on by the forces of righteousness, and they liberated Lenny the actor by using a little bit of force against the security guards.

Lenny brought the jacket back again.

"Tell you what," he said to Gerry, "why don't you have a couple of actors standing by dressed as policemen? Then they could weigh in and rescue me from the actors dressed as members of the public!"

"I think you'll find," said Gerry heavily, "that it's an offence to impersonate a police officer."

"No, it's not," said Lenny. "Jack Warner impersonated Dixon of Dock Green. Those blokes in Z Cars did it too, and so, I believe, did John Thaw as Inspector Morse and none of them was ever arrested for the crime!! Also ..."

"Yes, yes," said Gerry. "I get your point."

The next time it happened, Lenny ran away with the jacket and was apprehended by two members of the public (played by actors) who were supported by a policeman (played by an actor) who was unfortunately impeded by the public (played by themselves) and Lenny got away again. He brought back the jacket again (Armani copy, pounds 229.99).

"We could have the public all played by actors next time," said Gerry, hopefully. "Every spectator, every bystander. All fake. That would be impressive. Incidentally ..."

"Yes ?"said Don.

"Have you vetted the bloke that plays Father Christmas in the mall ? Can you trust him?"

"You mean, trust him not to touch up little children?"

"No," said Gerry disgustedly. "Trust him not to shop-lift ... Father Christmas's costume might have been custom-built for shop-lifting ..."

By the time Christmas was only a week away, almost everyone of consequence in the mall was played by an actor. Father Christmas, policemen, members of the public, shop-lifters, everyone. Crime had gone down, sales figures had gone up.

"I think we've turned the corner," said Gerry, when he went for his quick daily meeting with Don. "Crime is down, impersonation is up. At this rate, all the shopkeepers will be played by actors as well!"

There was no reaction. Then Don turned round. But it wasn't Don! It was someone else!

"I'm afraid Don couldn't make it today," he said. "I'm standing in for him."

The funding for this story has been provided by Equity, the actors' union. This Christmas time, please don't forget out-of-work actors, and please try to use them whenever possible. They can masquerade as anyone - your in-laws, carol singers, waiters at parties etc. They're cheap and they're cheerful, and usually house-trained. You won't regret it!

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