William Donaldson's Week: I'll pick up my prizes as Piers

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The Independent Online
BY THE time you read this, I will have walked off with a fistful of first prizes in the British Book Awards 1992, under assumed formal wear (kindly lent as per my request last week, by a reader of this column) and in a name that isn't mine.

Nor, I may say, will the pseudonym have been a stratagem to wrong-foot any keen young publisher who might press me in the vestibule for news of a manuscript already overdue; it will have been the upshot of a suggestion by Pete the Schnoz.

I have been thinking of changing my name for some time. Nothing too radical in the first place, just William to Will, with a view to becoming the Independent's American football correspondent. God forbid that anything should happen to Matt Tench, who brilliantly carries out this function at the moment (and, as far as I know, without the advantage of having a beloved who has just become the offensive co-ordinator of the Chicago Bears), but he might go on holiday or something, in which case I'd want to be in place and ready to trade under an appropriately beefy name.

Matt himself, you may remember, did the switch from the less vigorous 'Matthew' somewhere along the line, and the hard-nosed chaps at the back of the paper would be most unlikely to engage someone with a flabby name like William Donaldson.

Pete the Schnoz agrees with this assessment, and has generously volunteered to change his name, too. In fact, Pete the Schnoz seems a perfectly sensible name for a screenwriter, and I for one would always watch a film with greater interest were its credits to read: 'Directed by Louis Malle, John Schlesinger or whoever, screenplay by Pete the Schnoz.' Pete the Schnoz is simply offering to keep me company, I think, rather as Mark Chapman's staff - after he had a nose job and was forced to wear a false one for a while, fashioned out of leather - also wore false ones to make him feel less conspicuous.

'I agree entirely,' said Pete the Schnoz. 'William Donaldson is a nothing sort of name. It doesn't even sound like an accountant, and Willie Donaldson conjures up an image of a fruity old litterateur who tells fart jokes and does puns and anagrams. We should change our names to Piers and Sebastian.

'Had you been called Piers or Sebastian, you'd not have suffered the humiliations meted out by young men who eat buns in the boardroom, who take their jackets off and roll their sleeves up. Even Justin Judd wouldn't have had the front to send a Piers or a Sebastian on a 48-hour writer's course. We'll visit wine bars together under our new names and call out things to one another such as 'Your turn to get the buns, Sebastian]' '

In fact, I'd been thinking of names with a slightly more menacing edge - Wolf Mankowitz or Steven Berkoff, and for reasons based on past experience. Years ago, I was working for an agent called John Heyman - though I can't remember why - and he took me to a meeting at which his client, Wolf Mankowitz, was to be introduced to a producer who was of a mind to fund a musical.

All went smoothly for a while, and the producer was keen to cough up a hundred thousand pounds or so. Then he asked politely whether he might read the script. That was a mistake, of course. There's no point in a producer reading the script, since his doing so might lead him to offering his opinion, as if it might be of any more interest than the cleaning lady's.

In Mr Mankowitz's position, I'd have said how sorry I was that the producer and I had wasted one another's time, thereafter walking out, but he took the producer by the throat and shook him like a rat, bellowing insults nose to nose.

The producer ran for his life, never to be seen again, whereupon Mankowitz chuckled at a job well done, though John Heyman did look a little green around the gills, at the loss, presumably, of 10 per cent.

Shortly after this, I heard that Steven Berkoff had expressed his opinion of the executive arm of the industry no less forcefully. My friend Tim Williamson says Berkoff called on Williamson one day with a view to his representing him.

Berkoff sat good as gold while Williamson outlined what, as his agent, he might do for him, then suddenly went purple in the face and demanded to know why, if Williamson was so clever, he hadn't found him suitable employment.

Since they'd met for the first time 10 minutes earlier, Williamson said that this was quite unreasonable, whereupon Berkoff told him what he thought of him in language that couldn't be repeated here and then walked out - returning briefly, as an afterthought, to include my wife (as she then wasn't, but who happened to be working for Williamson at the time) in the general blast.

'And the same goes for you, shit-face,' he said.

He shouldn't have done that; he should have left my wife out. But his behaviour in other respects - like Mr Mankowitz's - strikes me as having been entirely justified. That said, I can't go to the British Book Awards 1992 under either name, so I'll pitch up as Piers or Sebastian and let you know what happens.