Without due credit, no more luvvie talk

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The Independent Online
INDUSTRIAL disputes can be bitter and painful, but once in a while there comes one to warm the cockles of your heart. And this week we have it: the luvvie picket.

The strikers' refrain has been brought up to date for the fame-obsessed Nineties. Instead of 'We Shall Not Be Moved', we have 'We Shall Not Be Interviewed'. Actors, writers and directors are being persuaded by their personal managers and agents to refuse interviews with the Radio Times and TV Times because, they claim, those magazines don't publish full cast lists and credits underneath the programme details.

One leading manager was quoted at the weekend saying: 'The editorial policies of these magazines are killing the careers of young actors, directors and writers. Creative people in show business rely on cast and credit lists being properly displayed. A sore point with us is that television credits whizz past so fast they are unreadable.'

Killing their careers? What a wonderful fantasy life these managers must lead, dreaming of the rest of us going through the Radio Times cast lists with a fine-tooth comb to spot future talent. As Dustin Hoffman said to his manager in Tootsie: 'Who told you that, the agent fairy?'.

As it happens I rather wish these cast and credit lists were printed in full, just to give a few management consultants ulcers and to remind the rest of us of some of the mysterious and wonderful-sounding sinecures that exist in television and film.

I always sit in my seat at the cinema when everyone else makes for the exit so that I can see the credits roll past and dream about what these job descriptions might entail. My favourite has always been 'best boy'. I have never grasped what a best boy actually does, but when I was a child my ambition was never to be Robert Redford or Paul Newman, whose charms would inevitably one day fade, but the best boy, with its promise not just of eternal youth but of being eternally primus inter pares.

The editor of the Radio Times says that if he published a full cast list for every programme, readers would have to flip through seven pages just for one day's programmes. But if television credits are lengthy, nothing beats a feature film for its tantalising mixture of mystique and overstaffing.

I obtained the full casting details for the shortly-to-be-released film of The Flintstones, the one with real actors rather than cartoon characters. The credit list runs to 300 names and job titles. They range from boy grip and dolly grip, which sound faintly pornographic, to the caterer and 'food stylist' (the latter presumably being what you graduate to when you're done with being a caterer), the standby painter (good to see the understudies' union is demanding more job prospects than mere acting), the transportation co-ordinator, transportation captain and transportation assistant; and, most intriguing of all, the foam supervisor.

You begin to see the Radio Times man's point. But, in a spirit of arbitration, I purchased a copy to see how badly they were skimping. There were no dressers, hairdressers, costume makers, and not a best boy to be seen; but as far as actors and directors are concerned, they seemed to take up more than enough column inches. I can learn who played the scoutmaster in a 1967 episode of Ironside, all 25 characters in Brookside, all 35 in Coronation Street. And as an avid collector of theatre programmes, I know it is diverting to look back among the spear carriers in the National Theatre programmes of the Sixties and find Ian McKellen and Michael Gambon. Perhaps there are hoarders of the Radio and TV Times making notes of who plays Customer In Cabin or Drunk In Queen Vic 10 years before they hit Hollywood.

What intrigues me is the method of protest: the blushing violets' boycott. No interviews for either of these journals. This is going to take an unprecedented display of willpower by actors and their agents.

Agents are powerful, wealthy, but strangely unknown personalities. Mercurial creatures of the night, they roam Shaftesbury Avenue examining the punters outside theatres, their chests expanding with pride when they see the words 'AND' or 'WITH' or 'INTRODUCING' above a client's name. Unnoticed by the public, these capital letters are the results of days of fraught negotiation, tortuous lunching and mutual flagellation between agents and producers.

Can these same nocturnal wanderers refrain from their equally instinctive daytime activity, the interview offer? This flirtation process, worthy of study by David Attenborough, is as complex a ritual as any mating of animals in the wild. Over lunch with a listings magazine editor at The Ivy or Groucho's, the agent will casually mention an upcoming play, film or television series involving his or her client. The pheromones are secreted. But alas, her client is a shy type, does not like doing interviews, has nothing to say, and anyway is rather busy campaigning in the Labour leadership battle when not blocking bulldozers trying to put a motorway near their country home.

The editor is smitten. This person sounds rather interesting. Plumage erect, he offers it all; feature, listing in bold and the delicious promise of a cover picture.

But if agents and their creative clients can suspend these habits, then I propose journalistic solidarity with the Radio and TV Times. Let every newspaper and television programme refuse to carry showbiz interviews. For the first time probably since the Second World War, tickets will be sold and viewing figures realised on word of mouth - and perhaps the occasional critic. How many new musicals in the West End would run more than a day or two without the strategically placed interview puffs just before opening?

The showbiz interview is in any case a bizarre genre: thousands of words that tell us next to nothing about people whose very raison d'etre is submerging themselves into other people's lines and characters. They are interviews where everyone and everything is lovely, where the routine act of having a baby is endowed with a mystical significance, and switching from television to the subsidised theatre receives more plaudits for bravery than Montgomery's African campaign.

Questions that interest most people - who are you going out with, is it true you beat your wife, and tell us about the bitchiness, casting couch and cocaine sniffing - are never asked. Maybe the Radio and TV Times could do a little speculating, now they have all those spare column inches to fill.

Mark Lawson is on holiday.

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