Equity – the actors union, demanded last week that bias against working class actors be made illegal. Not sure how that could possibly work. I was a member of Equity for many years, but unfortunately since closed shop unions were abolished, it has become totally ineffectual. Prior to that its real strength was controlling the number of actors joining the profession.
Most people won’t remember the Catch 22 situation where you had to have an Equity card to work, but you couldn’t work without one. Rep theatres gave out a couple of provisional equity cards a year and if you were lucky to secure one, then you had to do your forty weeks in rep before being able to move onto bigger and better things. What this did was weed out the wheat from chaff etc. You had to really want to be an actor to go through with it. Money was crap and the hours were long. But during my days as an actor there was a total mixture of working class, middle class and upper-class actors and the idea was you acted characters; the clue is in the job title.
In the creative world making laws about who can and can’t get the job, seems crazy to me. It’s the same as the notion that has led to the idea if you’re a middle-class white man then you can’t write about anything else but middle-class white men. Eat your heart out Shakespeare and just think John Osborne could never have given us Luther or The Entertainer and Ionesco wouldn’t have bothered picking up a pen. I know all types of writers from different backgrounds and different upbringings. I would never presume to say to any of them they couldn’t write a certain character or a certain situation. Being a writer is all about getting under the skin of your characters and inhabiting, mentally, the world you’re writing about.
Over the years I’ve a written a number murder stories, TV thrillers like Silent Witness, Waking the Dead, my own series – Resort To Murder and now my first novel Beck Le Street, if a writer can only write about what they are and the about the world they inhabit, then I’ll have to go out and start killing people. It’s clearly ludicrous making rules and restrictions about what an artist can write, act, paint or sing. Of course, you write from your experiences, but those experiences are used as a springboard for the imagination. My second book which isn’t yet out – Edge of Civilisation, was born out of such an experience, but the actual story is nothing like the experience.
The real problem lies in the non-writers, or would-be writers that run most TV dramas. Most of them are young, done a media degree and have very little life experience. Over the years I have been involved in the employment of numerous writers, not once have I asked about their education, their background or their politics. There were three things far more important:
Did they have an affinity with whichever show they wanted to write on?
Were they going to be the right sort of team member?
And thirdly and most importantly – I would read their work. Because ultimately that’s all that matters. What ends up on that page, in that script, on the screen, stage, film or radio is all that matters. The rest is people trying to justify their jobs.