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Paul Clayton: Peter? Dinky? Please just get my name right

Photo: Shutterstock
by -

One of the most pressing problems when I was at drama school in the mid-1970s wasn’t how to get to the heart of a Gorky drama or how to ensure that all my work was fully Meisnered, but rather what I would call myself if Equity didn’t allow me to have my own name? All sorts of combinations were thrown into the air. I favoured changing my first name to Christopher, but then was pretty sure it would be abbreviated to Chris. A combination of a pet’s name and where I was born produced Dinky Sheffield, a moniker hardly likely to have inspired confidence during my ensuing career. In the end I was lucky: I was able to remain Paul Clayton.

I’m proud of my name. I gained it as a result of adoption by two wonderful people and it’s something I appreciate the worth of. The disappointment of seeing an early television appearance listed in the TV Times as ‘Paul Claydon’ was intense. After all, one thing that we aim to do in our careers is ‘make one’s name’.

At the very least, we like it when people know it. A recent day filming on a large television serial proved to me just how much it matters. The director hadn’t been at the casting and so, as I walked onto the set for the first of my scenes, I had never met him. The first assistant was remarkably polite, and came over to greet me using my name. How nice. He had just taken a little time to look at the call sheet. My fellow actors all introduced themselves. Eventually the first had to ask, “Do you know the director?” I replied, honestly: “No. We haven’t yet met.”

“Stephen,” he shouted to a figure lurking in the corner of the room, “this is Paul, who is joining us today.” A casual wave and less-than-audible “hi” was the response. First shot and I’m behind camera feeding lines. The director is next to me and needs me to pause. He turns and has obviously forgotten what to call me. “Could you, er, sorry could you, er, pause there?” I can. It’s one thing I’m good at.

We turn the shot around. He is at the other end of the room behind the camera. Again, he appears to be groping for my name. “Paul,” the first assistant obligingly calls out. The director doesn’t hear. He gets my attention by waving and gives me a further instruction. Even the cameraman has caught on now and he asks politely if Paul could put his weight on the other foot. I duly oblige. We do one take and he seems pleased. In fact, I know he is because he tells me: “That was very good, Peter.”

It’s such a simple thing. Just remembering somebody’s name. It adds such value to any relationship. After all, as far as Equity is concerned, for better or worse, I’m the best Paul Clayton there is.

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