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Paul Clayton: It pays to be polite to fans, especially if they have a scalpel

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It is widely acknowledged that reward and recognition are vital in the workplace. For actors, the level of reward seems to be dropping daily, so recognition becomes even more important.

How lucky that on television we will be acknowledged in the credits, albeit increasingly pushed to the top left-hand corner while a trailer for Love Island fills the screen.

In theatre, we have our curtain call, and even the lip-curling actor who bows with that ‘look-how-hard-I’ve-worked-in-this-play’ expression on his face cannot but help feel a glow as the audience give their grateful appreciation.

Sometimes this recognition can occur in the most unlikely of places. Lying naked on a hospital bed awaiting a procedure for the removal of a recalcitrant haemorrhoid was not exactly the occasion when I expected a junior doctor to acknowledge my performance in a Channel 4 sitcom.

NHS staff seem particularly adept at spotting people. Having called paramedics one Sunday evening, I was startled by one – about to give me an ECG – who suddenly blurted: “I love you on the telly”. People working for the NHS, it seems, all have exceptionally good taste. (Here I should also point out that at the time of writing I am in robust health.)

Being an actor who appears in a whole gallimaufry of television programmes – and not for very long in any of them – means I’m often hailed in supermarkets with: “You’re on the telly aren’t you?”. A polite acknowledgement and a smile are usually the best way forward.

Conversation can be loaded with problems, especially as most of the time they don’t know what programme it is they’ve seen you in. Standing in the dairy aisle of a supermarket reciting your CV is not a good look.

Polite recognition is pleasant and it is good to respond accordingly. I was once accosted by someone on the way to a friend’s funeral. I turned and snapped at the young man involved and felt dreadful about it for the rest of the day. He wasn’t to know the circumstances, and a quick “Thank you, that’s very kind” would have made his day much better, and mine no worse.

Returning from a tough foreign tour years ago, we were met by a luggage strike at Heathrow. One member of our cast, a recognisable figure from a major television series, sat on the edge of the luggage carousel. It was all too much for her and she burst into tears.

At that moment, two ardent, and probably very sincere fans, approached. “Hello you’re D***,” they said in unison, naming one of the characters she was known for. “No, I’m fucking not. Now fuck off,” she responded. It certainly ended the encounter and probably made sure that whatever programme she went on to do in the future had two fewer viewers.

So while recognition may at times intrude into our private lives, we should remember it is part of what comes with the job. Acknowledge it with politesse. After all, we are nothing without an audience.

Paul Clayton is an actor, director and author. Read more of his columns at the thestage.co.uk/author/paul-clayton/

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