Worthy of Hire?

Late last week, I had a phonecall from what sounded like a very nice young man who explained that he worked for Scottish Television. They were organising a webcast for Burns Night - a kind of Burns Supper,to be filmed in Mauchline. 'I think we're doing it in Mauchline because he lived there, went to the brothels there' said the young man, cheerfully.
It would be going online, mainly for foreign consumption, so they needed somebody who 'knew about Burns.' They certainly needed that. The presenter was going to be a young actor called Donald Pirrie and he had suggested they contact me. Would I be interested?
Possibly, I said.
Donald played the poet himself (brilliantly, in my opinion) in my play 'Burns on the Solway' which was produced at Glasgow's Oran Mor centre last spring. It was a play about the relationship between Burns and his wife Jean Armour - I've certainly written several plays and articles about the poet, I've even been asked to do the 'Immortal Memory' at the occasional Burns Supper and have always insisted on talking about the poet, instead of - as so many male speakers seem to - seizing the opportunity to tell a string of dubious jokes about myself and my friends. So I felt fairly certain that I could answer any questions they might have. The young man promised to call again with more details, and did, early this week. I was out, but my husband took the message. Could I be in Poosie Nancies, in Mauchline for mid-day on friday?
I called him back. Was there any - erm - possiblity of payment, in the shape of expenses? After all, when writers don't write, they don't earn. And I would be away from my desk for a whole afternoon.
Well no. 'We have a very low budget' he said. 'We could give you some travel expenses' (10 miles by car....) and then there's the food.'
So by then I had got to thinking. If I phoned my solicitor, or my dentist or my plumber, and asked him to spend a whole afternoon working on something for me, using his considerable expertise, and offered to pay his transport, and feed him, would he do the work? Or would he laugh uproariously and put down the phone.
I did neither. I very courteously declined his kind offer, and told him that perhaps he should find a retired amateur expert, who wouldn't mind giving up a whole afternoon for the benefit of a major commercial company in return for a free lunch.
But afterwards I got to thinking that if I had had a book about Burns to sell, for instance, I would probably have done it. Would it have made any difference to sales? I very much doubt it. But still I would have felt constrained, in the way that solicitors, dentists and plumbers never do. (Come and replumb my house for free, think of the publicity you'll get....)
Which, as Hercule Poirot used to say 'gives one furiously to think' does it not?


Mark Fisher said…
This is so true, Catherine. And it's not just artists who get routinely exploited in this way - freelance journalists too. They'd never think of not paying the camera man, yet they can overlook the person providing the substance of the programme. It's weird that they expect it, but even weirder that we accept it. Good for you for saying no.
Nick Walker said…
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Kate Allan said…
This is always a hard call.