I had just been cast in my first ever television advert. It was for thomascook.com and I was required to be one of three zookeepers. At my wardrobe fitting I had tried on the generic zookeeper costume of workers’ jeans, big green wellies and a big green jumper and I was ready. The shoot was to take place on Battersea Park and my call time was horrifically early as is often the case with these shoots.
Determined to make a good impression, I arrived at the park in plenty of time. It was early summer and the thrill of experiencing the park waking up was only slightly tempered by my nerves and by the realisation that I didn’t actually know where the production base was. No matter, for I still had plenty of time. . .hadn’t I?
Thirty minutes of increasingly frantic searching later I STILL had a few minutes to spare before I was required to report in, although my ample window allowing for mishaps was about to close. Suddenly, a guy pops up from behind a bush and shouts “ARE YOU MARK?”
“Yes!” I replied, delighted that someone attached to the shoot had come to find me.
“Come on, then”, he urged, “you’re late! The boss is going mental!”
I sprinted off close behind him , distraught that I’d managed to screw up my first commercial shoot before it had even started. In truth I was also confused, for I was still technically early, even though my call time was now only minutes away. Perhaps my agent had got the details wrong?
Anxiety levels shot through the roof when I rounded a corner and came face to face with a few hundred other zookeepers, all dressed in the generic uniform: workers’ jeans, big green wellies and big green jumpers. Had there been a script change that I wasn’t aware of? I’d only ever read a version using THREE of us, yet here was a veritable convention of animal carers. There was no time to be confused, for the gathered throng was being given a stern talking to by a midget (I PROMISE I am not making this up) standing on an upturned wooden crate. The midget stopped in mid-sentence when he saw me. The Pop-up Bush Guy I had followed here indicated to his Midget Overlord that I was the missing “Mark” at which point I became the target of the Tiny One’s unimaginable rage.
Left: An artist’s impression of how the tiny angry boss man might have looked as he shouted at me from atop his bossy box. The more I think about it the more I think he DID carry a spear and wear a cloak. I’m pretty sure he had some kind of magical power as well. . .
“HOW DARE YOU BE LATE!” he screamed at me. “HOW DARE YOU! THESE PEOPLE HAVE BEEN HERE FOR FORTY MINUTES AND YOU CAN’T EVEN BE BOTHERED TO. . .”
He was so beside himself with anger that I couldn’t get a word in edgeways. It was only when he threw a shovel at me and told me to do a circuit of the park collecting doggie doos that I began to sense an almighty misunderstanding. I turned to a fellow zookeeper and asked what the hell was going on, and he replied that this was the morning brief for South London Park Keepers. I edged away, apologising for being in the wrong place, and all the while the Midget-on-a-Box was spitting hellfire and damnation in my direction.
I could still hear him bellowing “DON’T WALK AWAY FROM ME WHEN I’M GIVING YOU A BOLLOCKING” as I stumbled upon the production base for the thomascook shoot.
It just happened to be in the same park as where a bunch of midget-managed park keepers were gathering, who just happened to be wearing the same uniform as I was about to put on for the advert, and who just happened to be looking for a late-comer called Mark.
I only ever saw the advert once. I hope the vertically challenged angry man saw it and finally understood why I’d walked away from a day’s park keeping.