Month: August 2016

Up Close & Personal: Head Porter

With his bowler hat perched resolutely and College tie worn askew beneath a collar so crisp you could cut glass with it, Head Porter is perhaps the most instantly recognisable figure in Old College. He likes to think that he rules the Porters’ Lodge with a rod of iron, but he is largely ignored by his indifferent staff. Deputy Head Porter’s arrival was the result of a devious plot of his own devising, his motives for which are indistinct at first. It quickly becomes apparent that this somewhat peevish gentleman has far more power within College than is good and proper, although without the intellect to wield it, this could prove to be his undoing.

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Head Porter plays his cards very close to his chest in both his professional and personal life. Indeed, one might even think that the chap had no personal life at all, were it not for the unexpected arrival of a unknown young woman. However, men like Head Porter don’t just pop up out of the ground, and his disagreeable demeanour could perhaps find its origins in his formative years.

The young Head Porter was something of an inconvenience to his staunchly conservative  parents when he arrived, ten days late, on the bathroom floor of their humble but neat cottage in an all-but-forgotten village in Yorkshire. A perpetual disappointment to his merchant seaman father, there was little warmth either from his emotionally bankrupt mother, a woman cowed into cold sorrow by many unhappy years of marriage. This made for a lonely and somewhat confused child, who although not stupid was diffident towards education.

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As soon as he was able, Head Porter left his bleak beginnings behind and headed out in search of bright lights and fortune. He got as far as a working men’s club in Ely, where he found employment and lodgings. Working his way from glass collector and pot washer and growing into a strapping young man to boot, Head Porter eventually found himself not only the proprietor of this unpretentious establishment but also unexpectedly eligible. Astonished and delighted at the sudden feminine attention, Head Porter decided it prudent to strike while he had the chance, and immediately married the flame-haired young tea lady from the bowls club. What happened next remains something of a mystery, although we know it did not end well. Old College bringing him into its illustrious bosom could be the best and worst of things to happen to him.

Head Porter is an unassumingly complex character, who is both a staunch pillar of authority and also something of a comedy sidekick. His relationship with Deputy Head Porter is multifarious and becomes more tangled with time, although the moments in which they do bond are sincere. When the need to work as a team becomes mortally important, they are both relieved to put aside the sniping in favour of saving their skins.

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Paul Butterworth

The character of Head Porter has certainly evolved over time and now his dialogue and behaviour just pop up on the page without too much input from my good self. This is in no small part due to my great friend and talented actor and writer Paul Butterworth, who has helped me bring our favourite fusspot so brilliantly to life. I particularly like how his frequent attempts to deflect adventures and shenanigans are often swiftly followed by an enthusiastic and often inappropriate involvement, usually to the great annoyance of The Dean. Although I am fond of slaughtering my best-loved characters, our dear Head Porter is likely to be around for some while yet.

 

UK EDITION

US EDITION

Up Close & Personal: Head of Housekeeping

Female departmental heads are quite the unexpected thing at Old College, so Head of Housekeeping is rather special. The daughter of hoteliers, Head of Housekeeping always had her eye on a career in hospitality – but first explored the full benefits of a wild youth during a globetrotting gap year, followed later by college and work experience in some of Europe’s finest hotels.

Few at Old College would believe that as a youngster Head of Housekeeping was a feisty bohemian beauty, as there is little about her demeanour to suggest that now. With a penchant for bleach and multiple pairs of spectacles, she always seems far more at home dealing with detergent rather than people. She is an infinitely practical woman with little tolerance for whimsy, which perhaps explains her inexhaustible agitation where The Fellowship are concerned.

The quirkily named Bedders (the Housekeeping staff) are a delightfully mixed bag. There is a clutch of tenacious veterans who view the cleanliness of College as a matter of personal honour and have been around for almost as long as some of the Fellows. However, they are  hampered somewhat by a transient ragtag band of casual workers whose efforts are less than diligent and quite often criminal. Head of Housekeeping masters them with aplomb through an uncompromising, non-nonsense regime that never fails to avert disasters of a domestic nature.

Head of Housekeeping is an unlikely ally of Deputy Head Porter and from the very start annoys Head Porter by pre-empting the practical needs of a lady in the Porters’ Lodge, which of course he hadn’t even considered. There is a barely concealed tension between the two department Heads, although it is difficult to say where the origins of this lie. Thankfully, this mutual contempt does not extend to Deputy Head Porter and Head of Housekeeping comes to her rescue on more than one occasion. She has nothing but sympathy for her having to contend with Head Porter on a daily basis and sees it as her duty to support her endeavours in the running of the Porters’ Lodge.

I think I would have gone quickly insane without Head of Housekeeping at the real Old College. She is, of course, not as stern and impersonal as her fictional namesake, although I was widely warned of her difficult nature when I first arrived. I didn’t find her difficult at all, in fact quite the opposite. She was someone I often went to for advice and although she was certainly very focused on the militarily-like running of her team, she was always helpful and keen to collaborate. I hope she sees the humour behind her character, as she is certainly an admirable woman.

 

UK EDITION

US EDITION

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**Coming tomorrow – Up Close & Personal with Head Porter!**

Up Close & Personal: Senior Bursar

The other half of the notorious Bursary department, Senior Bursar is something of an anomaly among The Fellowship at Old College. Although impeccably educated by way of Eton and The Other Place, Senior Bursar does not languish in academic titlery, being neither a Doctor nor Professor. Whereas Junior Bursar scaled scholarly heights from the humble beginnings of a local comprehensive, Senior Bursar mingled with the elite when he was still in short trousers.

That is not to say that his prestigious beginnings supplement his intellect – far from it. Armed with a double first in economics, the young Senior Bursar was itching to leave books behind and embark ferociously on making something of himself in the real world. Like any self-respecting young gentleman seeking his fortune, he headed to London with his sights firmly set on taking the Stock Market by storm. He spent most of the 80s in pinstripes and wine bars, steadily amassing a respectable fortune. Never one given to the vulgarity of excess, Senior Bursar eventually decided to make one final trade – that of the frenetic rollercoaster of city life for domestic bliss, in the shape of a charming ex-model-turned-philanthropist and two young sons swiftly after.

Now a family man, Senior Bursar sought employment that would offer both a vehicle for his great experience and intellectual prowess, and also allow him the freedom to be a husband and father. Inevitably, Old College found him and the rest is history.

A tall, powerful man, customarily swathed in tweeds of varying intensity, his cut-glass accent and booming voice quickly silenced any mutterings about his academic integrity. He has a particular penchant for biscuits and without doubt his pre-drinks reception drinks receptions are the absolute last word in refined debauchery. However, Senior Bursar seems to have less salubrious connections within the shadowy under-circles of Old College – which make him potentially a very dangerous man indeed.

The real Senior Bursar is a chap for whom I have tremendous respect. The quintessential English gentleman, he had a rare demeanour that balanced the sort of restrained gravitas one might expect, with a passionate intensity that occasionally erupted into quite unnerving outbursts. He would always apologise immediately and profusely for these often colourful disclosures, particularly to any nearby ladies who may have been caught in the backdraft. Undeniably brilliant, he held all around him to his own exacting high standards, but with a sense of fairness and decency that invariably left one with the intention of upping one’s game considerably. A remarkable fellow, without doubt.

UK EDITION

US EDITION

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Welcome to Old College… you’ll never leave…