Mary Killen

Dear Mary: Must I work for free?

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Q. A man I know has invited me and some other journalists, most of whom I admire, to join him in the Whitehall penthouse of the Corinthia Hotel for drinks and canapés with a view to our contributing to an online magazine he plans to start up. When I asked him what his word rate would be, he replied unapologetically, ‘Well at first you won’t be paid — though certainly, if it takes off, there will be money further down the line.’ As a professional writer I fear it would devalue my stock were I known to work without being paid, but I like this self-styled editor and would like to be involved. How should I play this?

— M.W., Pewsey

A. All journalists have stockpiles of ‘killed’ pieces which were commissioned and paid for but never run due to the vagaries of editorial agendas. Claim that you will be delighted to contribute, provided you are allowed to launder through perfectly good, and paid-for, killed pieces about whose non-appearance you have been feeling guilty. Who will know if your contributions are old or new?

Q. I was recently introduced to a man who was wearing the tie of a famous London club. He also said that he was a member of this club. I know several of its members but the man didn’t seem to be the sort of chap who would have been elected. I have made enquiries and found that he has not been. I know that one of my friends, who is a member of the club, does business with this bounder. What should I tell my friend, if anything?

— B.A.F., London N6

A. It is one thing to wear a tie of a club to which you do not belong as an obvious joke, as for example, John Lennon did when he wore an MCC tie in the film Magical Mystery Tour. It is quite another actually to lie about membership. The man may be a genuine member of Densa — the club for people who could not join Mensa — but more likely this is a cry for help and he is secretly hoping to be unmasked. It would be kind of you to put him out of his misery by exposing him to your friend and letting the friend mete out the punishment that his reckless behaviour would indicate he craves.

Q. Your reader who wanted advice on what to answer on being asked what he did could have replied as the late Lord Sefton did on being asked the same question. His Lordship replied, ‘What an extraordinary question! It is like asking a Hottentot “Who is your tailor?”’

— D.H., Sandwich Bay, Kent

A. Thank you for contributing this example of wit from yesteryear which issued  presumably from the lips of the 7th Earl of Sefton (died 1972) rather than the Lord Sefton (died 2001) who was known as a Liverpudlian man of the people.