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The Bill Inspector

Backstage Articles Index

See also: The Lloyd King Posters Index

Bill Inspectors were employed by Theatre Managers to make sure the Bills (Advertising Posters for forthcoming productions at their Theatres) were posted on buildings correctly, and then not covered up by other Bills. The ERA printed an article written by a Stage Door Keeper on this subject in their 5th of July 1884 edition saying:- 'It does not follow that a bill inspector is necessarily a bill discounter, though he sends in his little bill at the end of the week - may be for weak work done, for such it often is; and when the work is not properly done the manager is, and the company, too, for that matter; for, without a good show of bills, the show itself may culminate in a show up - the natural result of bills due not being duly presented to the public. A bill inspector when going his rounds should act on the square, and, as he crosses from one hoarding to another, should be careful not to hoard his employer's time, as he is paid to expend, as well as to extend, it to the best advantage.

One bill inspector of my acquaintance expended both time and money at the bar of a public-house, and that, we may conclude, was a bar to business.

The duties of a bill inspector vary according to the notions of the manager by whom he is employed. He is sometimes made use of as a messenger, a packer, a chucker-out, and now and then as an attendant of an evening in the lobby of the theatre; but in his principal capacity, sometimes without any capacity, he rules the roast over the bill-posters, and roasts those over whom he rules, although probably he is guided by no particular rule, save that of drawing the line within the lining of his own pockets.

Bill-posters, in relation to the, bill inspector, are supposed to be thoroughly conversant with the art of palmology, a very delicate process requiring careful and imperceptible manipulation; if not, they are liable to be placed on the black list. If a bill-poster be on more than familiar terms, as is sometimes the case, with the bill inspector, the manager, in all probability, will find that his bills are ruinously below par, and this involves a loss of his legitimate profits. Some people speculate, others peculate. Some bill inspectors do a service to themselves by hiring their services to other managers, irrespective of the manager who has engaged them specially, whereby they do more business on their own account, and are less busy with the business of their legitimate employers. Managers are probably not aware that their bill-inspectors, some of them, at least are in the habit of killing more than two birds with one stone.

A few of the bill inspectors are professional bill-posters, and when such is the case it is but natural that number one should take precedence of number two, which, like a step-child, as a rule, is subject to neglect. Managers I have frequently heard exclaim "I don't know how it is, but I can't see any of my bills about!" He might also wonder what his inspector is about, seeing he is supposed to go about his bills daily, and yet is never seen about anywhere. Rainy weather is a capital auxiliary to both inspector and poster; for it generally has to bear the onus of any remissness on their parts. The rain, it is known, gives but a very limited reign to posted bills; it washes them away, and paves a way for the requisition of others, which, like them, may be never posted at all. But whether the rain does or does not destroy the bills, the bad weather is generally held accountable for the bad account rendered at times by the inspector as well as the poster.

A Theatrical Bill-Poster's Squabble

At the Bloomsbury County Court, on Friday, the case of Barnett v. England was heard before Mr Judge Bacon. The plaintiff, a theatrical billposter, of Hadley-street, Camden-town, sued the defendant, a rival billposter in the same district, to recover the sum of for damage alleged to be done to a "station" belonging to the plaintiff.

The plaintiff said he had simply brought the action in the interest of the trade, and although he only sued for nominal damages, he trusted his Honour would rule in his favour in order to deter others. From the plaintiff's evidence it transpired that he rented, amongst others, a station in College-street. The defendant had pasted his own bills and a newspaper sheet over one of the Vaudeville Theatre bills. He had no opportunity of checking these transactions without bringing the matter into court, as the defendant generally carried on his operations at night.

In reply to his Honour, the plaintiff said he could not prove any special damage, but those Theatres whose bills he displayed might sue him for a breach of contract if their bills had been disfigured. Theatrical bill inspectors were very sharp in doing their duty. The defendant, for whom Mr Charles Williams appeared, said he was not aware that the plaintiff's was a protected station, as he had considered it as a "fly posting station." He had "shot" at the plaintiff's name, for he had done the same by him. It was one of the tricks of the trade.

His Honour considered the exigencies of the case met by ruling in favour of the plaintiff, for one penny damages.

The ERA, 23rd of March 1879.

Then we have the "sandwich" men. They manage to preserve their bills in a better condition than do any of the other custodians, as they generally keep them out of the weather, fine or otherwise; for a tap at a tap-room door will generally open out a vista of sandwich boards and their carriers, the former scattered about on the floor, and the latter seated round a table imbibing fourpenny ale. The outside public get but a cursory glance of these itinerant advertisements, as inside the "public" they are mostly to be found.

The Era, 10 May 1874The manager, at times, when out espying the barrenness or fruitfulness of the land, cannot find these men. How should he? He speaks to his inspector, who, no doubt, will assert he has seen them on their beat several times on the same day, and in all likelihood will state that, at the identical time the manager could not find them, they were at dinner. "What, at ten o'clock in the morning ?" Certainly, these kind of people dine at all hours - their constant out-door exercise gives an extraordinary impetus to their appetites, and they no sooner have one dinner than they want another. What jolly fellows these sandwich men must be.

 The Era, 17 Dec 1892There are other bills, however, besides those on hoardings and the back and the breast plates of the sandwich men, and those are the shop board and window bills, all of which are under the supervision of the inspector, whose vision, at times, is very defective. Fifty per cent of the bills sent out by a manager are not to be discovered when sought for, and to account for this fact we must look to the difference of opinion between the manager and the parties who imagine that half the number of bills given to them for exhibition is sufficient to meet every requirement. This divergency of views is calculated to inspire a certain amount of opposing sentiments, the sense of losing on the one part and the glory of gaining on the other; for in some people there is a pride when they know they have been successful in outwitting others.

The Era, 5 Nov 1898The private exhibitors of bills, mostly shop-keepers, are those who are incessantly making applications for "orders." These constant applications are annoying enough, but become the more so when perhaps they have been already anticipated by the manager having intrusted his bill inspector with a number of "orders" to be distributed among the legitimate applicants, and he has forgotten, in the press of his onerous business, to deliver them. When I say "press of business" I might also add that the pressure of friendship has as much to do with the matter as the other pressure, for the friends of a bill inspector are legion, and it is no legend that "orders"are frequently in the market; and though their value may be merely of a nominal character, they may, at least, realise a considerable amount of favours in kind. We here see in what a deplorable condition the machinery of business is involved.'

Above text from the ERA, 5th of July 1884.

Archive newspaper reports on this page were collated and kindly sent in for inclusion by B.F.