Spanner Sunday Telegraph


Coffee, Sir? - Make it yourself then!

Sloppy serving, rude remarks, alarming disturbances during pudding..... Rachel Sylvester meets the comedy waiters paid to wreck your evening.

"Have you finished madam?" the waiter asks a grey-haired lady dressed in Armani. She leans back so that he can take her plate. He leans forward, takes a potato and puts it in his mouth. Then he turns to the rest of the table and hollers: "Pass your plates down." Astounded, the guests obey, and a young man in a striped shirt and tie somehow finds himself carrying the dirty pile to the kitchen.

On the next table the wine waiter is topping up glasses. He fills one so full that it spills over on to the cloth, but the next guest receives barely half an inch in the bottom of his glass. When he turns around to complain, the waiter has disappeared to the far side of the room and is busy swigging some claret from a private supply hidden behind the curtains.

"Waiter," shouts a more courageous guest, "could I have another fork?" Le garcon waves a scruffily bandaged arm in the air, gives a look of absolute disdain and tells him to get it himself.

Basil Fawlty is alive and well and standing up for waiters' rights, in the form of a Birmingham-based outfit called Spanner In The Works - three young men and one woman. The latest thing to hit the corporate entertainment world, they are getting two or three bookings each week from companies who employ them to break the ice. For a fee - they will "ruin" the evening.

Steven Wattison is unashamedly uncouth and arrogant throughout the night. He will answer all orders as rudely as possible, and poke an ashtray under a guest's nose until the victim, with a confused sideways glance, taps his or her cigarette into it.

His brother, Neil Wattison is an alcoholic wine waiter. He gets progressively drunk and more obnoxious during the evening until he is sitting nursing a bottle in the corner of the room.

Becky Bikkett plays a gossipy waitress, who specialises in giving fashion and make-up tips to the guests and in stirring up office romances. "It's amazing what you can do," she says. "I've often managed to get two avowed enemies together by the end of the evening."

The workman appears after the starter to change a light bulb, reappears after the main course "to check the ceiling above the table for asbestos", narrowly missing guests' heads with his ladder; and finally disappears in a puff of smoke when his electric drill blows up at the end of the meal.

"At that point," says Steven Wattison, "people go - 'Oh, it's a joke!'." The great British public, this outfit has discovered, is extraordinarily resilient. Guests endure all manner of rudeness and eccentricity without batting an eyelid, let alone bandying a complaint.

"We start off subtly, and get more ridiculous through the evening. People really will put up with extreme amounts," says Steven Wattison. During pre-dinner drinks, Becky Bikkett proffers canapes to the guests, consisting of carrot, banana, a wine gum and a hula-hoop on a stick. "You'd be amazed how many people just eat them without a second look," she says.

There are standard elements to the routine, but the evening is individualised for each company. The icily unnatural atmosphere of the office party is perfect for their work. "We're helped by the fact that everyone's on their best behaviour because their boss is there," said Steven Wattison.

Fawlty Towers' Manuel has a serious rival. And the success of the gag depends entirely on old-fashioned British snobbery. "English people think that if a waiter even talks to you, he's being impertinent," says Steve Wattison, "but they never ever complain." The motto of the Spanners says it all:

"British service at its best."







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