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Putting the ‘clause’ in Santa: No more Yo-Ho-Ho?


Could the recession and an increasingly dangerous society mean the end of our favourite Christmas character? Tony French reports.
As the festive season draws close, our traditional Santa is under threat from disturbing trends in an industry worth £2bn per year in the UK alone. 
This exclusive report reveals the shocking truth about how modern Santas are battling with:
  • Impossible working conditions
  • Protection rackets operated by gangs muscling-in on lucrative, cash-without-questions work in city-centre department stores across the UK
  • Smash-and-grab raids on grottos by a new sector of society who see an easy 'retail opportunity'
  • Operation Rudolph - an investigation into Santas' financial affairs by the police and HM Revenue & Customs.



In a recent, shocking incident in a Midlands town, a gang of 23 rogue Santas was detained by police after kidnapping the genuine articles from their grottos in front of traumatised infants. The victims, tied up (neatly) with Christmas twine and bows, were then gagged with fake polystyrene mince-pies before being held hostage in the customer service manager's office (unused since 1986). 
The gang made-off with tinsel and christmas fairies valued at £100k - only being caught after by police after their stolen, overloaded sleigh was randomly stopped as part of an annual Christmas drink-drive campaign. A police spokesperson told me:
"This used to be a cushy, tax-free part-time job with long holidays and your own self-contained grotto. Nowadays it's a dangerous occupation"
"At this moment in time, we are treating it as a serious incident. One of the victims was our own chief superintendent, Gladys Beardsmore,who was working undercover. She doesn't like real mince pies, let alone polystyrene ones. Despite keeping her lovely, natural beard and ruddy complexion, she is deeply traumatised, and will probably have to return to office duties now. This is no laughing matter for her, or her colleagues at HQ. By the way Mr French, is that your motor vehicle over there, sir?"

Santas fight back - literally

In another incident in Debenhams in Bristol, riot squad officers were called to stop a brawl between bogus Santas and genuine ones. 12 pseudo-Santas were arrested, along with the confiscation of counterfeit beards, rubber knee-bouncer pads, 10,000 metres of wrapping twine and fake mince pies - all believed to be illegally imported from the Far East. BBC TV's Crimewatch team are taking a keen interest in developments - believing them to be 'tied up' with international smuggling activities.

New dangers…

But the dangers to Santa aren't just from white-bearded impostors. In a third incident at Toys 'R' Us in Portsmouth, a mob of 200 over-exuberant five-year-olds mugged the UK's oldest Santa - Bill Peabody, aged 103 - in his grotto before rampaging through the store in a giggling wave of Tutti Frutti-fueled hysteria, causing shoppers and staff to flee for their own safety.
Mr Peabody was later treated in hospital for Liquorice Allsorts burns and shock. Fighting with his emotions through a dishevelled beard, he told me: "In 46 years of Santa-ing, I've never known anything like it. The little b****s were like Arsenal fans on Cup Final Day. Santa used to be a figure of respect, not ridicule. Give them ASBOs, not Alphabetti Spaghetti. Can you pass me my… Oh-No-ho-ho!!"
(Mr. Peabody's false teeth then flew out into his bed-pan, and the remainder of the interview was, sadly, too distressing to print)

What do you need to be a professional ‘Santa’ ?

Traditionally, the qualifications for the role of Santa were simple: to be a kindly, rotund gentleman of a certain age with a ruddy complexion, white beard and bouncy knees… and to like children (optional). However, in a bid to bring the profession into the 21st century, (and to protect Santas from victimisation and probable extinction), employment legislators and HR professionals have joined forces to recommend new professional standards for Santas:
  • Criminal Records Bureau clearance Level 3
  • Proof of age, if over 100 years
  • Minimum NVQ level-4 in 'Yo-ho-ho-ing' and festive greetings
  • Certificate in grotto management
  • Own sleigh with current MOT certificate and public liability insurance
  • Advanced gift-wrapping skills, genuine long white beard, ruddy complexion, rotund stature, watery eyes and 'bouncy' knees
  • Competency-based occupational testing for ability to maintain permanent 'jolly' expression

The Issues

Outraged 'real' Santas (who deliver up to 500 'Yo-ho-ho's per day at peak periods) are demanding greater rights as seasonal employees. Many want to put a different meaning to the term 'clause’ in Santa via their employment contracts - to protect their livelihood and safety.
One anonymous Santa we spoke to said: "This used to be a cushy, tax-free part-time job with long holidays and your own self-contained grotto. Nowadays it's a dangerous occupation - like being a doctor's receptionist or in customer services at British Gas. I have to a carry a Christmas cracker with an iron bar hidden inside, for my own safety. Yo bloody ho!"  
Another disillusioned Santa complained: "Criminals are now running protection rackets here. To keep my patch in House of Fraser, I give 25% of my wages to middle-Santas. One of them threatened to "smash me friggin knees in mate", so that I can't bounce the little-uns on them any more. It would mean the end of my career as a Santa" - I'd probably end up working in ASDA as a meeter and greeter. What's Christmas coming to?".  

What hope for Santa?

Yo-Ho-Honison, the union representing over 25,000 professional Santas in the UK, condemned the situation. Spokesperson and retired Santa, Reg Compton, told us:
"We may have to introduce door staff and CCTV in grottos to protect our members. We're also considering offering self-defence training to Santas wishing to become licensed. But many are well-over 100 years old - and not as fit as they once were. 
"We know that we need new blood' in the profession, but what parent wants their infant to meet a 19-year-old Santa with a fluffy chin, bony knees and an iPod sticking out of each ear? - it could shatter the litterluns' perceptions of Christmas for the rest of their lives". 
"We know that we need new blood' in the profession, but what parent wants their infant to meet a 19-year-old Santa with a fluffy chin, bony knees and an iPod sticking out of each ear?"
He continued: "We've even considered allowing women into Santa-ing, which is even more controversial… 'Santa Claudia', or 'Santa Faye' maybe?...but then there's the beard issue. We've had some interest from ladies, but mainly in isolated Welsh rural areas. Apart from anything else, there's a potential language problem, look you. These are desperate times for Santa as we know him, or her.
Mr Compton concluded: "Being 'jolly' to the public (especially children) for eight hours a day is stressful enough: but the job is becoming physically dangerous too. If we don't get more support from the authorities and retail sector, we'll instruct our members to work to rule: this means a maximum of 50 Yo-ho-ho's per day, Santas in protective riot-gear, and security staff in grottos. The cost to the retail industry will be high".  

Tougher Measures

Yo-Ho-Honison is also lobbying for a clause in Santas' employment contracts to demand:
  • Tax relief on essential equipment such as: knee protectors, mascara and beard maintenance
  • A dependants' allowance for up to five reindeer, dwarves and christmas fairies
  • A nil rate of VED (Vehicle Excise Duty) on sleighs due to their low annual mileage and CO2 emissions, plus exemption from London's Congestion Charge.
The union is also looking into the Health & Safety risks for many Santas who supplement their income by delivering presents to private homes - where chimneys are too narrow. One insider told us that many Santas now secretly attend Weight Watchers in the weeks leading up to Christmas. 
Many are now also suffering from eating disorders resulting from crash-dieting to slim down to fit inside modern chimneys, rather than lose work. It is believed that, apart from the costs to the NHS, this will be deeply un-popular with children of all ages – many of whom believe that if Santa isn't rotund and jolly, he's not the 'real deal' like Terry Wogan, KFCs Colonel Sanders, or Simon Cowell from the X-factor.

Santa - The Official View

In response to recent incidents, police are following up leads and, due to limited IT resources, hand-crafting composite identikit pictures of fraudulent Santas to distribute to the public for Christmas 2008. Chief Superintendent Bob Hollyhead of the Festive Fraud Squad admitted: "This is a potentially difficult exercise – these hardened criminals will go to any lengths to conceal their identity. Some are even taking to wearing false beards, mascara and rubber knee–pads. We literally have our work cut out here. By the way, is that your motor vehicle over there, Mr French?"
An HMRC official added: "We will be looking into the tax affairs of all Santas, including Mr Peabody". She added: "We don’t want to spoil tax-payers' festive fun, but we know who the real Santas are - and which ones are breaking the law. Many could end up not just with red noses, but red Tax Demands too. Our secret weapon? - let's just say Rudolph and the Mint Spies. By the way Mr French, have you submitted your tax return for this year? we don't seem to have it on record."
So, Santa beware - you never know who might be watching over you also during the festive season. Happy Christmas, and remember, don't have nightmares... Yo-Ho-...Ello Ello Ello?

Copyright Mark Benjamin 2010 All rights reserved. Tony French is the fictional creation of humorist & writer Mark Benjamin, who comments on the lighter side of life. He can be contacted via [email protected]


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