Sian strolls out onto the stage to cheering and whistling.
Sian: Thank you very much! Good evening! I’m Sian Welby and this is Comeuppance, the show where the officious, the obnoxious and the opportunistic get what they deserve. If you didn’t watch last week then you missed a treat, as telesales operator Sandra became the first victim of our Mucky Dip! But fear not, for we’re going to do it all over again tonight!
The camera pans up the side of the looming cylindrical structure that is the Mucky Dip. Dry ice mist belches out of the top, and a faint bubbling sound can be heard.
Sian: Tonight we will meet representatives of three professions that really grind the nation’s gears. One of them, as voted by you the people, will meet their stinky comeuppance in our vat of goo! Let’s bring them on to face judgement!
The budget airline check-in clerk
Sian: We’ve already met our first contestant. You may remember that her name’s Yasmin, she’s 26 and from Manchester, and she works as a check-in clerk for an undisclosed budget airline.
Bloke shouting from the audience: Ryanair!
Sian: Neither confirm nor deny!
There is booing and hissing as the two burly blokes in guard uniforms wheel on a cage with Yasmin inside.
Sian: Yasmin, last week the public took a dim view of you hitting your passengers with surprise charges and fees, and you came very close to getting your comeuppance. Has the experience led you to reflect upon your ways?
Yasmin: My conscience is as clear as my complexion, Sian. For your info, we have no “surprise” charges; everything is laid out in the very fine print. Passengers bring it upon themselves if they don’t follow the rules. Just a couple of days ago I had a family of five who were silly enough not to print their own boarding passes. It was a pity I had to charge them a £400 printing fee, but they’ve no-one to blame but themselves. Kaaa-ching!!
Sian: You say “kaaa-ching” because it’s not only the airline that profits from these exorbitant charges. You earn commission, don’t you?
Yasmin: Yes I do.
The audience boos.
Yasmin: [Raising her voice above the din] …And I need it to top up my measly wages. By the way, if I keep getting second place in the vote do I have to keep coming back week after week? This is playing havoc with my rota.
Sian: I have some good news for you on that front. The rules state that a runner-up can only return once, so you will be leaving us tonight, Yasmin… the only question is how! You saw last week just how awful the Mucky Dip is; maybe it’ll be you in there this time!
Yasmin smiles nervously and shakes her head.
Sian: It’ll all depend on whether Yasmin’s fellow contestants are even worse then her. Let’s meet them!
The tax inspector
Sian: The first of our two new contestants is Nadine. She’s 25, from Newcastle, and for the past four years she’s been an inspector for Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs.
The audience boos as the heavies wheel out Nadine.
Sian: Nadine, nobody likes to see their money go to the taxman, naturally, but what adds insult to injury is having to spend evenings and weekends filling in a long, confusing tax return every year. And when people phone HMRC with their queries, they are left on hold for ages at their own expense. A third of calls are cut off before even being connected to an advisor!
Nadine: [Smirks] Shows we run a popular service!
Sian: Just because people have to use it doesn’t make it popular, Nadine. And filing one’s tax return isn’t the end of the ordeal either. HMRC can trawl through anybody’s accounts going back six years, on a whim, looking for the slightest discrepancy! What do you have to say for yourself?
Nadine: Sian, there are a lot of misconceptions about tax inspections, so here’s what I tell everyone I investigate: [adopts patronising tone] if you’ve declared all your income, and paid all your taxes on time, then… [pauses and places hand on chin] oooo, I’ll only give you one or two sleepless nights!
The audience boos and hisses in response.
Sian: So you enjoy seeing people squirm when you dip into their accounts, huh? Perhaps it’ll be your turn to squirm when you dip into our gunge!
Nadine purses her lips and fiddles with her curly hair.
Sian:[Turns to the camera] I’m sure many of you have already made your self-assessment of Nadine. But before you reach for the phones, let’s meet our final contestant.
The estate agent
Sian: She is Victoria, 30 years old, from Guildford in Surrey. She’s been an estate agent for ten years and recently formed her own partnership.
A caged Victoria is wheeled out to the customary booing.
Sian: Hi Victoria, do you speak English?
Victoria: [Frowning] Of course I do.
Sian: Oh, I only ask because you lot are often heard speaking a language of your own. There are even phrasebooks to translate it. [Pulls a slimline volume from her pocket]. For example, “characterful” means derelict, “cosy” means there isn’t space to swing a cat, “investment for the future” means there’s a tenant who can’t be shifted, and “excellent transport links” means there’s a motorway thundering through the backyard!
Victoria: [Shrugging] What can I say? We estate agents look on the bright side of life!
Sian: Only when talking to prospective buyers; you’re not so positive with the seller, are you? You tell them the house is unsellable at its current price and they’ll have to drop it, so that you can get the house off your books and the commission in your pocket sooner!
The audience does their usual booing.
Victoria: Sian, we don’t like the term “price drop” in our line of work. “Market-responsive pricing” sounds much nicer, don’t you think?
Sian: You really do have spin for everything! Well Victoria, I have a property that might interest you. It’s spacious and modern, with wonderful views across the studio, and it has hot and cold running gunge! Actually no, just cold. Fancy it?
Victoria: [grins wryly] Sian, I’ve seen some properties from Hell over the years, but that’s one I really don’t want to set foot in!
Sian: It’ll be rather more than your foot! Ladies, let me recap the rules. The three of you will be put to a public vote. Whoever comes third will walk away clean and dry, carrying one of our trademark Jammy Dodger trophies. Yasmin, the same will apply to you if you get second place. Nadine and Victoria, if either of you comes second, you will earn a temporary reprieve but will have to face fresh judgement next episode. [Pauses and looks up at the Mucky Dip] And you do all understand what happens if you come first, don’t you?
The contestants nod apprehensively.
Sian: Good! [Turns to face the camera] So folks, you’ve met our terrible trio. Now you must choose who gets their comeuppance. Will it be second time mucky for Yasmin, the check-in clerk who earns commission on your airport misery? Will you get revenge on Nadine, the tax inspector who loves to make you sweat under her scrutiny? Or will you punish Victoria, the estate agent whose weasel words could palm off a shed as a palace? The voting numbers are on your screen; the decision is in your hands!
Poll closes end of Sat 9th Jan. As with the previous poll, repeat voting is allowed, with a period of least 12 hours between votes.