"I'm so sorry to bother you with this" says the very clean-looking young man hovering in front of the box office.
"Not at all, that's what I'm here for. How can I help?" I respond.
"Well…my girlfriend and I are in London for the weekend and we haven't been to the theatre before, so we thought we'd come and see this…"
"OK, super. Is it a pair of seats you're looking for?" Since this is Saturday night, we are down to single seats on most levels but the show starts in less than ten minutes and there's no returns queue – thanks probably to the gorgeous weather – I'm pretty sure it's safe to release the house seats I'm holding.
"Thank you, but we've already got them" he replies and hands me a pair of tickets with the stubs torn and printed price inelegantly gouged out by biro. The seats are severely restricted view at the extreme side of the upper circle, the lowest price that we sell. "The view is terrible, we literally can't see about a third of the stage." (He's not wrong actually).
"Did you buy these here?" (They are printed on our ticket stock) "Myself or any of my colleagues would have told you that these are restricted view."
"No, we bought them from one of those little kiosks by Leicester Square. The man in the shop said they would be best seats."
"Oh dear," I say, "I think I know what's happened here. How much were you charged for these?"
Yup, my worst fears are confirmed. This nice bloke has been scammed.
As gently as possible I tell him that he has been the victim of a ticket tout, and that the house price on these seats is a mere £15.
He looks genuinely shocked, but remains impressively polite and coherent (in the past, I've had people breathing fire at me for far less than this): "But they had a proper shop and everything! They even had your poster up!"
"I'm so sorry this has happened to you…" On the computer system I quickly check the account that these seats are in. They were sold yesterday over the counter by one of our newer clerks to somebody called Boris(!) and the mobile phone number that was given is 07855 123456. More senior Box Office personnel would have smelt a rat immediately, from the phone number alone. I make a mental note to have a quiet word with the newbie next week.
This is something I've written about before…namely the despicable practise some touts have of sending runners in to box offices of successful shows, buying the cheapest tickets and selling them on to unsuspecting tourists at hugely inflated prices. It's very confusing for the ticket-buying public as many of the "shops" that these wasters set up in the theatre district look pretty much identical to those of the official ticket agents. As a quick rule of thumb, look for the STAR (Secure Tickets from Authorised Retailers) logo somewhere in the shop, make sure you are told exactly where you are sitting, what the face value of the ticket is, and whether or not you can pay by credit card as well as cash.
The guy in front of me right now looks too dazed and upset to take any of this in immediately so I hand him a photocopy of the above information, as well as the SOLT scalper incident report form, should he wish to take it further.
Now, let's see if we can do anything about his God-awful seats…..
"Is your girlfriend in the auditorium?" I ask.
"No….she's in the toilet….crying."
"It's her birthday you see, and we wanted this to be a bit special…and…" oh blimey, now he looks as though HE might cry……
It's two minutes to curtain-up, the foyer is empty apart from a few ushers milling about, fanning themselves with the programmes they're supposed to be selling (apart from one who is classily scratching her armpit with the spine of a souvenir brochure. Don't let the House manager catch you doing THAT!) I check the COBO box and it's empty, both of my colleagues are twiddling their thumbs (actually one of them was on Facebook until they caught me peering over) and there are no potential purchasers coming in. I decide I'm going to let this young man and his girlfriend have those last two house seats.
Taking the battered-looking original tickets, I write the magic words 'DRESS CIRCLE A16-17' on them and hand them back to him…..
"OK" I say, "you'll need to be quick but if you go and retrieve your girlfriend from the lavatory, then you can have these seats with our compliments, they are the best in the house."
He starts to fish in his wallet….
"No charge" I quickly say, "I think you've paid enough" (these new seats would still cost £10 less than the price charged by the unscrupulous tout).
"Oh mate, thank you. Thank you SO MUCH" and with that off he goes at high speed in the direction of the ladies loo…..
I'm really happy that I was able to help this couple to seats that were nearer to the value of what they'd actually paid, even as it leaves a nasty taste in my mouth that the rotten scalpels made a massive profit. Hopefully, this young man and his girlfriend won't be eternally put off visiting the West End by this experience but will be a bit more careful in future about where they buy their tickets from. The producers won't be thrilled that a pair of house seats were left unsold but at least there wasn't a gap in the front row of the dress! And, hey, nobody died.