“We once had twin boys” of 5 months booked for two days catalogue work, and they got 36 guineas a day.” So spoke Miss Roma Ansonia who, with two assistants, runs Bonnie Kids, one of the best known child modelling agencies. There are about 700 children on the books, and they are called on the television commercials, fashion shows and photographs advertising products and clothes.
For photographs the minimum rate is three guineas an hour or 18 guineas a day. Fashion shows are three guineas an hour (including rehearsal time) for small children, and four guineas for the late teens. The rate for commercials is anything from five guineas to twenty-five guineas a day, but the average child is paid ten.
The average child on the job can earn about £150 a year gross. Good ones can command £300 a year without any trouble. (This means jobs done after school, once every three weeks or so on a schoolday, and in the school holidays.) Some children with higher rates can reach £600 or £700 before ever going to school, and if they took every job offered they could earn £1,000.
“Some parents get money-hungry, though,” said Miss Ansonia, “and take children out of school three or four times a week. One mother I heard of admitted her child worked six days a week. I find this nauseating.”
I asked how money-conscious the children were. “It depends,” said Miss Ansonia. “Sometimes the parents must have said ‘earn lots of money’ and when we ask why they want to model they reply ‘for the money.’ ‘Why ?’ we say. I want to buy a nice big car…or a donkey, or a rocket,’ is the usual answer. We have one 8-year-old boy who is saving up to be a pig-farmer. After every job he asks ‘How many pigs have I earned now?’
On the whole parents put it away for the child, or use it to pay for education, holidays, or an endowment policy. “But about 20 per cent of the parents use it themselves,” said Miss Ansonia. “On the home, admittedly. One family of three children have just earned £350 and it’s gone on a new dining-room suite and carpets. All the kids got were three cheapish bikes. But the parents know how annoyed we feel about it: they won’t get any more jobs from us.”
Parents do have to pay out fares (if travel is within the London area), and sometimes the child is called up for several auditions. It has been known for up to 80 children to be called for audition for one television commercial.
Occasionally the mother is asked to buy a school blouse or a blazer, which might well cancel out the fee being paid. But once purchased, they invariably come in useful for other jobs.