Whereas receptionists are generally chosen for their bubbly personalities, warmth and general attractiveness, security guards seem to be selected for broadly opposite qualities. Sure, there are a few diamonds in the rough, but Bill Pullman isn't one of them. A permanent and curmudgeonly fixture in the foyer of the HQ of Wendower plc ('stationery solutions since 1937') his vocabulary rarely goes beyond 'security' and 'pass'.
Nobody grows up wanting to be a security guard, but Bill had certain leanings. He considered the police (they didn't consider him); he was a soldier for a while, then worked in pest control. In the army, he'd lacked the overt brutality to be a drill sergeant and wasn't keen on the strict regimen and constant vigorous exercise, so he found a vocation where small acts of cruelty could be meted out in a more sedentary environment.
At 25, he joined Exat Security as a security guard. He had to patrol a large and partially wooded site. Bill wasn't keen on this: it was too far out of town and there was too much walking around in the dark. He stuck it for three years, but when his company German Shepherd bit him, it was time to move on. He left for Dungeon Security, an outfit that hired him out to Wendower Stationery. Two years down the line, in 1985, a permanent position opened at Wendower. Since then, Bill's career trajectory has been a barely perceptible slope. His snail-like upward mobility has been neatly mirrored by a slightly more precipitous downward physical mobility.
Nowadays, practical sessile, he rarely moves, except to fetch endless cups of orange tea and chocolate digestives. When he joined aged 28, he looked like an angry whippet; now the effect is more that of a fleabitten bulldog.
But while he may have neglected the physical side of things, he has not been idle mentally. He has devoted most of the past two decades to a thorough reading of the Wendower company handbook and sundry employment regulations.
Such cogitation has given him an encyclopedic knowledge of every rule - even the corporate equivalents to those 'drunk in charge of a cow' laws still on the national statute books. Woe betide the employee who takes a company punchcard or vacuum tube home unauthorised.
There have been a couple of blips on the blank radar screen of Bill's working life. In the early '90s, his function was outsourced and he became an employee of Slocum Security, contracted out to Wendower. Bill's natural faith in authority carried him through a traumatic episode, but his trust in 'the guv'nor' might have broken if he'd checked his revised pension entitlements. The great 'before and after' in Bill's life, though, was 9/11. The most exciting day of his career came a month later, when a suspect package was delivered to the building. Bursting with importance, Bill and his young sidekick Wayne took the parcel ostentatiously out into the car park. Was it anthrax? Semtex? OK, so it turned out to be a box of chocolates for a new PA, and the sachet of white powder was only silica gel. But, Bill told giggling staff, you can't be too careful; you never know where they'll strike next; the security department had acquitted itself well.
Now Bill fears standards are on the slide again. The lessons of 9/11 are being lost, people are doing as they please, and (a bit incongruously) 'this country hardly feels like England any more.' Fortunately, though, he will not bend with the permissive winds of change. Forget your pass and it matters not a jot that you have seen him every day for 10 years ... 'Well, that's as maybe, but if I made an exception for you, I'd have to do it for everyone in the company.'
Such tinpot tyranny hardly endears him to the workforce, who joke that one day he'll be replaced by a robot. Ironically, so does Bill in his more reflective moments. But not for a while yet: the technology needed to make a robot this petty and officious is still decades in the future.
PULLMAN A SECURE LIVING
1955: Born January 12, 1955 Poplar, E London. Educated Limehouse Secondary Modern.
1974: Applies to police, rejected, joins army
1975: Royal Anglian Regiment (Cyprus)
1978: Exterminator, Mouser Pest Control
1980: Security guard, Exat Security
1983: Security guard, Dungeon Security
1985: Senior security guard, Wendower plc
1992: Senior security guard, Slocum Security
Any resemblance to a real person is coincidental and unintended.