Pride in the Profession - Monty Python Revisited

Philip Fisher
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Last month, a column considering the PKF Experience and youngsters' perceptions of accountants proved to be both popular and informative.

Predictably, responses came from accountants who emphasised how unlike all other accountants they were. Indeed, at times, you wonder whether accountants would be happier announcing that they were pickpockets or even terrorists rather than admitting to the embarrassment of their true vocation.

It can hardly be a truism that if every accountant is unlike the general perception of accountants, then either the world is viewing accountants mistakenly or most members of the profession are delusional.

One alternative interpretation of this data is that AccountingWEB subscribers are significantly different from every other accountant.

Getting a little personal for once, when I entered the profession, I was delighted to be taking on a job that I considered to be the responsible and important, not to mention potentially lucrative, although as a trainee that was hardly the case.

Moving on a few years, qualifying as an accountant and getting some letters after my name was a red letter day and there can be little doubt that I told everybody whom I met, probably including the inhabitants of whole carriages on Tube trains, that I was a fully qualified accountant.

These days, my typical approach on being asked what I do is to say that "I'm an accountant who specialises in tax" then I always throw in very quickly "but I moonlight as a theatre critic'. This at least has the advantage of allowing me to talk about the latest must-see plays rather than helping random strangers arrange their inheritance tax affairs or complete tax returns.

The question that this raises is why highly qualified professionals providing a valuable service to society are so desperate to hide their lights under bushels. Accountancy is genuinely a respectable, responsible and worthwhile profession. Admittedly, there are a few shysters who assist in the perpetration of fraud but that is hardly different from lawyers, politicians or almost any other profession.

Is it Monty Python that has caused this problem? Almost certainly not, since the anarchic comedians just tapped into the zeitgeist of their time by picking on poor old accountants as figures at whom fun could be poked.

Accountancy can attract the odd bore although many accountants, certainly in the field of tax, tend to be eccentric personalities that are well worth meeting and observing.

Strangely, while every lawyer, doctor and politician in Hollywood movies and prime-time television series is played by beautiful people in their mid-20s or wearing wigs, make up and silicone to give that impression, accountants do not fare so well, not even getting into shot let alone being glamorised.

When they were downtrodden, homosexuals launched Gay Pride, while Black Pride has done wonders for those victimised on racial grounds. In addition, many other groupings employ expensive PR companies to raise their profiles.

Perhaps it is time for accountants to fight back. Maybe the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales and their numerous sister bodies could be persuaded to club together and invest in some promotional videos or product placements. These will inevitably involve John Cleese charged with making the world understand what we all know  - that accountants are more exciting and vivacious even than lion tamers?

Otherwise, we will just have to continue masquerading as theatre critics, movie stars or even actuaries for the foreseeable future.

About Philip Fisher


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23rd May 2012 17:14

Monty Python

At the end of the Lion Tamer sketch a caption appeared inviting donations to, if I remember, Chartered Accountants distressed by their vocation.

As impoverished articled clerks I and several fellow sufferers wrote to JC asking for some of the proceeds of this appeal, pointing out that we did not appreciate his constant jibes at our dynamic and imaginative profession.

He replied expressing considerable sympathy at our chosen career. He added that he had recently seen a chartered accountant who was unusually dynamic and imaginitive, but later discovered that he had only been dead for two days. I'm not sure that John Cleese is your man!

Phil Williams


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