The Lady Guide to Modern Manners: 5 September

Etiquette is not always clear-cut when witnessing a theatre-seat spat. Thomas Blaikie wishes for the wisdom of Solomon
Dear Thomas,
At the theatre last week, there was an interesting clash of two large ladies in the row behind me. The seats were not numbered. Lady 1 arrived early and saved seats for her friends who were parking the car. Lady 2 arrived with her husband and friends 10 minutes before the opening of the show. Saying that it was too bad about Lady 1’s friends, Lady 2 commandeered the seats. Lady 1 made to push her away but was unsuccessful. There was quite a row. Finally Lady 1 retreated to another part of the auditorium.

I was left feeling very sorry for Lady 1 but also understood the point made by Lady 2. What is the appropriate behaviour in this situation?
Veronica Riemer, Wolverhampton

Dear Veronica,
Oh for the wisdom of Solomon! Bagging seats is not always a wholesome activity, particularly in busy cafeterias, where one of the party grimly occupies a table while the others join the queue. This can mean that those further up the queue who’ve selected their food and paid then can’t sit down. I’d start a war about that.

Where pressure is intense, it’s thought bad form, or even not allowed, to save a place for a friend – in the queue for Wimbledon, for instance. Theatres and indeed cinemas with unnumbered seats are a slightly different case.

There’s no rule that says you must occupy your seat at all times and that, if you get up to buy a programme or visit the conveniences, someone else can invade it. However, Lady 1’s friends had not yet arrived and since it seems that she was reserving quite a number of places, Lady 2 evidently thought it was unfair.

If someone arrived at the theatre hours before the performance and laid claim to a whole tranche of the best seats there’d be a revolt. Lady 1 might have been less vulnerable if just one person had been parking the car and all her other friends had been in their seats.

All the same, Lady 2 may have had a point in principle but it sounds as if she was aggressive and mean-spirited in insisting on it. Lady 1 had taken the trouble to come early and in practice it’s normal for people to save seats for the rest of their party, provided the numbers aren’t excessive.

Ideally, the organisations involved should have clear rules and be prepared to enforce them. Lady 1, or indeed Lady 2, might have been better off asking the Front of House manager to resolve their dispute. Everybody agrees that the Wimbledon queue is exemplary. You’re given a queue card. If your ‘friend’ turns up later, they have to go to the back.

Please send your questions to or write to him at The Lady, 39-40 Bedford Street, London WC2E 9ER


It has become common practice, in towns at least, to put no-longer-wanted- but-serviceable household items – clothes, books, crockery… anything really that one can’t be bothered to sell on eBay – out on the street in the hope that a passer-by will whisk them away for their own use. I do this myself all the time. In some countries there are set days of the week for this method of disposal.

VG Lee, resident of Hastings, novelist, stand-up comedian and contributor to The Lady, tried it recently with a cane sofa but was somewhat alarmed, as she twitched her nets (I’m sure she didn’t), to see a neighbour hovering eagerly over the treasure. Her first thought was, ‘I’d rather it went further away.’

Perhaps there is a touch of embarrassment, as if one were distributing largesse to the poor. When I was a child, I used to see (this is going to sound awful) less fortunate children running round in my former jumpers. VG’s neighbour, somewhat cap in hand, asked if he might have the sofa. Finally she thought: ‘If he really wants it, and I don’t, why not?’