"[A] clipboard is as good as a skeleton key."When the characters are engaging in a Bavarian Fire Drill, are Impersonating an Officer, need to infiltrate the enemy base, or are Dressing as the Enemy, their credibility is greatly enhanced if one of them is holding a clipboard. Nothing terrifies human beings as much as an Obstructive Bureaucrat on the move. See also Refuge in Audacity. This is of course Truth in Television, as shows like The Real Hustle can attest.
— Michael Westen, Burn Notice
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- Modesty Blaise uses what Willie calls the 'universal passport' in "Garvin's Travels" to infiltrate a spy ring hiding in a resort. She adds to the effect by asking the first employee to see her if he's new; he chalks it up to the place being so large.
- James Bond
- In Sneakers, Robert Redford claims (and demonstrates!) that all you need to get into any building in the world is a clipboard and a confident wave.
- Michael Keaton says (and does) the same thing in The Paper.
- In The Rise and Rise of Michael Rimmer, the titular character managed to successfully become part of an advertising agency by going in with a clipboard, looking like he knew what he was doing and saying he was with "efficiency", and everyone buys it!
- The Dream Team: This eases Christopher Lloyd's character in doctor-impersonating.
- Sherlock Holmes: Watson grabs a clipboard to infiltrate a factory, briefly acting like an overseer while Holmes, carrying a barrel, plays the common worker.
- In Chappie, while the villain Vincent secretly uploads his virus at Tetravaal's high security area, security guards enter the room, which prompts Vincent to grab a random clipboard in hope it makes him look like official staff. The trick works.
- Dr. Scarpetta, Patricia Cornwell's character, does it on one occasion.
- The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy has this with towels
"If you have your towel, everyone automatically assumes that you are an extremely on-top of it person, and thus will be happy to lend you anything you may have misplaced (food, money, etc)."
Truckle the Uncivil: Why're we carrying pieces of paper?
- In Moving Pictures, it's said you can get into anywhere with a piece of paper, rolled-up sleeves, and a purposeful expression.
- Nobby Nobbs uses a sheaf of papers (Colon's shopping list), a purposeful expression, and a constant shout to bluff the guy running the city armory in Men at Arms.
- A similar point is made in Interesting Times. Discworld protagonists use the Bavarian Fire Drill a lot, so it's not too surprising.
Teach: Because no-one looks at you in a place like this if you're carrying a piece of paper.
- Robert B. Parker's Spenser does this at least once, while commenting on the phenomenon.
- No clipboard, but in The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul Dirk Gently gets into a crime scene by being right behind a uniformed policeman, and when that policeman got stopped to show his ID Gently just walked by and said "He's with me."
- Disturbing variant in one of the Sword of Truth novels. When The Imperial Order conquers a city she's in, Jebra hides out for several days in a cellar, managing to avoid the invading army. When she finally comes out, she finds them doing their usual thing...but they leave her alone, apparently on the assumption that if a woman isn't being brutally raped already, then she's a woman they're not supposed to brutally rape.
- In the Dexter novel Dearly Devoted Dexter Kyle Chutsky points out that "No one ever stops a man with a clipboard."
- One of the tricks Qui-Gon teaches Obi-Wan in the Jedi Apprentice books.
- In Dark Forces of "The Thrawn Trilogy" when Luke is rescuing Karrde from a Star Destroyer they use a datapad to this effect.
- During the X-Wing Series, Iella and Mirax pull this, with Iella as the exec and Mirax as the hapless technician having to guide her around.
- In Doom, Fly and Arlene need to get to a radio they don't have access to. Arlene hands Fly a clipboard and he plays inspection sergeant all the way to it.
- Lampshaded and riffed on in The Rhesus Chart by Charles Stross. A think tank of investment bankers discover they've become vampires, so set about investigating in an organised manner how they'll get blood and what their powers and vulnerabilities are, turning up at hospitals and butcher shops wielding clipboards (even to church mass or nightclubs, where it's completely unnecessary).
- In the Dortmunder novel What's the Worst That Could Happen?, Dortmunder and Kelp are able to gain access to almost every area of the Watergate complex by dressing as engineers and carrying clipboards.
Live Action TV
- Michael and his colleagues put this to use more than once in Burn Notice, usually accompanied by being so loudly bureaucratic that everyone listens to them without question.
- They can also use it to be seen as a harmless, self-important nobody when they need a distraction. A pushy representative of the Homeowner's Lawn Association gets told to sod off, not shot at.
- Discussed by Liz and Carol on an episode of 30 Rock, though not about an actual clipboard: "You walk briskly in a pilot's uniform, you can go pretty much anywhere. Iíve been inside the Lincoln bedroom."
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer. In "Goodbye Iowa" Buffy infiltrates the Initiative's Elaborate Underground Base by posing as a Hot Scientist with a clipboard and Nerd Glasses. The clipboard actually comes in useful when she uses it to stop a door closing.
- In Doctor Who, the Doctor's psychic paper, carried in a wallet, credentials-style, often functions as this. The Doctor isn't the only one to use this tool, as Rose Tyler and Clara Oswald also made use of it from time to time. The paper is most often used to make people think that the Doctor, Clara, etc. is a person of authority who is not to be questioned.
- Two words: Milgram experiment. 65% of completely normal, mentally-stable people "killed" another person because a guy with a lab coat and clipboard told them to do so.
- Lab coats (or scrubs) are nearly as good as a valid photo ID badge in hospitals, as long as you act like you know where you're going.
- Proven true in a number of circumstances, making this Truth in Television. One of the ways to convince people you belong there is to look and act as though you do. Doesn't always work, but moving with a sense of purpose and giving the appearance that you belong there is one of the most effective ways to avoid drawing attention.
- DJ Kenny Everett claims to have infiltrated The BBC in order to obtain an audition by carrying a large reel of tape.
- When he was filming In the Loop, Armando Ianucci convinced the State Department that his BBC pass was "access all areas". He spent the next three hours taking photographs of the US State Department.
- Poet Rives has a performance piece about trespassing on a construction site. Before starting he explains that this is very illegal, and if you want to do it you should grab some safety gear and a clipboard so no one tries to stop you.
- A couple waltzed in to a White House state dinner and met President Barack Obama by simply looking the part according to the Secret Service after they'd been embarrassed about letting in two uninvited people into the most highly secure building in the world. They wore a suit and evening gown respectively and simply acted like they belonged. When Secret Service agents didn't see them on the guest list they assumed such well dressed folk must have been somehow accidentally left off the guest list and let them in.
- A CompTIA A+ textbook by Mike Meyers (no, not that one) tells the story of how a former college classmate challenged him to gain access to his employer's server, having convinced them to stump up for some new and very flashy security software. (Whether he cleared this OPFOR exercise with his employers is not mentioned.) Meyers then proceeded to drive over to his friend's workplace. Wearing a boiler suit and an old photo ID badge on his lapel and pushing a parcel trolley, he talked his way in without the slightest difficulty and walked out with the server!
- On Air Force flightlines, a clipboard is the universal sign for QA inspectors. Many maintainers will actively avoid drawing attention from anyone carrying one, regardless of whether or not they're actually QA.
- Generally, you can just waltz into any rail yard in a high-visibility vest and do as you please.
- Richard Ankrom "vandalized" (read: made much clearer) a sign on a stretch of LA Highway in broad daylight simply by wearing a high-vis vest and knowing what he was doing.
- Variation: A BBC journalist once claimed to have gained access to a sensitive facility behind the Iron Curtain because a confidante had told him it was unthinkable for anyone to be there without authorisation. (In other words, once he was there everybody had to assume he was authorised.)
- Günter Wallraff is German undercover journalist, who, in his most famous exploit, managed to pass as Turkish low-paid worker for few months, with nobody realizing anything, including actual Turks.
- While it certainly depends on the circumstances, one way a soldier might avoid being given orders while on base basically amounts to "grab a clipboard and act like you know what you're doing."