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Clipboard of Authority

"[A] clipboard is as good as a skeleton key."
Michael Westen, Burn Notice

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.


Examples:

    open/close all folders 

    Comics 
  • 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.

    Film 
  • 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.

    Literature 
  • 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)."
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.

    Live Action TV 
  • Angel likewise got into a crime scene with nothing but a cup of coffee and a world-weary expression, making uniformed cops think he was the plainclothes detective on the case.
  • 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.

    Web Comics 

    Real Life 
  • Two words: Milgram experiment. 65% of completely normal, mentally-stable people "killed" other person because guy in lab coat and with clipboard in his hands told them to do so.
  • 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.
    • That said, it doesn't work in retail or similar positions where there are a lot of customers milling about. Attempting to look busy (Or even actually be busy), especially with a clipboard will inevitably cause a customer to latch on and bother you for the next five to ten minutes. If you stand around doing nothing, then the customers will assume you're no good at your job and bother the staff that are working. That, or they're intimidated by people simply waiting for customers.
    • However, wearing any type of retail uniform and walking with a purposeful manner, even if you're wearing a different one than the particular establishment you're at, such as if you're merely shopping, tends to attract the inevitable "Excuse me, do you work here?" from customers. In some instances people will mistake you for someone important if you just wear a collared shirt and tie; granted, though, that isn't exactly casual wear in most circumstances.
  • A group of professional pranksters managed to waltz right through the airtight security surrounding a U.N. summit by outfitting a rented limousine with Canadian flags and dressing in black suits with earbuds to give the appearance of being the Canadian Prime Minister's official vehicle and bodyguard detail. The only reason the Prime Minister didn't actually climb in and be driven away was that the troupe chickened out with how far through security they'd come (and how many felonies they'd probably committed) and left before any officials showed themselves.
  • 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. Oy.
  • 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.
Classified InformationEspionage TropesCloak & Dagger
Bavarian Fire DrillSocial EngineeringImpersonating an Officer
Climb, Slip, Hang, ClimbAction Adventure TropesCloak & Dagger
Escape From TerraImageSource/Web ComicsExiern
Clark KentingDisguise TropesClone by Conversion

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