When David Wood, who is an actor and director as well as one of our leading children's playwrights, was doing his stuff in an old people's home as part of a tour of Sailor Beware!, he and an actress were sharing a scene in which they were using a shoe as an ashtray.

He recalled the occasion on Sunday: "Suddenly, an old lady, who must have been 98 if she was a day, came very slowly towards us. Then she held up an ashtray."

When he spoke at the annual conference of the National Operatic and Dramatic Association (NODA) at Eastbourne, it was clear that his efforts at acting are as liable to be misinterpreted as is his writing.

As he explained, although working for children is not necessarily regarded as the end of the world or the absolute pits, the popular viewpoint is that he works in the third division of the business.

"The mere fact that I do this tells the general public, people in my own profession, critics and theatre managers that what I do is not as important as work that people do for big people," he said.

"It's all to do with attitudes. It's also financial - the fact that the seat price has to be lower than for a show for adults, and rightly so: I would make it free.

"Budgets have to be lowered, and the amount a theatre manager can take for his theatre is less, and therefore it's not regarded as quite as important.

"And when people ask what I do, I have to say I'm an actor rather than a writer, because it sounds a bit more interesting. When I say I write plays for children, eyes sort of glaze over a bit. Then comes the classic, 'Are you ever thinking of writing a real play?'

"Philip Pullman (whose children's novels have sold in millions in Britain) gets asked whether he is thinking of writing a real book. He says, 'Would you ever go up to a doctor who happens to be a paediatrician and ask whether he was thinking of working with real people'.

"My own peers somehow look down on you a bit because they think it's easy. This is ridiculous: it's far harder to work for children than for adults, but you're perceived as one of three things - a beginner, a failure or a crank. 'Oh, yes, he's one of those people who like working with children - and these days, that's even worse."

The irritation that must surely have been there was bravely concealed beneath a cheerful chuckle.

He delighted his audience for more than an hour with a talk that ended with a conjuring trick and included the claim that he is the world's least-read holder of an English degree - having graduated on the strength of writing eight pages on John Dryden without having read a word of him.

After a break of a number of years, BMOS Musical Theatre Company will be back at Birmingham Hippodrome next June, with Thoroughly Modern Millie.

The group's Alan Hackett says: "We are still fundraising but we feel that with such a great show we will at least be able to cover our costs."

Twenty-five new members, particularly men, are needed for the show. Claire Hemming is standing by on 0121 459 9469 to hear from any potential participants.

Meanwhile, Alan has a busy time ahead of him. He is at present rehearsing BMOS Youtheatre for the world premiere of Stephen Duckham's new version of Beauty and the Beast, which will be staged from November 8-11 at the Old Rep, and is about to start on Singin' in the Rain with the Peterbrook Players, which will be at Solihull Library Theatre at the end of March.

In December, he starts work with the Youtheatre on next May's Anything Goes, and in February he launches rehearsals of Thoroughly Modern Millie.