There seems to be an award for everything these days - except, of course, one for the best awards ceremony.
There are some people I would like to thank for helping me to write this article. First of all, everyone at The Sunday Telegraph – the editors, the proof readers, the lawyers and the lovely, lovely printers. They’re a great team and I know they support every word that appears on this page. A special mention to Gary who did the staples. It would all fall apart without you. My agent, Robert Kirby, is always behind me. Quite a long way behind me, as it happens, but he’s a fantastic guy, “agent of the year” back in 2003, as we all remember so well. And then there’s my two wonderful children who read this article for me and will continue to read all my work if they know what’s good for them. And finally, my wife. Where would I be without you? Actually, in the south of France with someone much younger. Just kidding, dear. God bless you all. Thank you.
Yes, we’ve just come through another awards season, the Golden Globes, the Baftas, the Oscars in all their mind-numbing sycophancy and banality. Do you realise that there are awards ceremonies for just about every single human activity you can think of, including footwear design, being an agent, hairdressing, acts of bravery, cake making, plumbing (congratulations to Rothwell Plumbing Services for their surprise win in Manchester last year) and heart surgery. Of course, not all of them are televised, which is perhaps a shame. “And now we come to the award for the most effective percutaneous coronary intervention and here to present it, all the way from Cedar Sinai intensive care…” It might be so much more entertaining than watching Hollywood A-listers and producers pounding each other on the back and pretending they don’t all hate each other.
Pretence is actually very much what awards ceremonies are all about. How can anyone pretend that Rocky (1976) was superior in any respect to Taxi Driver? Or that The Third Man (1949) or Psycho (1960) didn’t even deserve a nomination? The Oscars managed it. Hitchcock in his entire life never won best director. Even the major literary awards sometimes seem suspect to me. How come Ian McEwan's superb novelAtonement was overlooked by the Man Booker Prize in 2001, while his much slighter Amsterdam walked away with it three years earlier? The much-loved Beryl Bainbridge was famous for never winning anything. Is it even possible to compare like with like? McEwan with Peter Carey or for that matter kitten heels with stilettos? I’ve been on judging panels. At the end of the day, it all comes down to the zeitgeist, to luck — and to who on the panel has the loudest voice.
I might as well come clean and say that I have an aversion to awards ceremonies, having often sat at the nominee end, and the one piece of pretence I can’t quite manage is that moment when they say: “And the winner of this year’s Motoglass Windscreen Award for Crime Writing goes to…” and the name that pops out of the envelope isn’t mine. The need for sponsorship does take the edge off some awards. Call me a snob, but the Whitbread Award always sounded more worth winning than the Costa Coffee one, even though it’s part of the same company.
Anyway, I sit there, I lose and, of course, I grimace and clap. But it hurts and it’s not just about being a bad loser — although that’s part of it. It’s about being set up for a fall. I remember an event in Scotland where I lost out to another writer and the organiser came up to me on the stage and trilled: “If only there was a lever with a trapdoor so we could eject the losers!” Thank you. Incidentally, even when I win, it often ends unhappily, as my thank you speeches are curiously inept. One producer I forgot to thank never spoke to me again.
I suppose at the end of the day it’s all good clean fun and – with the Oscars – a chance to assemble a phalanx of major stars at a tiny fraction of the cost were it a drama. Actually, it occurs to me that there is one area of human activity that doesn’t have an awards ceremony. And the award for the best awards ceremony goes to…