Awards Ceremonies

In praise of Perspex pyramids

Has there ever been an autumn like it? Some have marvelled at the raspberries, some at the late profusion of the roses. But for some of us the real miracle of the season has been the fantastic crop of awards ceremonies. Across the nation this November proud new places have been found on office walls for framed documents proclaiming that the recipient has been named the Personality of the Year 2006 by the Federation of Insurance Brokers or the Outstanding Performer of the Year by the Meat Packaging Association.

Tens of thousands of shiny new trophies now stand on the sideboards of UK plc: strange crystal chacmools; clods of bronze, ideal for braining a burglar; Perspex pyramids that you might use to scrape ice off the windscreen; and even today, with Christmas almost upon us, the national orgy of prize-giving is not quite over.

Somewhere in London, this very night, Andy Marr is compèring some soirée with his bony-fingered brio, and after a 15-minute spiel and cantering through the autocue he will trouser a sum not unadjacent to £20,000 for his services. Before some merry throng, Michael Portillo is telling the one about Holmes and Watson in the tent, while somewhere else William Hague is doing the one about the length of a farmer’s drive.

Before a chuckling cummerbunded Nuremberg at Grosvenor House, John Humphrys is knocking them dead with some nicely judged grouchiness; and in the Hilton or the Dorchester the very presence of top newscaster Fiona Bruce or Huw Edwards is imbuing the ceremony with national importance.

And then the speeches are over and the envelopes are opened, one by one, and the shrieks go up from the victors’ tables, and well-padded backs are clapped, and white bosoms burst with pride from their evening gowns, and as the cameras pop and the mobiles click the bashful winners mount the rostrum and their hands are shaken by the simpering sleb.

They turn to face the applause and a roiling tide of happiness washes round the room, and toasts are drunk and friendships forged, and as black ties hang loose about necks all manner of business is transacted; and no wonder we are becoming addicted to these orgies of self-congratulation.

Those in the know estimate that the number of industry-wide awards ceremonies has doubled in the last ten years, with 1,000 events of varying magnitudes, to say nothing of the tens of thousands of prize-givings held by individual companies. They all need one thing, or rather one person. They all need a host, a speaker. They need a Pindar to compose the epinician ode, and as one who has now presided over several magnificent events, from the annual knees-up of the Reinsurance Brokers to the Gastropub Industry Oscars, I want to mount a wholehearted defence of these festivals, and of the deep human need for praise.

Silence, please, all you who protest at the all-must-have-prizes mentality of modern Britain. Hush your mouth, you who snigger at us poor funsters as we mispronounce the winners, and I certainly don’t want any criticism for the trifling honorarium we receive. Those of us who are MPs are obliged to declare it, and in any event the payment is peanuts in the broad economy of the awards industry. When you next find yourself in a dinner jacket, palpitating to see whether your name is on the Perspex bludgeon, remember that someone is making a fortune from this beano, and that someone is not the speaker but a struggling magazine.

It works like this. Every industry has at least one magazine, and members of that industry look to that magazine for good-natured promotion of their interests.

So every year the magazine — and there are hundreds of them, from PR Week to New Civil Engineer — will organise an awards ceremony for the purposes of raising morale, esprit de corps and self-promotion of the magazine. Every year the prestige grows, the excitement intensifies, and the money gets bigger.

The magazine books a hotel, and of course the hotel is thrilled to provide up to 1,800 covers for dinner — the maximum at Grosvenor House. A bargain is struck. The mag then invites members of the industry to enter the various prize categories, and as many as a thousand firms are happy to stump up the £150-£200 entry fee, since their eyes are already glistening at the thought of the heptagonal hunk of plastic they stand to win.

Then the mag reveals that they are on a shortlist! Yes, and if they pay a further £1,000 to £1,500 they can have a table for ten at the dinner, and of course they can already hear the acclaim echoing round the ballroom, and they readily fork out; and then we come to the most financially ingenious feature of the whole event. Every one of these 20 wedges or goblets will be sponsored by some leading name in the industry, at between £7,500 and £10,000 a throw, and who gets the dosh? The magazine, of course — though I hasten to point out that The Spectator’s own generous Parliamentarian of the Year awards are entirely profit-free.

Now do the maths, and you will see the wonderful potential of these ceremonies to fund our hard-pressed magazines as they struggle with the internet; and even if that cause were not noble enough, I defend these awards ceremonies for the simple happiness they bring to all. Before we sneer, we should remember the joy it can bring to someone in a not especially glamorous line of work to be called on stage and receive a manly handshake from Andrew Neil or a broad wink from Floella Benjamin (or possibly the other way round) and be told they have excelled.

Before you jump in and complain that it is part of our primary school culture of giving gold stars to everyone, let me point out that most people leave without a plastic bibelot, without even a goody bag, and they wake in their overpriced hotel with nothing but a hangover and a bad feeling that they tried (and failed) to get off with a colleague.

The beauty of these multiplying awards is that instead of some stilted and terrifying ordeal at the Palace, your moment of supreme professional recognition takes place in a booze-up at some posh hotel, with the judgment of your peers, and unlike a peerage there can be no suggestion of corruption because, unlike the Labour government, the judges cannot be paid.

They simply have the glory of being judges. The winners have their Aztec bludgeons; the losers have the spur to do better; the mags make millions; and if you happen to own hundreds of awards-ceremony-organising mags, like the great and noble Hezza, former member for Henley, you will not mind if the present member cycles home with a few scraps from your banquet tucked under his hat. It’s win-win, I say, and take a medal, everybody!

Article in The Spectator Christmas Double Issue

17 thoughts on “Awards Ceremonies”

  1. In your article “Kylie’s Bottom shows the way ahead for the Lords’ (Have I Got Views For You, 2006. Pg. 61). You suggest that a sitting Peer should nominate his or her successor, but this would keep the party ratio always the same.

    A Labour Lord would always vote for a Labour successor, and the Conservative respectively, so the party political composition of the House of Lords would never change.

    A better idea is to set up a body perhaps called ‘The Lords Commission’ which selects from a pool of candidates based on their backgrounds and past achievements.

  2. Dave Stweart – or how about keeping party politics and toadying out of the Lords completely and have… hereditary peers! What a good idea. Let’s choose a body of people who have a real interest in this land. How about the land owners? Yep, good idea that.

    Watch some twit change it, oh he did. Thanks Tone!

  3. Award ceremonies – Boris a brilliantly written article, you never fail to delight. It is important to be told that you’re doing well. Boris, you are doing brilliantly, no other superlative will do.

    I understand there is a gong in journalism (full quote here) that fits your brief?

    “the too little-known Golden B*****k, dished out by the industrial correspondents for the most, er, mistaken story of the year”

    Not only pats on the back then but playful digs. I wonder if the recipients of such awards are paid to attend. £20K for Marr? No thanks. I think I’ll start a magazine for single mothers and raise funds for next years ‘Strangled B*****k’ award at our xmas party so that we can pay a certain pundit to attend… and meet the crowd 🙂

    (talk about take the money and run!)

  4. Dave Stewart – would you prefer European gangsters that are having a hard time in their own country and come here as immigrants? Or the Prescotts of this world perhaps? We can all see what a wonderful job he’s been doing. So much so that Broon is axing him in the new year along with a few others it seems. Not so much a new broom as a new Broon.

    Perhaps we should have our own poll – it is traditional, is it not, to look back at the year and judge?

    Best Conservative MP? Boris obviously.
    Best pundit? Peter Hitchens – if only for the entertainment value of his thread on Guido’s blog. Brilliant. And his climate change rant on QT. And he’s on form at the moment – his blog post on Russia was v.good and opening a debate on ID was interesting and not something your average fat-cat journalist would do.
    Best Labour MP? Jon Cruddas as his politics seem honest and are something I can recognise as being true Labour rather than gloss and gush.
    Best political lie? That’s a toughie, there have been so many.
    Best HIGNFY? Boris obviously but Ann Widdecomb is up there too.
    Best Female Interest? Flo might say DC as the new hope of our nation but I’m inclined to consider Mrs Oaten’s interview on Woman’s Hour on R4 and the WH interview of the family of the woman shot by her son, orchestrated by her husband, for appearing on a chat show.
    Biggest regret? Would you say hanging Saddam Hussein?
    Best Cock-up? The Home Office (the Prescott issue is so insignificant)

    Just a few thoughts for gongs, what are yours? Best political presenter – Andrew Neil? Andrew Marr? Diane Abbott?

  5. If you cycle home with some of our – allegedly – posh hotels’ grub stashed under your anorak, Boris, you are indeed a brave soul. The fare served at the functions of these, tummy rumbling and grotesquely overpriced, fast food outlets is of such unbelievably gruesome quality. Plastic buckets of Macturkeytwizzlers look positively wholesome by comparison.

    The twits who fork out to attend these prize giving functions can’t even get a decent snack in their crumbling hotel rooms later, for they will throw it all up at reception in the morning when a bill equivalent to the average week’s wage is plonked in front of them for a couple of curled egg and cress sandies and a bag of stale peanuts.

    What a confidence trick!

  6. Beautiful narrative – I only wish that electricity wont go off until I finish the piece. This is the last window that it is about to be seized since in the past two days the electricity was cut of for several times (only in this building) – the manifestation of the GREAT CONTROL !!!

  7. In 2007 let’s review the franchise. Universal suffrage for those over 18 is perhaps past its best-by date. Some form of weighted voting might be better as it would be easier to leave the oiks with a vote each rather than try to take them away; but additional votes could be given for
    1) Property ownership
    2) Tidy gardens
    3) Educational qualifications
    4) Not having a satellite dish

  8. AND as for that picture with Boris and the two statues in the background! PUH!

    Melissa, I beg you. Put a picture of Boris with a tea cosy on his head up! It will be hilarious!!! COME ON PEOPLE!

  9. Dave Stewart.

    Are you a former maths teacher, now in postgrad at imperial. Used to work at Esher college?

    If so, wow.

  10. PS: can’t understand why people keep saying BoJo’s fat – he’s not fat. OK so in January we’re all probably fattER; if I don’t lose inches I’ll be wearing towels but I’m not fat and neither is the Boz man. He’s…. manly 🙂

    And “easily lost to the Vandals” – ha ha.

  11. There is an innovative utility for internet users in Iran – an instrument of torture – Like all the other modern instrument it is for selected few (not elites, but bandits). The rest have the internet is a decoration since you just have to pay for it but dont expect that it works !!!!!!! it is three hours that I am online not be able to sign into my email. Yet the ISP was generous to allow your ‘to the point’ interview in Independent to appear and hopefully this post.

  12. Watching the wonderful “Wind in the Willows” yesterday I did keep thinking of our dear man as suitable for the lead role.

Comments are closed.