Well, that was quite the Oscar broadcast on Sunday, wasn’t it? Even if you didn’t watch it, I’m sure that by now you’ve heard what happened at the end, when the wrong film was announced as having won Best Picture. It was the most dramatic thing I’ve seen at the Oscars, and I’ve been watching the broadcast since 1982, when I tuned in to see if my favourite film of 1981, the British film Chariots of Fire, would win any of the seven Oscars it was nominated for. It ended up winning four, including Best Picture, and I fear I got a tad over-excited. “Get some oxygen; she’s hyperventilating,” my brother said, only half-jokingly.
I liked the film so much that I bought the poster, and the film’s press kit, from a shop in Vancouver that dealt in movie memorabilia. Press kits—consisting of biographies of the main cast and crew of a film, a plot synopsis, full credits list, and black-and-white pictures that could be used by print publications—used to be common, and the kit for Chariots included a picture of producer David Puttnam, who had claimed the Oscar when the film won Best Picture.
Fast forward to spring 1983, when I was in England accompanying a school trip to that country (I was 19 at the time, and stayed on for another four weeks after the rest of the group came home). One night I went out to see a play with two other people, and afterwards we went to Fortnum’s Fountain restaurant, in the legendary Fortnum and Mason store. It’s a grand place to see and be seen; and who should I see, as I tucked into my main course, but David Puttnam, who sat down at a table near me with a companion.
It was unquestionably Puttnam; I recognized him from the press kit photo. My first thought was “Go ask for his autograph,” but I was very shy when I was younger—hard as that may be to believe—and I thought it might be rude. On the other hand, when would the chance come again?
Finally we were ready to leave, and it was now or never. Screwing my courage to the sticking point, I approached the table, and asked hesitantly if the man there was David Puttnam. When he smiled and said “Yes,” I asked if he would mind giving me his autograph.
“Mind?” he said, smiling even more broadly. “I’ve been waiting 20 years for someone to ask me this!” Fair enough; I can’t imagine film producers get asked for autographs very often.
I pulled out the only signable thing I had—a London theatre guide—and as he signed I said, “I was really happy when Chariots won the Oscar for Best Picture.”
“So was I,” said Puttnam dryly. Then he pointed to the man with him. “He’s much more famous than I am.”
I looked at the other man, but didn’t recognize him. “Hugh Hudson?” I queried, mentioning the director of Chariots. But it was another director—Bill Forsyth—whose name I instantly recognized. He took my mistake good-naturedly, and signed my guide “To Barbara, Best wishes, Bill Forsyth (not Hugh!).”
So there is my own (slight) Oscar story; not nearly as dramatic as what happened on Sunday, but a good deal more enjoyable for all concerned.