David Hare throws book at awards secrecy

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The Independent Culture
Laurence Olivier once said he only approved of prizes for actors if he was receiving them. The playwright David Hare has taken the adage one step further.

He only approves of prizes for playwrights if the winner is informed in advance that he has won. Lawyers' letters have been exchanged between Hare and Lloyds Bank, which had the audacity to nominate him as playwright of the year.

Hare, author of award-winning plays such as Skylight and Racing Demon, claims he disapproves of award ceremonies which do not tell the winner in advance that he has won.

He first aired the issue in his column in the Spectator when he wrote: "Award ceremonies are getting out of hand ... Lloyds Bank, without permission, entered me for some new award no one had heard of. When I declined to take part in the usual humiliations in a London hotel, they said it was their right to enter me whether I liked it or not.

"A letter arrived, making lawyers' threats. They don't understand. No sensible playwright likes to be entered like a rat in a trap opposite their colleagues."

But in the current issue of the magazine one of the award panel judges, Sheridan Morley, who is, ironically, the Spectator's theatre critic, fires a broadside against Mr Hare.

"Hare's recollection of the Lloyds Bank affair needs considerable correction," he says. "His agent told us somewhat sheepishly that Hare would only attend the prize-giving dinner if he could be told in advance that he had won. Told that we simply couldn't reveal that, since it had been a secret ballot and the winner would be known, even to the judges, only on the night of the prize-giving, it was then Hare, not us, who threatened legal action.

"Unlike all 11 other finalists, including some of the greatest playwrights in the land, he alone demanded through lawyers that his name be removed from the shortlist and all advertising associated with the prize, for which, in the event, he was a close runner-up.

"Lloyds Private Bank lawyers told us that he had not a legal leg to stand on, but the sponsors decided at vast expense to themselves that they would in any case honour his feelings. The precedent is terrifying.

"Hare had a perfect right to decline to attend the dinner, but none whatsoever to demand that a panel of independent judges, mainly London drama critics, should be allowed to nominate for this pounds 25,000 prize only those writers who allow themselves to be nominated.

"On reflection, I believe we were altogether too accommodating to Hare's evidently very shaky ego."