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Culture: These Globes are less than golden

The Hollywood awards season officially kicks off next Sunday when this year's Golden Globe winners are announced. This looks set to be a vintage year for the Brits, with likely winners including Kate Winslet, Hugh Laurie, Sally Hawkins (pictured), the director Danny Boyle and the screenwriter Simon Beaufoy.

Don't be fooled by the acres of self-congratulatory press coverage. Ricky Gervais may lose no opportunity to boast about the number of Globes he's won, but they are a standing joke in Los Angeles. They're given out by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (HFPA), a ragtag collection of freelance hacks whom a studio boss once described as "100 stringers living off hors d'oeuvres". For a bona fide A-list movie star, receiving a Golden Globe is about as prestigious as being invited to appear on The Wright Stuff.

So why does everyone look down their noses at them? Principally because the members of the HFPA are completely starstruck. Every year they are showered with expensive presents, invited to special dinners and flown to exotic locations – all in the name of some movie promotion or other. A typical junket will end with the stars of the film in question dutifully posing for photographs with every single member of the association, a process that usually takes several hours. Some of the hacks even bring their pets along to appear in the photos.

Not surprisingly, this policy of deluging members with free stuff can pay dividends. In 1982, for instance, Pia Zadora's multi-millionaire husband flew all 89 members to Las Vegas for a two-day junket. In return, the grateful hacks crowned the less-than-stellar actress "New Star of the Year" – the same year, in fact, that she won "Worst New Star" and "Worst Actress" in the Razzies, the awards that recognise the worst the film industry has to offer.

Occasionally, the level of corruption reaches such ridiculous heights that the members are forced to do an impression of Caesar's wife – at least for 24 hours. In 1998, Sharon Stone sent every member of the HFPA a £250 watch in the hope of winning an award for her performance in The Muse. This caused such a scandal the members felt obliged to return them the following week. Stone didn't pick up an award that year.