Alexei Sayle: How the lure of celebrity led me to become a fake Korean surveyor

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The Independent Online

The news media have for days been getting themselves into a froth about the Oscar awards that are being staged tomorrow. Our own version, the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (Bafta) film awards put on a few weeks ago provided a glittering gala that attracted movie stars from around the world and furnished hectares of newspaper coverage in addition to hours of free television.

In recent years these kinds of events have become increasingly popular; yet who are the individuals who actually vote for the awards that are the engine for these scintillating occasions? Are they themselves glittering and scintillating? Well, I cannot speak for the American academy that votes on the Oscars, but I am a member of the British academy and I can emphatically state that they are not.

The headquarters of Bafta are situated within a catastrophic 1970s conversion of what must once have been an exquisite 19th-century building on London's Piccadilly; inside there's a members' bar and café resembling a pub in a shopping precinct in Coventry around about the time that Picketywitch topped the charts. This has all been unsympathetically hacked out of the former Royal Institute of Painters in Watercolour.

Within these facilities, set designers, film editors and make-up artists who last worked on David Lean's Brief Encounter sit, getting biscuit crumbs in their beards, dribbling gin and tonics down their fronts and spilling gravy onto their open-toed sandals while they decide on which unchallenging films and undemanding television shows they are going to vote for when award time rolls around again.

I have to admit I am a little bitter because a Bafta is pretty much the one award I haven't got (apart from all the other awards I haven't got). I do have an RTS, a Broadcast Press Guild and a Rose of Montreux. I've even got a sodding Emmy, yet I don't think I've even been nominated for a stinking Bafta.

And to add insult to injury, in the bar they have recently installed photographs of the previous winners from the various television categories along the wall, and there's one for The Young Ones, which did win best comedy in 1984. The Young Ones was a programme in which I was a regular cast member, appearing in every show and for which I wrote additional material, yet the photo features Rik Mayall, Ade Edmondson, Nigel Planer and Chris Ryan – who are not members of the academy– and omits me, who is!

There is also a large viewing theatre within the building, the seats of which have been endowed by various illustrious members of the entertainment community, their generosity being celebrated by a little plaque with their name on, thus affording a rare opportunity for you to sit on David Putnam or the blessed Dame Judy.

It is for the films that are screened, several times a month, free of charge in this theatre that I joined the academy. I certainly don't want to judge anybody else's work – what kind of git does that? Unfortunately, however, since I'm still actually employed quite regularly in the industry I am often too busy to attend the screenings more than once or twice a year, so with my subscription fee I figure that each "free" film that I've seen at Bafta has in reality cost me about £69!

I would say it's almost a definition of having a few bob that once you're in the money you find yourself paying to join things that you then don't go to very often. Mind you, that's not quite as bad as the friend of mine who found out she'd been paying her membership to the trendy 80s Zanzibar Club by direct debit for five years after it had closed down.

Nevertheless, in addition to Bafta I am a member of many institutions to which I never go. As in everybody else's case, there's the gym I rarely work out at, the members-only drinking clubs I never visit and the art institutes whose portals I never enter. Still, you can see my thinking here, just joining a gym makes you feel fitter and becoming a friend of an art gallery instantly gives you the feeling of cultural superiority.

What is harder to understand in my case is why the hell I became a member of the Korean Institute of Chartered Surveyors. Frankly, joining this organisation has involved me in what I can only describe as a life of deception. Firstly there was the setting up of Shell offices in Seoul complete with staff, the forging of documents and qualifications saying I'd qualified as a surveyor, the marrying of an unsuspecting Korean woman, the interminable dinner parties with genuine Korean surveyors at our home in Pusan in order that they would propose me for membership – all so I can fail to visit their gloomy club and bar in the Korean capital for a subsidised noodle lunch. Also, you may have read of several building and shopping mall collapses in that country. To my shame, they have all been in structures for which I did the surveying.

My only hope is to make a TV documentary about my double life as a fake Korean surveyor, which will, I hope, win a Bafta award. If you do win one of their awards they offer you free membership, but I don't think I'll take them up on their offer – what would be the point of that?

Howard Jacobson is away

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