JLA in the Press

In Praise Of Perspex Pyramids And Their Winners
Posted on December 16, 2006

by Boris Johnson & Jeremy Lee

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!

Real Variety Show 2006
Posted on September 22, 2006

by Peter Heppel

Jeremy Lee’s showcases are different from the others, mainly because it is aimed at the corporate market. This means that many of the performers are from the Edinburgh Festival rather than the clubs, which the majority of them have probably never seen. Added to which is the fact that the venue was the Cadogan Hall just off Sloane Square, of which few of them have ever heard, for it is a conversion of a Christian Science church, though it is already well-known to lovers of classical music and is now beginning to book performers in the pop music field.

However, it was entirely suitable for the JLA event because of its spaciousness and comfort and most of the artists established an early rapport with the audience and did not present a challenge to artists who are more used to conference halls than theatres or clubs.

Simon Amstell, for example, was very much at home, letting us in to a few secrets of corporate entertainment, some of which were downright irreverent, in keeping with the reputation he has already acquired on Channel 4’s Popworld, to be continued no doubt with his forthcoming presentation of Never Mind the Buzzcocks.

Nevertheless he has a high likeability factor, which many of his fellow comedians seem have caught. Marcus Brigstocke, for example, was an eye-opener to those who know him only from brief but numerous appearances on the radio, in particular, and television. At full length, so to speak, he is a remarkably assured and witty comedian, made to measure for corporate audiences, preferably broad-minded ones.

The same applies to Edinburgh veteran Adam Hills, a good-looking Australian who finds the handicap of having a prosthetic leg of little moment. Indeed he makes it one of the major features of his act, assuring his audience that it is no obstacle to sex. He is particularly adept at the comparisons between Australian, American and British audiences.

Being broadminded is also essential to appreciate the comedy nuances of Tim Minchin. Something of a virtuoso pianist, he has written a series of hilarious songs, with lyrics which are hardly suitable for publication but steer clear of the offensive. One of the undoubted hits of the evening.

Justin Moorhouse, seen in Phoenix Nights and primarily a DJ on Manchester’s Key 103 radio, seemed to be something of a beginner in the standup trade but to judge from the reception of some of his material is a strong contender in this field.

Unbilled, veteran John Lenahan could hardly be left out of any JLA event because he is one of the most adroit exponents of magic in any branch of the profession. His one illusion was not really magic at all but a sensational effect achieved through natural means, another illustration that this comedian illusionist is a truly original and always watchable performer, with plenty of original effects in his locker.

Perhaps not quite so successful, mainly because their material was outshone by their props, were Big Howard and Little Howard and the Raymond and Mr Timpkins Revue.

The former is a completely original act, with Howard Read engaged in cross-talk with a diminutive cartoon figure seen only on the screen. Notably clever, it suffered on this occasion because the comedy material was on the weak side, but the timing and interaction is impeccable.

The Raymond and Mr Timpkins Revue was also commendably original, with two eccentrics rather outshone by their props. It is clever but intermittently amusing, more deft than daft, but essentially based on pop music of various styles. Interesting to hear again the distinctive sound of the stylophone, of which Rolf Harris was such a notable exponent.

The main musical exponent in the show was Keedie, whom I first saw in a Torquay talent contest a few years ago. Then partnered by her sisters in a pop act, she has now become a notable serious singer with a distinctly operatic voice, achieving success here with My Heart Will Go On and other demanding songs.

Opening the show with the Haka, for which the All Blacks are as celebrated as they are for rugby football, were Manaia Maori from New Zealand, an apt illustration that in the corporate field a spot of audience participation is virtually indispensable. There was no difficulty in attracting eager volunteers.

Hague Isn’t Giving Up The After-Dinner Circuit Just Yet
Posted on February 15, 2006

When William Hague re-joined the Tory front bench, he promised to give up the outside interests that had (briefly) made him Britain’s best-paid MP.

Claiming this would cost him roughly £500,000 a year in lost earnings, the new shadow Foreign Secretary declared: “I am obviously quite barmy.”

Maybe this proud Yorkshireman isn’t quite as barmy as he’s led us to believe, though. Just two months later, Hague has resumed his after-dinner speaking career.

The agency JLA includes the former Tory leader in its latest “corridors of power” stable, alongside such political luminaries as David Blunkett and Andrew Marr.

Hague’s presence on the list – his going rate, by the way, is between £10,000 and £25,000 – appears to contradict the impression given when he rejoined the shadow cabinet.

Back then, he was allowed to keep a few directorships, in return for dropping his News of the World column, and scaling back speaking appearances.

However, a spokesman last night insisted that Hague had never actually pledged to give up after-dinner speaking. Instead he had promised to cut down “drastically”.

“William Hague is still on the list and available, but it’s now very much a secondary thing,” he said.

Meanwhile, JLA’s director, Jeremy Lee, added: “He’s still going to do occasional speaking for us, but it will be far less frequent than before.”

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