Extravagant film producer Alexander Korda first broached the idea of establishing a British equivalent of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences over a suitably lavish dinner he was hosting for his fellow film swells at swank Claridge’s Hotel on May 13, 1947. Those sitting round the table included directors David Lean and Carol Reed and Ealing Comedies creator Michael Balcon. Having worked their way through sole with Liebfraumilch followed by steak and kidney pie, Korda compared their dessert of hot whipped meringue concealing a frozen ice cream heart to Russian women of his acquaintance. That’s when the conversation abruptly turned to why didn’t Britain have its own film academy giving awards? There had never been a British equivalent of the Oscars, so Lean was appointed the first chairman and donated his royalties. At the inaugural awards on May 29, 1949, Laurence Olivier presented just four categories. Now the British Academy Of Film & Television Arts presents 22 at its televised film–only awards show.
If you think the Oscars are overly complicated, then the BAFTAs will positively baffle. That’s because the current push is for their increasing democratization. Only the 6,350 film members are allowed to vote for the motion picture awards. They used to wade through every film released in Britain but that changed in 2005 when it became the responsibility of each pic’s producer and distributor to decide submissions which close on November 18 for the 2011 BAFTAs. The longlist will be published on December 3.