Tony Earnshaw: Albert Finney was a five-time Oscar nominee but never bothered to attend the ceremony

Having been around film industry folk for the best part of 30 years means, perhaps inevitably, that I’ve made contact with that burnished metal man known as Oscar.

Albert Finney wasn't one for awards. (Getty Images).
Albert Finney wasn't one for awards. (Getty Images).

It would be a fallacy to say that I used the lavatory at some interviewee’s home and – Lo! – there was an Academy Award sharing space in the water closet. It doesn’t generally happen that way. I’m not saying it’s happened a lot. In actual fact my time with Oscar has been limited to a few snatched moments. But you tend to remember these things.

I found myself thinking about Oscar following the death of that magnificent titan of film and theatre, Albert Finney. He was a five-time Oscar nominee but never bothered to attend the ceremony. He wasn’t attracted by any of that. And I got to ruminating whether, like George C. Scott and Marlon Brando, he might have refused the bauble if the votes had gone in his direction. Of course, we’ll never know, but I wonder if the Academy itself ever got the jitters over a potential Finney no-show and, potentially, a refusal. Again, who knows?

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There’s a certain class in not playing the establishment’s game although some equally iconoclastic actors – Spencer Tracy, Daniel Day-Lewis – have accepted with grace. But then they played the game. Finney never did. One of the stories I heard was that he told anyone mulling over casting him to call his agent. Except – typical Finney – he didn’t have an agent. I’m guessing he had a similar comment for the Academy bigwigs when it came to Oscar night…

Anyway, back to my anecdote. Twenty years ago in the desert foothills of Tucson I sat with Lee Marvin’s widow, Pam, and discussed her late Oscar-winning husband. And because I asked her, she got Lee’s Oscar (for Cat Ballou) and took it outside to show my wide-eyed, open-mouthed father, Trevor, who had arrived to pick me up for the drive back to his home in Phoenix. The look on his face is one I will forever treasure.

In the ace production designer Sir Ken Adam’s study stood his Oscars for Barry Lyndon and The Madness of King George. They were just there. Obvious. Ever-present. In your face. Yet I appreciated seeing them out in the open rather than tucked away on a high shelf or in the loo. What’s the point in that?

But my favourite Oscar moment comes courtesy of Yorkshire’s own Simon Beaufoy. He was my guest at Bradford International Film Festival some years ago, not long after he’d won for Slumdog Millionaire. I asked him to bring his new friend. He arrived by train into the Interchange and walked up to Pictureville Cinema. We grabbed a cuppa and a snack. Alas, he’d forgotten the Oscar. I was disappointed and tried not to show it. But he had it all along. It was in his rucksack.

Now that’s class.