I should like to start by laying a curse on Ben Preston, the editor of this august publication, and I imagine half the staff of Radio Times will want to add their twopenn’orth. It was his idea to turn my choice of the 100 best films into 101 by asking you, the readers, to nominate the one film I should have included but didn’t. Thanks a bunch, Ben.
It’s taken nearly as long for the Radio Times team and me to sort through the resulting suggestions – literally thousands of them – as it did to compile my original list. What a wide variety of films you like. And how indignant you became when your particular favourite didn’t make it into my selection. Rarely can anyone have received so many letters beginning: “How could you possibly leave out…” followed by the title of a film. Or several films. Or, in a number of cases, an alternative list of 100 films.
Some of you were inspired to burst into rhyme, others to include a full review of the film of your choice. But perhaps the most interesting – not to say surprising – suggestion came from Peter Yorke of Tetbury, in Gloucestershire, who urgently championed the claims of The Life of Charles Peace, which deals with the notorious Victorian murderer.
Alas, I couldn’t really consider it, partly because it was made in 1905 and is only about ten minutes long, but mostly because I haven’t seen it. Hey, come on, I haven’t seen every film ever made. Nobody has.
Twenty years ago, when I was writing my book 100 Best Films of the Century, a man named Alan Goble compiled a list of all the movies ever made, anywhere. It came to 232,000. Goodness knows what the figure is now.
So then, which film do you think I most unforgivably overlooked? One thing’s for sure – there was nothing like unanimity in your suggestions. Many of you went for foreign- language movies, from The Battleship Potemkin to Bicycle Thieves and the works of Kurosawa, Bergman, Godard and Truffaut.
Had I compiled a list of foreign-language films (which I didn’t, on the grounds that foreign- language films would be a whole new ball game), I would probably have included several of these.
Otherwise, a huge variety of movies gathered a number of champions, among them The Apartment, Zulu, Double Indemnity, Chariots of Fire, The African Queen, Olivier’s Henry V, Monty Python’s Life of Brian and The Sound of Music.
Oh, it was a most eclectic bunch from which it would have been possible to compile at least a dozen lists of the 100 best, each with as much validity as mine. And, believe it or not, the majority of those you mentioned were originally in contention for a place in my list before being rejected, often after much deliberation.
But now – a roll of drums please – for the big moment as I announce the winner, the 101st film, the one I most regrettably omitted. This got more of your votes than any other film and was most succinctly advocated by Nick Davis, of Nottingham, who wins the prize of a Sky Go package, an iPad and Sky Movies free for a year.
And the 101st film is… Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction.
Of all those you put forward this is the only one of which I can honestly say I can’t imagine why I left it out in the first place. It must have been a moment of sheer aberration because it’s a film I like immensely. So thank you very much, Nick Davis and many others, for reminding me.
PS All letters of complaint about my choice should be addressed to Ben Preston.
This is an edited version of Barry Norman’s column in Radio Times magazine, published 29 February