It was Chariots Of Fire producer Lord David Puttnam who alerted me to an event in Sunderland the other week – and asked me to send copies of my new book, Chariots Return.
Puttnam and the legendary actor Nigel Havers were going to share a stage with Team GB and Olympic Games medal winner Steve Cram and his eloquent partner Allison Curbishley.
They would discuss Chariots of Fire after a special screening of the iconic movie – which famously won four Oscars back in the 1980s.
I decided to take copies of Chariots Return up to Sunderland personally and meet the protagonists.
David Puttnam was incredibly warm and friendly. Nigel Havers also very kindly posed for a photo with me – and was understandably irritated when the phone camera kept failing.
‘I think this is the longest it has ever taken to get a photo of me in my entire career,’ he said wryly as I cringed with embarrassment.
At the end of the film’s screening, there was a glorious moment as the audience gave Puttnam a spontaneous standing ovation. Havers raised David’s arm aloft in acknowledgement of the beautiful, timeless creation that is Chariots of Fire.
But the biggest surprise and delight for me personally was what Puttnam subsequently chose to say on stage.
The venue in Sunderland was called The Fire Station – and there were hundreds of people present. They all stayed to listen to these distinguished experts talk about the movie and the Olympics.
Without warning, David started to talk about my book, the efforts that had been made to preserve and celebrate the true spirit of the Olympic Games down the years, and how we agreed that Chariots of Fire had played its part.
Lord Puttnam offered the audience a theory or two from my work, and when he had said his piece, he looked straight at me and said of Chariots Return: ‘Brilliant, Mark, congratulations, really.’
I blushed and couldn’t say any more than “thank you,” as people peered over to see who David was talking to.
It was deeply humbling to hear David compliment my book twice more before he had finished addressing that vast audience. And I can’t tell you what a delight and relief that was for me.
In truth, Lord Puttnam could have reacted very differently, and here’s why. He had kindly allowed himself to be interviewed for the book – and had even edited one memorable scene involving Vangelis and his bid to have his iconic, Oscar-winning music inserted into Chariots of Fire at the very last moment.
But when I came to write Chariots Return, I didn’t always agree with what Puttnam had said to me. In fact, when it came to the movie’s Jewish sprinter Harold Abrahams we openly disagreed. And don’t worry, I say so quite pointedly in the book.
Further, I dared to suggest that Chariots of Fire had slightly neglected one 1924 Paris Olympics athlete, Henry Stallard – whose heroics could potentially have made the movie even greater.
Such cheek from me could easily have been taken the wrong way – and probably would have been by many a Hollywood figure I could mention.
But Lord David Puttnam is a much better man than that. He took the criticism on the chin, acknowledged the good place it was coming from, and embraced the main themes of my book warmly. What does that say about him?
It was a long, long drive from Sunderland back down to Hampshire that night.
But I couldn’t stop smiling.

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