The Chariots of Fayed; ANSWERS TO CORRESPONDENTS

Article excerpt

Byline: Compiled by Charles Legge

QUESTION Is it true Dodi Fayed was almost single-handedly responsible for getting the film Chariots Of Fire made?

CHARIOTS Of Fire was the first British film to win four Oscars, but it might never have been made had the producer David (now Lord) Puttnam not shown the script to Dodi.

In the Seventies and early Eighties cinema was dominated by action films, and no one could see the potential in what one distributor dismissed as a minor subject of interest only in Britain. But Dodi, who'd helped produce the wellregarded Breaking Glass did and took the script to his father, Harrods owner Mohamed, who was immediately taken by the story.

'Here you have two great men, both athletes,' Mohamed later told me. 'One, a Jew, suffers the indignity of snobbery and racism.

The other, a Scot and sincere Christian, will not compromise his conscience by running on a Sunday. Neither will buckle to the bullying of the British Establishment.

'And they both triumph, winning gold at the Paris Olympics of 1924. Wonderful! When Dodi brought me the script, I had no hesitation in providing the finance.'

When he accepted his Oscar for Best Film, Puttnam said: 'Thank you to Dodi and Mohamed. You came through for us. You put your money where my mouth was.'

Despite containing no nudity, violence, profanity or sex, the film was a global hit. In Buenos Aires during the Falklands War, young people were even reported to have come out of cinemas after watching it saying: 'The British have such strength of character and courage. We'll never beat them in this war.'

So, the most successful British film at that date would never have been made without two Egyptians, father and son. But film-making is a collaborative process, and Dodi didn't make it on his own.

He went on to help produce several films, including Hoo, FX Murder By Illusion, Parts 1 and 2 and finally The Scarlet Letter, and was working on a new live action version of Peter Pan when he died 15 years ago.

Michael Cole, Harrods director of public affairs, 1988/98, Woodbridge, Suffolk.

QUESTION Why can't we use lasers as hand-held weapons?

WHEN the laser was invented in 1960, it was famously described as a solution looking for a problem: everyone realised how clever it was, but was unsure what to do with it.

But quite soon many uses did emerge. Today, lasers play DVDs and CDs, measure your flat for the estate agent, survey building sites, correct short sight, print documents, transmit your voice and scan supermarket shopping.

Giant lasers can even weld or cut steel, but generating a beam able to be effective over a long distance is possible only with vast amounts of equipment.

The YAL-1 Airborne Laser Testbed, the most powerful and longest-ranged laser yet built, was intended to shoot down incoming missiles. It took up an entire Boeing 747, but even then could only weaken, not destroy, its target. It was scrapped in 2011, and laser rifles still remain the stuff of science fiction.

Chris Rogers, Edgware, Middx.

QUESTION Do we know in what month Thomas Gray's beautiful Elegy Written In A Country Churchyard was drafted?

THIS is a tricky question because Gray didn't specifically refer to the poem until June 1750 when he sent a copy to his friend, Horace Walpole.

He indicated he had started it some time before and the most plausible time is March 1742, when he was staying in Stoke Poges with his mother Dorothy Gray, nee Antrobus, at West End House.

In August 1742, his close friend, Richard West died in his early 20s. And in 1749, his aunt Mary Antrobus, who had been living with Mrs Gray in Stoke Poges, also died and was buried in a tomb in St Giles's church, Stoke Poges.

All these events are thought to have contributed to Gray's sense of loss and finally found eloquent expression in the Elegy. …