BBC dominant but Dame Floella Benjamin proves most popular winner : British Academy Television Awards review

The man who got The Godfather made – by making friends with the Mob
Published Time: 13.05.2024 - 01:40:22 Modified Time: 13.05.2024 - 01:40:22

Lancashire was eclipsed as the most popular winner by Benjamin, but overall it was a drag to watch hours of luvvie-ish backslapping Getty Images It might be much-maligned in certain circles but the BBC still punches its weight when it comes to top-class TV

Lancashire was eclipsed as the most popular winner by Benjamin, but overall it was a drag to watch hours of luvvie-ish backslapping

: Getty Images

It might be much-maligned in certain circles but the BBC still punches its weight when it comes to top-class TV. The Corporation took home more than half the gongs at the British Academy Television Awards (BBC One). As the final winner, Happy Valley star Sarah Lancashire, said: “Thank you for giving our very British drama a very British home.”

Less than 24 hours after the Eurovision Song Contest, what the viewing nation didn’t need was another overlong, overblown event. Such are the vagaries of the showbiz calendar. At least there was no chance of nul point humiliation here. Well, unless you’re ITV or Channel 4. Neither got much of a look-in.

Lancashire’s Leading Actress prize was just reward for her stellar shift as force-of-nature Yorkshire copper Sgt Catherine Cawood. Her modest speech was so understated that it was barely there but you could have heard a pin drop. 

Writer Sally Wainwright’s crime epic also scooped Memorable TV Moment for its climactic kitchen showdown. This still didn’t compensate for overlooking Lancashire’s co-star James Norton in the acting categories. Apart from live events, Happy Valley’s finale was the most-watched TV programme last year, making Norton’s snub even more egregious.

Lancashire was eclipsed as the night’s most popular winner by Baroness Floella Benjamin, awarded the prestigious BAFTA Fellowship for her polymathic career. In an impassioned speech, trailblazer Benjamin thanked her children for “sharing their mummy with the nation” and sent sincere love to the generation she called “my Play School babies”. The Prince of Wales was among those paying tribute to her tireless work.


Daytime stalwart Lorraine Kelly was given a Special Award for her 40 years on-screen. Actor Brian Cox put her longevity down to the fact that, in his late sister’s words, “she’s real”. Cox clearly didn’t check this assertion with Inland Revenue, who famously lost a £1.2m tax case after a judge ruled that Kelly “performs” as her chatty TV persona.

The ubiquitous Romesh Ranganathan and Rob Beckett co-hosted for the second year running. Their opening monologue was met with tumbleweednot least because they kept telling everyone to get on with it while using up several mirth-free minutes themselves. The pair won a prize for their series Rob & Romesh Versus, effectively handing a golden mask gong to themselves. Who says the media business is incestuous?

Gritty gangland drama Top Boy sprung a shock by defeating Happy Valley in Drama Series, perhaps partly thanks to BAFTA’s recent move to appoint younger jurors. This might also explain the presence of two nods for Demon 79, a decent but distinctly random episode of anthology series Black Mirror.

A win for The Crown’s “Ghost Diana” would have hit headlines but it wasn’t to be. Elizabeth Debicki’s uncanny turn was beaten to Supporting Actress by Top Boy’s Jasmine Jobson. Supporting Actor went to Matthew Macfadyen for sweary saga Succession. Macfadyen already has two Emmys and a Golden Globe for playing slippery son-in-law Tom Wambsgans but wasn’t present to collect this latest bauble. Still, a video message might have been nice.

I would have preferred to see Éanna Hardwicke recognised for his chilling portrayal of real-life killer Ben Field in superlative true-crime drama The Sixth Commandment. It did deservedly go home with Limited Drama and Leading Actor for Timothy Spall’s sensitive portrayal of victim Peter Farquhar. Having neglected to write a speech, Spall pointed us towards the show’s IMDb page to see who he forgot to thank.


In its 20th year, the evergreen Strictly Come Dancing scooped Entertainment Programme. Tess Daly grumbled about wearing Spanx on the hottest day of the year. Co-presenter Claudia Winkelman deadpanned that the duo were in a “throuple” with bandleader Dave Arch. Roll on the awkwardness this autumn.

There were wrong-headed decisions elsewhere. Sky’s well-made Lockerbie series wasn’t a patch on Once Upon A Time In Northern Ireland. The Shamima Begum Story can consider itself lucky to have beaten BBC Two stablemate Putin Vs The West. Despite multiple nominations, dramas Slow Horses and Best Interests were similarly robbed.

The Scripted Comedy category demonstrated how sitcoms have sadly been pushed to the fringes of the schedules. All four nominees aired on niche channels or streamers. A mainstream viewer could easily have never encountered any of them. When Kat Sadler’s sad-com Such Brave Girls prevailed, Sadler gave a winningly wobbly acceptance speech. 

Comedy Performance saw welcome triumphs for rising talents Gbemisola Ikumelo (Black Ops) and Mawaan Rizwan (Juice)the latter pipping poor David Tennant. He received his first ever nomination for Good Omens but remains empty-handed. No wonder Rizwan nearly dropped the trophy in surprise.


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