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Happy Birthday BAFTA

8 November 2007
Happy Birthday BAFTA hosts Michael Parkinson and Joanna Lumley© ITV Productions Ltd. / Ken McKay

The Academy celebrated its 60th anniversary in style with a star-studded televised event, reports Quentin Falk.

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No envelope tearing, no endless lists of 'thank yous' and no tears – apart, perhaps, from the odd wring of audience emotion as Celine Dion and Andrea Boccelli hit some exquisite high notes.

Yes, this was an authentic 'BAFTA Production' but not quite what we’ve come to expect after years of Film and Television awards shows. Instead, this was unbridled, wall-to-wall entertainment for 90 primetime minutes on 7 November, as ITV celebrated the Academy’s diamond anniversary.

Separated for some time now into separate awards nights, film and television came together in an often-inspired amalgam of live performance, memorable clips, famous guests and popular presenters recalling great moments from decades of BAFTA winning big and small screen titles.

Recorded before a live audience a week earlier at the New London Theatre, it was the first of three commissions for the newly-formed BAFTA Productions, an Academy offshoot inaugurated earlier this year. Following on from the ITV show was an edited version of this year's Video

Games Awards on Channel 4 and E4 and then, on Sky Movies and Sky Arts, a chance to see this year’s David Lean Lecture with American filmmaker David Lynch.

“Quite a variety,” notes David Alpin of BAFTA Productions. “Most of what people see and register on TV in terms of BAFTA are, of course the awards – and they’re a huge part of what we do.

“But it's also important for us to get across a bigger message. Happy Birthday BAFTA was perhaps the first time it was said on television that the Academy is a charity when co-host [with Michael Parkinson] Joanna Lumley referenced the fact that the evening was raising money for UNICEF and the Academy’s charitable work.”

The event helps establish the Academy as keepers of the flame for film and TV...

An idea hatched by Academy chair Hilary Bevan Jones and Guy Freeman, ITV’s Controller of Music & Events, it was, says Alpin, “decided very early on that we should make it a big theatrical event. However, that meant we were faced with the challenge of turning film and TV into something that could happen on stage with a meaningful show for people to watch rather than just a series of clips.

“This is how we arrived at the idea that in the show, film was essentially represented by musical performances [Dion trilling the Titanic showstopper, Boccelli with ‘Maria’ from West Side Story and a lively Billy Elliot – The Musical dance routine], with TV represented by a stand-up routine from Victoria Wood, The Kumars At No.42 [“you saucy little slaphead,” Ummi Kumar chided guest Sir Ben Kingsley], a classic Morecambe & Wise sketch recreated by Armstrong and Miller, some Corrie nostalgia and, gasp, an Upstairs Downstairs reunion.

In between were, of course, some great clips from film and TV presented by the likes of Halle Berry, Rita Tushingham, Pauline Collins, Robert Carlyle, Stanley Baxter and Melvyn Bragg.

So how does Alpin sum up the occasion? “The programme took BAFTA to a new audience and that’s one of the essential aims of the production company – to try and communicate with new audiences in different areas. I think Happy Birthday BAFTA helps establish us as keepers of the flame for film and TV.”