The government’s plan to sell off Channel 4 was front and centre at this year’s BAFTA TV Awards, as stars pledged to fight to keep the broadcaster in public hands.
Director Steve McQueen, who won an award for his documentary Uprising, told the audience at the Royal Festival Hall in London that the public should “hold tight” to the BBC and Channel 4, adding we should “fight for inch, inch and inch”.
Comedian Holly Walsh, who writes Motherland, told the room: “Public service broadcasting is a testament to what makes the BBC and Channel 4 so bloody fantastic.”
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Channel 4 mainstay Gogglebox picked up the reality and constructed factual award at the ceremony, with the show’s creator using his winning speech to also back the broadcaster.
“Googlebox might have ended when it started nine years ago because it had modest ratings but a publicly owned risk-taking Channel 4 believed in it and they stuck with it,” Stephen Lambert said.
“If the government goes ahead with its destructive plan to end Channel 4, these kind of risks will not be taken and a big part will have ended for no good reason.”
Comedian Mo Gilligan also sang Channel 4’s praises, saying after winning for his Lateish Show: “They let me bring black boy joy, I really appreciate it.
“It would not have been possible without Channel 4, I know everyone has said it but it is so important.”
The pandemic was also not far from people’s minds this year, with the writer of COVID drama Together reading a letter to the government, criticising its COVID-19 response after collecting his award for single drama.
Dennis Kelly said: “The UK has seen one of the worst global death tolls through the pandemic. This government’s response has ranged from careless to downright negligent.
“Our loved ones’ lives treated as expendable, collateral damage.
“Bereaved families have been ignored, lied to and gaslighted by a government seemingly too busy partying to spare us thought, even daring to tell us that they were too busy to meet with us or start an inquiry promptly.”
It was a good night for the broadcasters
Elsewhere, the public service broadcasters took the spoils on British TV’s biggest night.
BBC prison drama Time won two awards, including for best mini-series – beating off tough competition from the likes of It’s A Sin, ITV’s Stephen and Sky’s Landscapers.
Sean Bean won the best actor award for his role in the show, saying he was “overwhelmed” in a letter read by the show’s producer.
Channel 4 COVID drama Help also won a pair of awards, with trophies going to both Cathy Tyson and Jodie Comer for supporting actress and best actress respectively.
Sex Education star Ncuti Gatwa came on stage to huge applause, just hours after it was announced he would be the next Doctor Who.
Joking with his co-star Aimee Lou Wood, they told a knock-knock joke, using him as the punchline, before handing the scripted comedy prize to BBC sitcom Motherland.
Strictly Come Dancing’s Giovanni Pernice and Rose Ayling-Ellis won the publicly voted must-see moment award for their moving couple’s choice dance last series, in which they danced part of it silence, inspired by Ayling-Ellis’s deafness.
Ayling-Ellis said: “It is a very special moment for us because hopefully it showed how powerful TV can be, where it has actually introduced changes. It has even helped the BSL [British Sign Language] law be passed recently.
“It made people stand up more for sign language, and just a better deaf awareness and positiveness towards people. We have still got a long way to go but it is such a great start. We are so, so, so proud of it.”
Rapper Big Zuu won twice at the ceremony for his show on Dave, Big Zuu’s Big Eats, while the star of Channel 4’s Stath Lets Flats, Jamie Demetriou, also bagged a BAFTA – his third in three years.
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Scottish comedian Billy Connolly was honoured with a fellowship from BAFTA, giving a video speech to the room with his trademark Scottish humour.
The Big Yin, who suffers from Parkinson’s disease, said: “I am very proud to receive this. Life is good. I haven’t been on the stage for about two years. This is kind of nice. It suits me.
“Symptom spotters among you may notice that my left is different from my right. It is just one of these things. Parkinson’s disease. I suffer badly from the disease.
“My wife puts on my clothes in the morning and takes them off at night. It is a jolly life. I have got no complaints.”