Bafta win for David Attenborough

Bafta television awards sees BBC taking all but one drama award, while Channel 4 has the upper hand in comedy

Nearly 50 years since his first win, veteran naturalist David Attenborough added another Bafta television award to his cabinet in a night of upsets that saw many famous names and favoured programmes eclipsed.

June Brown, the favourite to become the first soap actress to win the best actress Bafta for her role as EastEnders' doleful launderette attendant Dot Branning, lost to Anna Maxwell Martin, who won her second Bafta in a row after last year's surprise win for Bleak House. She won this year for playing a troubled, malevolent mental patient in Channel 4's Poppy Shakespeare.

Attenborough won his third individual award, the specialist factual Bafta for his BBC1 documentary programme about reptiles and amphibians, Life in Cold Blood. Attenborough, 82, who pioneered colour television in Britain when he ran BBC2 in the 1960s, first won a Bafta in 1961. He and his programmes have now won a total of eight Baftas.

Attenborough took to the stage after an excerpt from Life in Cold Blood showed pair of copulating tortoises. "Thanks go to spitting cobras, axolotls, golden frogs, dwarf chameleons, those happy tortoises," Attenborough said. "This Bafta was won not by me or them but by the production team. I have got the best job going and to go around the world and see all those marvellous things is more than anyone could wish for."

Graham Norton presented the awards, held for the first time at Royal Festival Hall. He immediately zeroed in on Jonathan Ross, sitting a few rows back in the audience. He was a controversial nominee in the entertainment performance category, because of his three-month suspension due to his and Russell Brand's phone messages to Fawlty Towers actor Andrew Sachs. "I'm looking around the room at everyone who contributed to a great 12 months of television - nine months if you are Jonathan," Norton said.

In the features category, The Apprentice, Top Gear and Celebrity MasterChef were all eclipsed by The Choir: Boys Don't Sing on BBC2, about the determination and drive of a male conductor to establish a singing group in a boys' school.

Harry Enfield and Paul Whitehouse won the comedy programme award for the BBC1's Harry and Paul Show. "This is slightly galling because Harry's never won a Bafta before and I have won loads," said Whitehouse, picking up his fourth Bafta.

Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders, who came out of sketch comedy retirement to provide this year's Comic Relief highlight with their Mamma Mia! send-up, won the Bafta fellowship award and a standing ovation. Richard Curtis introduced the duo, calling them the "greatest female double act in the history of British television", while Dame Helen Mirren presented their awards.

Channel 4 won eight awards, including the audience award, while BBC channels won a total of eight. ITV, just days after announcing it was seeking a new chief executive, won five awards, dominating its traditional stronghold of soap and entertainment, but also won the news and sport awards.

As executive chairman Michael Grade said he would move upstairs to become non-executive chairman of the cash-strapped broadcaster, his content-led recovery policy bore fruit with singing contest The X Factor winning best entertainment programme, while Harry Hill beat Ross to take home the Bafta for entertainment performance for the second year in a row, for his often-hilarious look at the week's television, TV Burp.

Richard Holloway, executive producer of The X Factor, said Simon Cowell was the heart of the show but did not dispel rumours that he might leave. "It is possible to carry on without Simon," he said.

While a strong showing in entertainment was expected, few predicted a win for ITV's veteran police drama The Bill, soon to reduce from two hours to one hour a week due to budget cuts, which won the continuing drama award for the first time. It beat EastEnders, Casualty and Emmerdale. Bafta snubbed Coronation Street for the second year running, failing even to nominate it.

ITV1's News at Ten won the news award for its China earthquake coverage, while the channel won the sport award for its formula one Brazilian Grand Prix coverage. The ITV team, now disbanded after the BBC picked up the rights, apologised for not preparing a speech: they admitted that they had thought the BBC's Olympics coverage would win.

The BBC dominated the drama awards. Wallander, starring Kenneth Branagh as a Swedish detective, won the drama series award, beating Doctor Who, Spooks and Shameless. Criminal Justice won the drama serial award.

Channel 4 had the upper hand in comedy, with Peep Show's David Mitchell winning best comedy performance and The IT Crowd winning best situation comedy. The channel won eight awards, including the audience award, which went to teen drama Skins, shown on digital channel E4. It beat shows with higher ratings, perhaps reflecting that its young fan base had better mastery of the text and online voting.

Channel 4 won again in the best actor category, after an acting career spanning 24 years, Stephen Dillane won the best actor Bafta for his role in as a grieving father fighting for justice after his son was killed in Gaza, in The Shooting of Thomas Hurndall.

In the international category, Mad Men, the critically acclaimed drama set in a 1960s advertising agency, beat strong rivals Dexter, The Wire and The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.

Former BBC head of fiction, Jane Tranter, who is now executive vice president of programming and production at BBC Worldwide, based in Los Angeles, received the Bafta special award.


Stephen Brook and Oliver Luft

The GuardianTramp

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