Russell Brand was honoured with a comedy award last night just two years after his phone prank on veteran actor Andrew Sachs threatened to derail his career.
But the comedian turned Hollywood actor, renowned for his tight trousers and carefree approach, did not attend the revamped British Comedy Awards to collect his gong for an "Outstanding Contribution" to the industry. Organisers said he had to pull out due to "unforeseen personal reasons", and was in New York.
Brand, who is married to US singer Katy Perry, had been due to share the stage with Jonathan Ross, the presenter who was beside him in the Radio 2 studios when Brand left mocking messages on Sachs's voicemail which suggested the comic had slept with the actor's granddaughter. He resigned from his radio show after a public outcry, while Ross was suspended for three months by the BBC. He later left the corporation.
All was forgiven last night, though. The judging panel includes senior executives from major TV channels – including the BBC – as well as journalists. The nominees are initially voted for by the 200-strong British Comedy Academy made up of performers, writers, producers and agents.
The ceremony was staged at the 02 arena in London and shown on Channel 4. The stand-up award has not been retained in the new format, meaning a clutch of controversial comedians, such as Jimmy Carr, Frankie Boyle and Russell Howard, didn't feature despite their strong TV presence and sell-out arena shows. Instead, nominated acts included more mainstream – but undeniably popular – faces, including Ant and Dec, Harry Hill, Michael McIntyre and John Bishop.
Veteran writer Roy Clarke, who penned classic sitcoms such as Last of the Summer Wine, received the British Comedy Academy Lifetime Achievement Award. Sam Bain and Jessie Armstrong, the writers of the Bafta-winning Channel Four cult sitcom Peep Show, which stars David Mitchell and Robert Webb, won the Writers' Guild Award. John Bishop won Best Breakthrough Act, Miranda Hart collected Best New TV Comedy for Miranda, and Charlie Brooker's Newswipe won Best Comedy Entertainment Programme. Michael McIntyre received a standing ovation as he was named Best Male TV Comic. Jo Brand winning the same award in the female category.
"The comedy awards like to suggest controversy but at its heart it's really a light entertainment Saturday night show," Mr Hall said. "I think it's a bit early for Brand to be given the Outstanding Contribution Award. There are people like Lenny Henry and Victoria Wood waiting for that."