A night to remember for Colin Firth – a night to forget for Ricky Gervais

As one British star used the Golden Globes to bolster his reputation for charm and dignity, another was intent on pricking as many egos as possible.

Colin Firth walked away with the prize for best actor in The King's Speech, but it was Ricky Gervais who was the main talking point on Sunday night, as the host earned gasps, a few well-timed ripostes and some rather nervous laughter for his characteristic close-to-the-bone performance.

It did not take Gervais long to provoke the A-list audience at the Beverly Hilton hotel in Los Angeles. By the time he wound up his four-minute opening, he had managed to insult Johnny Depp, Charlie Sheen, Cher, all the stars of Sex and the City 2, Tom Cruise, John Travolta and Hugh Hefner.

Bruce Willis appeared to be upset when he was later introduced as "Ashton Kutcher's dad", but still not content with his night's work, Gervais went on to insult Robert Downey Jr and Tim Allen. Downey Jr summed up the feeling in the auditorium. After the wisecracking host suggested the actor was best known for his time in prison and rehabilitation centres, the Iron Man star said: "Aside from the fact that it's been hugely mean-spirited with mildly sinister undertones, I'd say the vibe of the show is pretty good so far."

Gervais, who must have calculated that the inevitable backlash would do his profile and career more good than harm, also made pointed jibes about the organisers of the awards, referring to recent allegations of corruption. "I'd like to crush this ridiculous rumour that the only reason The Tourist was nominated was so that the foreign press could hang out with Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie," he said. "That was not the only reason; they also accepted bribes." This led Philip Berk, president of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, to say: "Ricky, next time you want me to help you qualify your movie, go to another guy."

The comedian seemed to disappear from the proceedings at one point, provoking online speculation that his humour was being questioned by the event's organisers. Others suspected the spats had all been scripted. He reappeared an hour later with slightly less provocative material, but later said: "I did every single introduction I was meant to. There just happened to be a long gap." After the show he said: "I probably won't be here next year", but if he was he would go "mental".

His performance earned him rough treatment by the American newspapers yesterday. The Washington Post TV reviewer, Hank Stuever, asked: "Are we at war with England? If not, then why have we been subjected to two years of Gervais?"

Gervais's barbs...

* "It's going to be a night of partying and heavy drinking – or as Charlie Sheen calls it: breakfast."

* "Everything this year was three-dimensional, except the characters in The Tourist. I feel bad about that joke. I'm jumping on the bandwagon, because I haven't even seen that movie. Who has?"

* "Next up, Eva Longoria has the daunting task of introducing the president of the Hollywood Foreign Press. That's nothing, I just had to help him off the toilet and pop his teeth in."



... And the reaction

* Tom Hanks: "We recall when Ricky Gervais was a slightly chubby but very kind comedian." Tim Allen: "Neither of which he is now."

* Time magazine: "There's a fine line between playful and mean-spirited. Gervais bulldozed over the nuance."

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