Comedian holds court at the Brits

The success of the Brits ceremony, the biggest annual music awards, last night rested on the fast-talking comedian Ben Elton to keep the audience amused at Earl's Court in west London.

Choosing the host has been fraught with difficulty ever since a notorious performance of fluffed lines by Mick Fleetwood and Samantha Fox. The Fleetwood Mac drummer Mick - six-and-a-half foot tall - and the diminutive model and pop singer could hardly fit in the same close-up, let alone manage a seamless witty presentation. That year - 1989 - marked a low point for the show, which became a laughing stock.

The past two years have seen frenetic former Radio 1 disc jockey Chris Evans doing the honours, with rather more professionalism than most of his predecessors. But after last year's sensational stage invasion by pop star Jarvis Cocker, Evans announced that he would not host the Brits again.

So, this year it is Ben Elton's turn. The former Saturday Night Live compere has matured into a successful novelist and behind-the-scenes scriptwriter of The Thin Blue Line. He is now 37 and almost respectable. He has attacked Hollywood's culture of violence in his latest book Popcorn. But he is still just dangerous enough to hold the respect of the pop audience.

And since the ceremony was not shown live, Brit producers knew that they could edit any dubious gags before today's television screening.

The Bee Gees were named winners of the Outstanding Contribution to the British Music Industry award ahead of the ceremony, but among the nominations were George Michael, Mark Morrison, Simply Red, Sting, and Tricky as best male solo artist. Contenders for best female solo artist were Dina Carroll, Gabrielle, Donna Lewis, Louise, Eddi Reader, and for best group, Kula Shaker, Lightning Seeds, Manic Street Preachers, Spice Girls.

Best album nominees: K by Kula Shaker, Ocean Drive by Lighthouse Family, Everything Must Go by Manic Street Preachers, Older by George Michael, and Moseley Shoals by Ocean Colour Scene. Oasis won this category last year with (What's The Story) Morning Glory? This year The Manics' have triumphed in every other poll, and should do here, too.

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