A high price to pay for a meal, gongs and bad behaviour

The British Press Awards saw an end to a long-running Fleet Street feud (almost) and the start of a rebellion against the Press Gazette's cash bonanza
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The Independent Online

Laurence Olivier used to say he disapproved of prizes for actors unless he was receiving them. Criticism of the British Press Awards – and there has been plenty of criticism over the last few days – can all too easily be dismissed as sour grapes from those who were not called up to the podium. But there are deeper reasons for the growing disaffection.

The brickbats that have been aimed at the organisers, the industry's magazine, Press Gazette, are nothing if not eclectic. Rebekah Wade, editor of the News of the World, protested that her paper was overlooked by the judges and sent a trainee dressed as an Arab sheikh to occupy one of her otherwise unoccupied tables while she presented the alternative press awards – all unsurprisingly to the News of the World – at a nearby restaurant. The Spectator's Stephen Glover mentioned what is an irritant to many journalists – the tediously boorish behaviour of attendees as the evening wears on and the overpriced wine flows more liberally; the freelance writer Carol Sarler pointed out how much it cost a freelance to put in an entry, though that expense would not secure a place at the even more expensive dinner, even if the freelance was prepared to stump up the cost of a place at a table.

Certainly, a visiting journalist from Mars would have found some of the shenanigans surrounding the ceremony hard to credit. He may have overheard Piers Morgan, fresh from the triumph of The Mirror winning paper of the year, apparently rejecting David Yelland's congratulations and calling him "a bald c...". This was hard even for an earthling to comprehend, as Morgan last week formally called off the paper's targeting of Yelland. He sent an e-mail to all Mirror staff saying: "The war with The Sun, and Mr Yelland, is now officially over. It seems churlish to intrude into their private grief at this difficult time. So there will be no more references to them in The Mirror, with immediate effect."

Can this sentiment co-exist with the verbal mauling he gave the Sun editor at the Press Gazette awards? Morgan believes it can. The war in the paper is definitely over, he says. He's saying less about what happened between him and Yelland at the awards. But other Mirror insiders say that Morgan at first politely declined to talk to Yelland, then became ruder when Yelland persisted. They add that Morgan was infuriated by Yelland's recent claim that he had e-mails about Morgan's private life that he would not leak because they "could destroy his kids". Mentioning the children was seen at The Mirror to be beyond the pale, and colleagues of Morgan say that any father in the same position would have been as reluctant to chat with Yelland as Morgan was. Morgan has told colleagues that "Hell will freeze over" before he is civil to Yelland again.

Whatever the two said to each other, they paid a lot to say it. Our Martian hack would probably have been astonished at the expense of the awards. Each entry costs £110, involving every national paper in thousands of pounds of expenditure for something that used to be free. Then it is £1,700 per table (small wonder that Les Hinton, the News International chief executive is said to be less than pleased at Rebekah Wade leaving two tables virtually empty).

Philippa Kennedy, editor of Press Gazette, sponsors of the awards, was away yesterday. Diana Heald, the media group director at Quantum Business Media, which publishes Press Gazette, was also unavailable. So the profits that the company makes out of the expensive bash cannot be revealed.

Not officially, at least. But we do know that each national newspaper (apart from Express Newspapers, which boycotts the event) spent around £5,000 just on submitting entries. There were about 85 tables, which nets a further £144,500. And the prizes were sponsored, which meant yet more income. Subtract the hire of the room at the Hilton, and the administration and catering costs, and the "turn" (on this ocassion, the comedians John Bird and John Fortune), and the event's profits are still considerably healthier than its reputation.