A national treasure: 'Little Britain' rises from fringe TV to conquer mainstream

A cult collection of characters including vomiting ladies from the Women's Institute, inarticulate teenagers and an adult man who is still breastfed have been officially ushered into the mainstream by claiming the top prize in British comedy.

Little Britain , the offbeat sketch show promoted from the digital channel BBC3 to prime-time BBC1, last night beat The Office to be crowned best television comedy at the British Comedy Awards.

Matt Lucas and David Walliams, the comic brains behind the edgy humour that has attracted six million viewers, were also jointly named best comedy actor, beating Martin Clunes and The Office creator Ricky Gervais.

Jonathan Ross, whose Friday-night BBC1 chat show won the best entertainment category last year, presented the awards in a ceremony live from the London Television Studios.

It was a night of celebration for BBC3. Its dark comedy Nighty Night , starring Julia Davies as a beauty-salon owner intent on stealing a handsome doctor, played by Angus Deayton, from his wheelchair-bound wife, won the award for the best new comedy of 2004.

Little Britain won widespread praise, with its characters such as Daffyd, the only gay man in a Welsh village who is determined to keep it that way, Marjorie Dawes as an unsympathetic diet group leader and the unsuccessful transvestite Emily Howard.

The comedy has already won awards, including a Bafta for best comedy programme and the most popular comedy at the National Television Awards.

Walliams was also named best newcomer at the British Comedy Awards 2003. But the show's racist remarks, albeit in a clearly anti-racist context, and crude visual jokes such as projectile vomiting, have also brought criticism.

The prize for best newcomer went to Catherine Tate, for her BBC2 show, in which she plays characters ranging from a struggling schoolgirl to a politically incorrect Cockney granny.

ITV's Anthony McPartlin and Declan Donnelly, better known as Ant and Dec, won best comedy entertainment programme for their Saturday Night Takeaway as well as sharing best entertainment personality.

The Simpsons , with audiences of 3.5 million, was named best international comedy show. Caroline Quentin, who played a wife whose husband has walked out on their marriage in ITV's Life Begins , was named best comedy actress, and ITV's Doc Martin , with Martin Clunes as a tactless Cornish doctor was best comedy drama.

School of Rock , the US comedy with Jack Black as a down-on-his-luck guitarist who impersonates a substitute teacher and turns fifth-graders to rock'n'rollers, won best comedy film.

THE BRITISH COMEDY AWARDS

Best Television Comedy Actor

Matt Lucas and David Walliams

Best Television Comedy Actress

Caroline Quentin

Best Comedy Entertainment Personality

Ant & Dec

Best Comedy Newcomer

Catherine Tate

Britain's Best New TV Comedy of 2004

Nighty Night, starring Julia Davis

Best TV Comedy

Little Britain

Best TV Comedy Drama

Doc Martin, starring Martin Clunes

Best Comedy and Entertainment Programme

Ant & Dec's Saturday Night Takeaway

Best International Comedy Show

The Simpsons

Best Comedy Film

School Of Rock

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