And the winner of the best awards ceremony is...

Already this week we've had the Baftas, the Grammys, the Nibbies and the Cesars - and now there are even awards for the best awards

Without a hint of irony, a glittering black-tie event is being planned for a top London venue later this year at which the people who organise awards ceremonies will award each other awards.

Without a hint of irony, a glittering black-tie event is being planned for a top London venue later this year at which the people who organise awards ceremonies will award each other awards.

The "Awards Awards" – already being called the "Awards Industry Oscars" – will include categories for "Best Use of a Venue", "Best Use of Staging" and "Best Catering".

It is in many ways an inevitable development in the frenzy of prize-giving that was spawned by the entertainment business and has grown to include 29,000 ceremonies that celebrate the achievements of everyone from fish fryers to parking attendants.

We are at the height of the awards "season", with events taking place almost on a daily basis. Sunday night's Baftas ceremony in Leicester Square clashed with the French film industry's Cesars and the American music industry's Grammys (three days after London's Brits). The magazine Variety calculates that in the first three months of the year alone the entertainment industry holds 95 awards ceremonies around the world, handing out more than 1,280 gongs and trophies.

Steven Gaydos, executive editor of Variety, said the number of awards ceremonies had "proliferated like an amoeba". He said the film industry never missed "any chance to stand on a stage and weep and say 'thank you'."

Since the beginning of last year, Nicole Kidman has tracked back and forth across the Atlantic to at least 12 awards ceremonies, from triumphing at the Golden Globes and the Baftas to being accused of acting like a prima donna at the Independent Spirit Awards in Santa Monica, California.

Last night, publishing executives dressed up for the "Nibbies", the British Book Awards, one of more than 170 similar ceremonies held every year in that industry alone. As well as the famous prizes such as the Whitbread and the Booker, there are many more obscure honours such as the Literary Review Bad Sex in Fiction Awards and the Sainsbury's Baby Book Award for children under the age of one.

Within each sector, rival awards ceremonies compete to be known as the industry's "Oscars". For this small minority of blue riband events, the potential for attracting celebrity attendees and big-name sponsors is immense.

Sunday's Baftas were sponsored by Orange for the sixth time. Bafta's chief executive, Amanda Berry, made a personal appeal to journalists to "credit the event with its full title, the Orange British Academy Film Awards, when covering it".

In ploughing in financial backing, Orange was well aware that front page newspaper photographs – such as those that appeared yesterday of Kidman in front of its company logo – were as good publicity as its money could buy.

Marketing strategists estimate that any editorial coverage on television or in newspapers is worth three times as much as a corporate advertising message because the public regards it as more of an independent endorsement. So an event like the Baftas, which can guarantee an A-list celebrity audience and a wealth of exposure on screen and in print, still has sponsors falling over themselves to join the action.

Absolut sponsored the after-show party vodka, Audi provided the cars for VIP guests, Lancome supplied the make-up artists, Tesco sent the after-dinner coffee, and on and on.

The biggest ceremonies also generate millions of pounds of business for the nominees and winners.

Mr Freeman said that the endorsement of an award might persuade people to go to see a film or buy a book. "A Booker or a Whitbread prize guarantees that you will be on the best-seller list for at least a few weeks," he said.

With so much money at stake, it is little surprise that the awards are dogged by rumour that the excited tearing of envelopes is merely a ruse to disguise a rigged contest.

Many of the minor ceremonies, insiders say, amount to little more than Buggins' turn, with each of a small clique of potential winners waiting year-by-year for their turn in the spotlight.

If the most prestigious occasions are not fixed, then they are, at the least, subjected to intense strategic planning specifically aimed at winning awards. The five biggest films of 2002, Chicago, Gangs of New York, The Hours, The Pianist and The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, were all released in December with the Academy Awards (or Oscars) and other upcoming ceremonies in mind.

With the 2004 Oscars being brought forward a month, Hollywood studio executives have gone into overdrive and are already talking of rescheduling planned release dates of future films to maximise their impact on voters.

The 75th Oscars will take place in Hollywood next month but the time-honoured procedure of nominations, envelope rustling, back-slapping and tearful words of acceptance will be replicated on a smaller scale this year in thousands of ceremonies across Britain. From the Loo of the Year Awards to the Wella Hair Journalism Awards to the British Sausage Awards and the fragrance industry's "Fi-Fis", the gongs will be dished out.

Next month in London, a new magazine will be launched called Awards World. Douglas Lee, advertising and events manager at Blue Moon Publishing in London, said the magazine would help firms to organise awards nights, and added that some companies were already entirely dedicated to putting on such ceremonies.

Mr Lee said the magazine was setting up the "Awards Awards" in November. "The idea behind it is to allow people in the awards industry to enter themselves for awards ceremonies they have produced," he said.

"Everybody wants to win awards, whether it's the local fish and chip shop or Nicole Kidman, you want to have that trophy in your cabinet."

Pick of the prizes

FILM AND TELEVISION

The gold standard of the awards world. From the Oscars, to the Baftas, and on downwards, this is where the real glittering prizes, A-list celebs and popping paparazzi flashbulbs can be found. There are some 860 major awards, handed out across the globe from Cannes to Venice to Los Angeles. Independent film makers are no less keen than their big studio cousins – witness the success of the Sundance.

MUSIC

An orgy of back-slapping that ranges from the Kerrang! and NME awards targeted at rock bands to the Smash Hits and MTV awards (which included a performance by Coldplay) for pop and the Mobo awards for music of black origin. The biggest event, the Brits, is rapidly losing its reputation for wild behaviour thanks to an alcohol clampdown and a not very rock'n'roll 5pm start.

BOOKS

The British publishing industry dines out on some 170 awards ceremonies, helping to turn new titles into best-sellers. They range from high-profile prizes such as the Whitbread and Booker, won by Yann Martel, to the Science Fiction Association award, the Sainsbury's Baby Book award for children under the age of one and the Literary Review Bad Sex in Fiction award.

BUSINESS

From the Thomson Extel Awards for City analysts (including Harald Hendrikse of Credit Suisse First Boston, the leading pan-European individual equity analyst), to local awards for photocopier salesmen, business gongs have become important motivating forces. Business magazines sponsor their own awards, as do local newspapers and websites. Many firms put on employee of the year awards.

SPORT

Football is laden with awards, from football writers to the players themselves handing out prizes and entire best elevens picked from every division. Britain's sporting "Oscar" ceremony is the BBC's Sports Personality of the Year award, currently held by Paula Radcliffe, above, but less high-profile prizes include the Sport Industry Award for best sponsorship of a sports event.

AND MANY MORE ...

There are an estimated 29,000 awards given in Britain and America every year. Most fall into the "other" category, ranging from the worthy – Teacher of the Year (won by Richard Lea-Hair) has been an important drive to raise the profile of the profession – to the more down-to-earth: East Lothian scooped last year's Loo of the Year Awards for its pristine conveniences at Musselburgh.

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