Veteran comic takes top honours at awards night

Little Britain, the odds-on favourite, may have won the gong for best comedy show - but the name on everyone's lips at the British Comedy awards last night was Chris Langham.

The veteran writer and performer was named best actor, while the The Thick of It, the BBC4 sit-com which has made him a household name as hapless government minister Hugh Abbot, got the award for best new television comedy show for 2005.

Success has been a long time coming for Langham, who was sacked from the Not The Nine O'Clock News team after just one series in favour of Griff Rhys Jones. He was bitterly hurt by the experience, which he only recently came to terms with when he met Rowan Atkinson and other members of the hit comedy team for Radio 4's The Reunion.

Last night's live awards ceremony in London was an altogether happier occasion for the 56-year-old.

In the past year, he has starred in two hit comedies. In Armando Ianucci's series for the digital channel BBC4, The Thick of It, Langham plays the put-upon Minister for Home Affairs, Hugh Abbot, who is under constant pressure from No 10's policy enforcer, who is played by Peter Capaldi, and dependent for advice on a team of often unreliable civil servants. The former civil servant Martin Sixsmith was a "reality adviser" on the show, which was partly improvised.

Help, the BBC2 comedy that Langham co-wrote and starred in with Paul Whitehouse, draws on his own experience of attending therapy to overcome addiction to alcohol and drugs. Langham, who still attends regular therapy sessions, plays psychotherapist Peter who listens patiently to the problems of a string of lurid characters from an Italian wife-beater to a selfless Jewish London cabbie.

Ricky Gervaise's hit comedy, Extras, which had been expected to go head-to-head with Little Britain for best comedy, did not go away empty-handed. Gervaise's co-star Ashley Jensen, who was a relatively unknown actress when chosen for the female lead in the follow-up to The Office, won best television comedy actress. She also beat Chris Addison who plays a young parliamentary assistant in The Thick of It and Peep Show's David Mitchell to be named best comedy newcomer.

In Extras, Jensen plays Maggie, the fellow bit-part actor and tactless best friend of Andy Millman, played by Gervais. While Millman spends each episode vying for a bigger part, Maggie's main interest is finding a long-term partner. Although Extras did not quite match the ratings of The Office, it was still a huge hit, with stars including Madonna, Brad Pitt, Samuel L Jackson, Kate Winslet and Ben Stiller lining up for cameo roles.

But it came as little surprise when Little Britain triumphed over Extras and The Catherine Tate Show to be named best television comedy. The third series of the hit comedy, which started life on Radio 4, before progressing to BBC3, is now attracting audiences of well over six million on BBC1.

Shameless, Paul Abbott's Channel 4 series about a family living on a sink estate in Manchester, won best comedy drama. The Simpsons beat Larry David's Curb Your Enthusiasm and the Australian sitcom Kath and Kim to win the award for best international comedy.

Festival, a wry look at the Edinburgh Fringe starring Daniela Nardini and backed by Scottish Screen and FilmFour, was best comedy film.

The winners

* BEST TV COMEDY OF 2005: Little Britain

* TV COMEDY ACTOR: Chris Langham, Help; The Thick of It

* TV COMEDY ACTRESS: Ashley Jensen, Extras

* COMEDY ENTERTAINMENT PERSONALITY: Paul O'Grady, The Paul O'Grady Show

* NEWCOMER: Ashley Jensen, Extras

* NEW COMEDY TV OF 2005: The Thick of It

* TV COMEDY DRAMA: Shameless

* COMEDY ENTERTAINMENT PROGRAMME: The X-Factor

* BEST INTERNATIONAL COMEDY TV SHOW: The Simpsons

* BEST COMEDY FILM: Festival

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