Mirren leads charge of the Britons at Emmys

THE QUIRKY American television series Ally McBeal won the coveted best comedy prize at the Emmys in Los Angeles on Sunday night, beating NBC's Frasier, which had won the award five years in a row.

The programme, based on the workings of a Boston law firm, was the star of a glitzy, Oscar-style evening at which practically every woman wore full evening dress except for the actress Calista Flockhart - eponymous star of the Ally McBeal programme - who dressed down in a white cotton shirt and yellow skirt.

The 51st set of awards from America's Academy of Television Arts & Sciences also brought success for British actors. Helen Mirren collected the Emmy for outstanding actress in a mini-series for The Passion of Ayn Rand.

Peter O'Toole, who is currently playing the lead in Jeffrey Bernard is Unwell at the Old Vic in London, won best supporting actor for his role in the CBS mini-series Joan of Arc.

The British comedian Tracey Ullman won the prize for best actress in a comedy series for her role as an eccentric psychotherapist in Ally McBeal.

The shock of the evening was the failure of the Mafia drama The Sopranos, currently being broadcast by Channel 4, to collect more than a couple of awards, despite leading the pack with 16 nominations. Instead, a cluster of prizes went to a serious law drama, The Practice, made by David E Kelley, who also created Ally McBeal.

John Lithgow was named top comedy actor for 3rd Rock from the Sun, while the programme's Kristen Johnston was named best supporting actress, an award she accepted tearfully. David Hyde Pierce, who plays Dr Niles Crane in Frasier, won the award for best supporting actor.

The best actor award was won by Dennis Franz, who plays the crusty cop Andy Sipowicz in NYPD Blue; the award for best actress went to Edie Falco for her role as the wife who wants to save her marriage to a mafioso in The Sopranos.