David Lister: Embarrass us at the Baftas, please

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The Independent Online

Kate Winslet may well win a Bafta tomorrow night. As she has two of the nominations in the best actress category, the odds are pretty high. And as she gives two very fine performances in the films in question, Revolutionary Road and The Reader, the award would be well deserved.

Two things are certain. The first is that in the run-up to the announcement, people will be saying: "Oh God, I hope that she doesn't give a speech as embarrassing as she gave at the Golden Globes." The second is that people will be thinking: "Oh God, I hope that she gives a speech as embarrassing as she gave at the Golden Globes."

These award ceremonies are drawn out and boring. I have spent some of the longest evenings of my life at arts awards ceremonies, not least the Baftas. The only chance of a little light relief is an honest-to-God, toe-curling, embarrassing acceptance speech. Some that I curled my toes to at awards ceremonies gone by have a certain charm in my memory. I now feel privileged that I was there when Vanessa Redgrave broke down in tears as she thanked the stage carpenter. Such moments do not come along all that often.

Most acceptance speeches are interminable lists of thank yous, maybe not always to the carpenter but to every conceivable co-star, director and producer. The rock singer Cerys Matthews, on receiving a music award, said that people in show business get enough perks and privileges without needing thanks as well. Her words should be inscribed above the stage at tomorrow's Baftas.

You can bet your life that most of the nominees at the Baftas will have employed a stylist or designer or make-up artist or all three. Would it kill them to employ a speech writer for once, or, better still, a gag writer? Why is it seemingly against the award ceremony credo to make a joke?

Occasionally thank yous can be memorable, though. I was lucky to be present when Bob Carlton, writer and director of the musical Return to the Forbidden Planet, settled for a safe "thank everyone" speech on winning a theatre award, then suffered a fit of nerves and forgot everyone's name, including his mother's. But the best acceptance speeches either involve airing a grudge – when Michael Caine received a Bafta fellowship, he moaned that it had taken such a long time in coming – or going so ludicrously over the top, as a hyperventilating Kate did at the Golden Globes, pictured, that your YouTube future is assured.

And that's why I wish that Kate hadn't publicly vowed to make a more measured speech should she win tomorrow. Anyone can do measured. What those of us watching the ceremony on TV want is a gag, or, better still, a grudge, or, best of all, a rant. If none of those can be conjured up, then we'll settle for hyperventilating. But nothing makes me want to turn the TV off more than a thank-you list.

If I'm to choose my favourite awards acceptance speech, it was probably the French playwright Yasmina Reza picking up a best comedy award for her global hit Art. She went up on to the stage, received the prize and remarked tersely: "It is interesting to win an award for best comedy when I thought I had written a tragedy."

If Kate wins for one of her two films, she could at least complain that she hasn't won for the other one. Make a scene. In the age of YouTube, more people will probably watch the acceptance speech than watch the film.

Love thy neighbour. Or not...

There has been some debate over the etiquette of Esther Rantzen, altering the place cards on her table at the Costa Book Awards. Some think she should sit next to the person that the organisers wished her to sit next to. Others believe it is the right of every dinner party-goer to manipulate a table plan to ensure maximum enjoyment.

Ms Rantzen's reasoning seems clear to me. She has obviously attended that prize dinner before, must have had a lousy time, and wanted to ensure that this time she sat next to someone she knew. Her reasoning is clear, but worrying. For I happen to know that her neighbour at a previous dinner for the prize was, not to put too fine a point on it, me.

Esther, you have inflicted psychological damage upon me. It's a pity I'm not eligible to complain to Childline.

New arts 'vision', same BBC thinking

Mark Thompson, the Director-General of the BBC, has made a statement about the corporation's arts coverage and how he intends to improve it. That in itself is quite significant. I can't recall a BBC director-general bothering to make statements about arts coverage before.

Mr Thompson has promised more arts news coverage, an arts editor to sharpen that coverage, and a new arts board (well, it is the BBC) to "join up and maximise" programming through "better planning, creativity and collaboration".

Fine. May I suggest item one for the agenda of the arts board's first meeting? "The BBC arts board hereby instructs the controllers of BBC1 and BBC2 to put some plays on mainstream terrestrial television. This endangered species has not been seen on BBC television for many years. The arts board also wonders why the director-general forgot to mention this at all in articulating his vision for the corporation's cultural coverage."

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