It's time for Stephen Fry to hang up his tuxedo as host of the Baftas. But who could replace him?

Russell Brand would be the anarchic choice, but he is probably too egotistical

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Hosting an awards show is harder than it looks. There is the autocue to contend with, an opening monologue delivered to a crowd still shivering from the red carpet and the awkward task of cutting a weeping actress off mid-flow. It is a job that demands a fine balance of sycophancy and subversion; a large enough personality to run the show but modest enough to melt into the background when it is the stars’ turn to shine. A good host should be funny, serious, poignant, understand the vast importance of corporate sponsorship and have a zero-tolerance policy on swearing. He or she must tick each of these boxes, all in the dispiriting knowledge that the viewing public is waiting for failure on a grand, Sam–Fox-and-Mick-Fleetwood, scale.

Stephen Fry’s hosting of the Baftas last night was nowhere near that disaster at the 1989 Brits. It was, though, a less than scintillating performance. He looked ill-at-ease, made lame jokes which compared Oprah to opera and punned on “Saving Mr Hanks” and went way overboard on Emma Thompson,  “in real life a stinking piece of offal - no, I kid, you'd be sick if I told you how wonderful she is.”

Having hosted his first ceremony in 2001, he has simply been in the job for too long. Awards bashes are changing. No longer celebratory luvvie-ins, they must now respond the quick-witted critics of Twitter and produce a string of GIF-worthy moments to ensure the party lives on to the next morning. In an era of sizzling opening monologues, like that delivered by Amy Poehler and Tina Fey at the Golden Globes, and scorching acceptance speeches, like Russell Brand’s at the GQ Awards, the Baftas must move with the times.

Brand would be the anarchic choice to replace Fry, but he is probably too egotistical to step back from the podium and let the winners speak. Our other greatest comedy export, Ricky Gervais has already done the Golden Globes. James Corden has form having hosted the Brits for the last five years, but I would rather see his Gavin and Stacey co-star Rob Brydon bring his gently spiky humour to the dais. Steve Coogan, too, would be excellent but it seems unlikely that the comedian would be tempted by such an establishment role.

For the Baftas, a Brit with a profile in America is a must. Bridesmaids star Chris O’Dowd, The Wire’s Idris Elba or Homeland’s Damian Lewis might fit the bill. The latter did a fine job running the Evening Standard Theatre Awards recently, and like Fry he has the kind of plummy British vowels to make an LA audience swoon.

A woman could do it, of course. Kate Winslet has the right combination of glamour and down-to-earth wit but she is too much of an insider. Catherine Tate would put on a great show. The nation’s favourite baking commentators, Mel and Sue, would be fun but they might baffle the A-listers in the front row.

Fry’s are not easy shoes to fill, but there is one option that combines brains and beauty, wit and charm, Transatlantic appeal and homegrown stardom: Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman. The nominations are in - it’s over to you, Bafta.

Read more
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