Liz Hoggard: Hail the unassuming British hero

Colin Firth, Carey Mulligan, Amy Williams ... they make you proud

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When Colin Firth thanked the man who mended his fridge (and stopped him sending an email to Tom Ford, rejecting his role in A Single Man) at the Baftas on Sunday, it was British modesty at its best. Who knew that he even stayed in for the fridge these days? Don't movie stars have "people" who do that for them?

But then the whole night was a testament to self-deprecating English charm. We may not be as rich and thin as our American cousins, but we do give good acceptance speech. No doubt it was hammered home to us during interminable school prize givings that no one likes a cocky so-and-so. We may seem to shamble on to the podium, brushing lint from our clothes, looking apologetic about our hair and wonky teeth, but we know we are about to deliver a blinder. The cardinal sin is to bore.

And Britain has got talent. David Bowie's son, Duncan Jones, nearly burst into tears at the realisation that he was finally good at something (his film Moon took outstanding debut). Fish Tank winner, Andrea Arnold, confided her dream about trying to pitch a tent on a campsite, only to be gazumped by everyone else (a very British imposter dream). Carey Mulligan, best actress winner, was happy to queue outside with the rest of us.

There's something about the Unassuming British Hero that makes you proud in a world of airbrushed perfection. Look at Amy Willams, who just took gold at the Winter Olympics on a superannuated tea-tray she calls "Arthur". At the 2008 Games, it was girl-next-door Rebecca Adlington who triumphed.

Grit in the oyster seems to foster talent. Ellie Goulding, who won critics' choice at the Brit Awards last week, grew up on a council estate and shared a bed with her siblings. But it's inspired one of the most exquisite debut albums of recent years.

Don't be fooled: there is a glint of steel behind our shambolic persona. You can't have failed to notice how Bafta gave Kathryn Bigelow six awards (including best film and best director) for her Iraq drama, The Hurt Locker (a war film about peace). Her ex-husband, James Cameron, had to make do with best design and special effects for his much-hyped sci-fi hit Avatar. Taking to the stage for yet another gong, Bigelow praised the Brits for their liberal values and championing of the underdog.

Bafta's spirit of democracy is even reflected in the dinner afterwards. To my astonishment, you're allowed to mingle with Tom Ford and Mickey Rourke. No A-lister is roped off. You're trusted to behave – and not try to pull the talent. Plus the seating plan is brilliantly eccentric. Best film can end up staked out under the pot plants, while foreign film gets the plum table.

My companion at dinner, a news journalist from The Hollywood Reporter, told me that this is why the American guests enthusiastically turn up to the Baftas. It's one of the least stuffy award ceremonies on the circuit. It knows a good film when it sees it. And it's not above a bold political gesture.

Don't underestimate British amateurism. It gets results.

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