So many awards, so little to praise

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The Independent Online
I am inclined to agree with Laurence Olivier's view on awards. Speaking of his own profession, he once said: "I thoroughly disapprove of prizes for actors - unless I am receiving them." For those of us not receiving prizes of any kind at present, there is plenty to disapprove of.

On Saturday night, the British Comedy Awards will salute the best of British comedy. They are not to be confused with the Perrier awards (saluting the best of British comedy at the Edinburgh Festival), the Stand Up Show awards, the Radio 4 Open Mike Awards, the Channel 4 So You Think You Are Funny Awards (saluting the best of British comedy at the Edinburgh Festival not already saluted by the Perrier Awards).

Nor, of course, are they to be confused with the comedy prizes in the National Television Awards, nor the recent and already devalued BBC 60 Years of Auntie Awards, which was so amnesiac as to place Men Behaving Badly above Fawlty Towers, Hancock, Steptoe et al.

And despite the alleged wealth of comic talent suggested by all these awards, the same few faces - or to put it another way, Martin Clunes - manage to turn up at all them. Indeed, Jonathan Ross manages to be both presenting and possibly receiving awards on Saturday.

Nevertheless, in the awards league table, comedy is a johnny-come-lately. It is publishing that really knows how to knock back the claret. There are more than 200 book prizes presented annually in the UK.

The trouble with being "awarded out", as we now are, is that the ever- increasing number of prizes are ceasing to have any value; they are failing in their primary objective of sorting the wheat from the chaff.

What, apart from an extra five grand, does it signify in winning the pounds 20,000 Turner Prize on Thursday, rather than the pounds 15,000 Paul Hamlyn award seven days earlier - both for contemporary art? Who's the better actor, an Olivier Award winner or an Evening Standard drama award victor? My own industry is not immune. Is a British Press Award equivalent to a What the Papers Say award? Is the former more prestigious because it's older, or the latter because it's televised?

Why are there so many awards? The Media Planning Guide for next month lists 34 major awards for December alone. Part of the answer is that business sponsors who put money into the arts like to see a high-profile, celebrity return for their money.

But there is another reason. Award ceremonies are easy and relatively cheap television. Independent production companies keen to get a primetime spot are fast realising this. Michael Hurll, the man behind next Saturday's comedy awards, runs his own production company; he came up with the idea of the awards and will be televising them for a sizeable fee.

They will be good fun, no doubt, but they will prove little. Awards, particularly in television, are two a penny. We should cut back the number of awards to a maximum of two per annum in any art form. Only then might they be taken to be acknowledging something out of the ordinary.