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Prizes for peers

17 May 2013

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NEVER mind what I think - the British Academy Television Awards (BBC1, Sunday) tells us what the professionals themselves judge to be the best performances and productions by their peers over the previous 12 months. It is an illuminating and impressive line-up, indicating that television's peaks in 2012 reached the highest standard.

It was, of course, an exceptional year: Channel 4's coverage of The London 2012 Paralympics won gold in the Sport and Live Event category, but this meant that the BBC's broadcasting of the London Olympics and the Olympics Opening Ceremony (contenders in the same category) won nothing, despite their superlative quality.

Continuing the theme, the British genius for laughing at ourselves was properly lauded by the Situation Comedy prize's going to Twenty Twelve, the brilliant spoof that mocked our preparation for the Games; and the compère, Graham Norton, did not bother to hide his contempt that the Radio Times Audience Award - the only one voted for by supposedly ordinary mortals - was given to the egregious Game of Thrones instead of to The London 2012 Olympic Opening Ceremony.

Many awards played to im-memorial strengths: Simon Russell Beale as Falstaff in Henry IV; Ben Whishaw in Richard II. The prizes give an interesting commentary on our public values: the Paralympics given preference over the Olympics; Last Tango In Halifax, "a love story for the over-35s", winning the award for Drama Series; The Great British Bake-Off winning the Best Feature; the Specialist Factual award given to All in the Best Possible Taste, the cross-dressing artist Grayson Perry's series, in which he took delight in the supposed kitsch ornaments and pictures that many people love.

All this suggests a nation at ease with itself, eager to accept rather than condemn, aware that the ordinary is often very special indeed. There was not, I'm afraid, much to be seen of the Church, or religion. The Shame of the Catholic Church, an excellent documentary about the cover-up of paedophile priests in Ireland, won the Current Affairs prize, but was considered too boring to be included in the televised part of the ceremony.

The delicious Olivia Coleman, who won not one, but two, BAFTAs, spanning both drama and comedy, is for ever, as far as I'm concerned, thanks to her co- starring role in Rev, a Vicar's wife - and therefore most assuredly counts as "one of ours".

Context is all: that mantra of serious biblical scholarship, which insists that we need thoroughly to understand the background of ancient texts before we can properly understand them; that what appears simple on the printed page can be misunderstood if we read only through the distorting lens of our present-day assumptions, was applied to a less august but widely loved text in Pride and Prejudice: Having a ball (BBC2, Friday).

It celebrated the bicentenary of the novel by seeking an accurate historic reconstruction of the ball at Netherfield. What would they really have worn, eaten, and danced? Alas, all admirable purpose was undermined by the presenters' treating the whole thing as rather a romp, with no opportunity for an arch aside left unturned. The title said it all.

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