Queen Elizabeth II
Queen Elizabeth II has been a familiar presence on television screens the world over. The UK's longest-serving monarch, who died today, September 8, 2022, at the age of ninety-six, made hundreds of TV appearances over the course of her seventy-year reign — including her annual Christmas speech to the British Empire.
In 2016, she made her mark on American television when the Emmy Award-winning Netflix series The Crown premiered. The dramatic series aims to encompass her reign from young adulthood — when she was crowned at the age of twenty-five — to the present. As the character has aged, she has been portrayed by actresses Claire Foy, then by Olivia Colman — both of whom won Emmys for their work — and next by Imelda Staunton.
While it is unknown whether the royal family watches The Crown (though it is rumored they do), what is known is that the Queen made her love and appreciation of the arts official by bestowing appointments to the Order of the British Empire — including awards given to actors Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, Daniel Day-Lewis and Ian McKellen, to name but a few.
Queen Elizabeth II was also a financial supporter of the arts, and gifted the royalties from the famed British television documentary Royal Family — which aired on BBC 1 and ITV in June of 1969 — to the Society of Film and Television Arts (SFTA) — a forerunner of the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA). The gift enabled the organization to move its offices to the former home of the Royal Society of Painters in Watercolours — a facility that was renovated to include two modern screening theaters, a members' lounge and bar, a dining space and a conference suite.
The hope for the relationship between BAFTA and the Television Academy, as expressed in emmy magazine contributor Noble Wilson's 1992 article, was to "establish a facility for visiting members, so that [Television Academy] members visiting London and BAFTA members traveling to Los Angeles could find a home away from home."
A special relationship indeed.
Just 110 years ago, the Royal Institute of Painters in Watercolours opened its prestigious galleries on London's Piccadilly. Today the "pictures" there are on film or tape, and the galleries have become the home of the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA). Officially opened by Queen Elizabeth II in 1976, the facility now has two modern screening theaters, a members' lounge and bar, as well as a very handsome dining and conference suite.
BAFTA is the amalgam of the former British Film Academy and the Guild of Television Producers and Directors. Its 2,200 members work in both the film and television industries, 400 of them as expatriate members in Los Angeles. While the interests of TV and film members have not always coincided, separate academies would find it very difficult to achieve the necessary support and funding; it is also quite evident that the two media are coming ever closer together, both in production and in the arrangements for distribution. Special effects, created electronically on videotape and then transferred to film, are being used by more and more filmmakers; while television programs are made on film, often for showing in movie theaters before airing on TV.
The academy has a royal president, Princess Anne, who takes much interest in its affairs. The vice-president is the celebrated producer-director Sir Richard Attenborough. There's a council and a board of management, both working under the overall chairmanship of Richard Price, of one of the U.K.'s leading independent production and distribution houses and an old friend of the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences (ATAS) [now known as the Television Academy]. Day-to-day administration is in the hands of Tony Byrne, with his staff of forty.
What does BAFTA do? Well, its prime purpose, like that of ATAS, is the promotion of excellence, and many of its strategies in pursuit of that purpose are very similar to those of its American cousin: the giving of awards, training, mounting of special events and tributes, and screenings of its members' work. Indeed the frequent showing of new feature films is one of the most popular activities.
The televised awards, of course, give BAFTA its highest public profile. The telecast of the production and performance awards from London's Grosvenor House Hotel usually achieves an audience of more than 10 million (about a 40 rating) and has on occasion pulled in 13 million. BBC Television and one of the ITV companies, London Weekend (LWT), alternate in providing the coverage.
This year it was the turn of LWT, with the well-known talk-show host Michael Aspel, as master of ceremonies. Among the distinguished guests was ATAS executive director James L. Loper, who regularly takes advantage of this event to talk with some of the leading figures in British television. During the evening the PBS documentary series The Civil War, made by Ken Burns's Florentine Films, was named best foreign program. Highlights also included the presentation of special awards to Audrey Hepburn and Sir John Gielgud.
A separate craft awards ceremony is usually held a week before the production awards in a venue outside London. This year it took place in Bristol, and the awards were given out in the presence of Prince Edward.
The system of nomination and voting for the production and performance awards is lengthy but comprehensive: All full members are invited to nominate programs screened during the preceding twelve months; the ten programs achieving the highest number of nominations, together with another five put forward by the program awards committee, are sent back to the members; members then choose four programs out of the fifteen; finally peer group juries vote for the winners from the four highest- scoring nominations.
The voting procedure for the craft awards is broadly similar.
Inevitably there have been criticisms of the system over the years, but so far no one has come up with anything that is thought to be fairer or more democratic. Edward Mirzoeff, BAFTA's vice-chairman of television, likes to think that there could be a way of making absolutely sure that excellent programs that just aren't seen by enough members, or that in the plethora of a year's programming just get forgotten, can find their way into the final fifteen. Not an easy problem and one that must be only too familiar to award givers the world over.
In collaboration with Shell U.K., BAFTA has mounted a number of varied events and initiatives. There have been several tribute awards to famous British artists such as Julie Andrews, Sean Connery, and Michael Caine; it has produced study guides to promote the use of film in schools and an information packet on careers in film and television; it has supported Screenwriters' Studio, the U.K.'s only master class for film and TV scriptwriting; it has sponsored a Fulbright fellowship in film and television studies and organized a nationwide rally of famous classic cars in aid of a charity; together with Central Television and the British Council it organized a festival of British film and television in Kiev, Ukraine, in 1990; and last year, at the invitation of the Library of Congress, BAFTA, and Central Television, with the help of many other British companies, mounted a similar festival in Washington, D.C., during the state visit of Queen Elizabeth II. And that's just some of a long list of activities.
By now you will be wondering where the money comes from. There are a number of sources of funding. Over the last three years Shell U.K. has provided $5.25 million to help fund the special events of the kind mentioned above. It's not known why the company decided not to maintain its support, or if it is, nobody's telling. The official line is that the deal was for a maximum of three years. Others have suggested that a change of chairman at Shell or pressure from the parent company, Royal Dutch Shell in the Netherlands, may have been the reason. However BAFTA's plans for special events in the coming year or two are not going to be spoiled; new corporate backing from a number of sources has been found, and the mood is one of optimism.
Individual full membership costs $166 a year; corporate membership runs $8,750, or $17,500 if you are a "foundation member." Corporate members can entertain at BAFTA events, get reduced rates for using facilities at the BAFTA center, and thus have access to television and film personalities at the highest executive level. In February a British car manufacturer invited its clients to a champagne supper in the center, followed by the screening of a new film in the 200-seat theater.
What of the future? Chairman Richard Price says he is keen to see the promotion of excellence extended to include more categories of programming. At the moment the awards for production and performance are in the fields of drama, factual programs, light entertainment, comedy, news and remote broadcasts, music, and children's and arts programs. Price hopes that recognition can be given to such programs as talk shows, sports, and daytime programming. He also feels that the skills and talents of those who make commercials should not be ignored. It's not immediately clear how these ideas can be realized, but they will certainly have the backing of many people in the industry.
Price has already introduced a new source of funds: a lifetime member ship in BAFTA for a single payment of $1,925. At a stroke that brought in a bonus of $115,000!
And BAFTA recently introduced sep arate awards for programs made for Scottish and Welsh audiences. This year the ceremonies were held in Glasgow, Scotland, and Cardiff, Wales, and according to Price, who attended both events, many of the programs (which are normally not seen outside the respective national borders) were of high quality.
There's no doubt that the relationship between BAFTA and ATAS is much appreciated: Both Richard Price and director Tony Byrne feel there is real benefit to be had in the mutual exchange of experience and in personal contact. On a practical level it's hoped to establish a facility for visiting members, so that ATAS members visiting London and BAFTA members traveling to Los Angeles could find a home away from home.
I recently asked Tony Byrne what gave him the most job satisfaction over the last year. He said that despite months of hard-hitting recession, BAFTA has been able to stay on course and even pick up a little speed. An achievement indeed.
This article originally appeared in the May/June 1992 issue of emmy magazine under the title, "Europe Report: A British Salute to Excellence."