Page last updated at 23:37 GMT, Sunday, 26 April 2009 00:37 UK

A night of surprises at TV gala

By Michael Osborn
Entertainment reporter, BBC News

Bafta winners
This year's winners - including French and Saunders - posed for a Bafta portrait

On a sun-drenched red carpet at the Bafta TV awards, the buzz was all about a soap icon.

As the cream of the small screen world inched their way into London's Royal Festival Hall, many of them had their fingers crossed for veteran EastEnder and best actress nominee, June Brown.

"I'm rooting for June, she's so special," said co-star Patsy Palmer, and even spoke of how the 82-year-old would bask in Bafta-winning glory back on set.

"We'll have a cup of tea and all sit round and listen to stories about the Baftas," added the flame-haired actress, also predicting her acceptance speech would be "long, with a fag burning".

'Ring from Gollum'

Even the opposition were bigging up Brown's performance as Dot Branning, with Coronation Street star Katherine Kelly saying: "She was wonderful. It would be great if she got it."

Not even a glowing tribute from Barbara Windsor, who accompanied Brown on her big night, could turn the tide - best actress went instead to Anna Maxwell Martin for her role as a mental health patient in Channel 4's Poppy Shakespeare. But she was not there to bask in her triumph.

It was a glamorous ceremony with a number of unexpected results, including a first Bafta win for police drama The Bill over EastEnders.

June Brown
It was not to be actress June Brown's night

The makers and cast confessed to being "a bit dazed", while actor Chris Simmons had finished the London Marathon just hours earlier.

Teen drama Skins overcame popular heavyweights including Coronation Street and The Apprentice to walk away with the audience award, a testament to the show's dedicated fanbase.

Another first was for Stephen Dillane, who claimed best actor for his role in The Shooting of Thomas Hurndall.

"I'm going to give this to my agent who has been waiting years for me to get one of these," said the actor, clasping his golden mask.

But one pair of trophies which just needed to be collected were for comic duo Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders, who were rewarded with a warm and sustained standing ovation in tribute to their enduring career.

Cheryl tribute

Backstage, the comedians added to their amusing acceptance speech.

"I thought we were going to get a ring from Gollum. I thought it was the Fellowship of the Ring. That's why I'm here," quipped French.

And when an announcement for guests to take their place for the post-ceremony meal interrupted, French bolted for the door, exclaiming: "That's all we've come for!"

Asked about their failure to entice Madonna onto one of their shows, Saunders joked: "Bitch! We wouldn't have her now. Her loss."

Speaking of their decades of success, French added: "Never had a plan, still don't have a plan. "We've spent a lot of time pretending to be kids, and that's why we're stopping now, because we can't get away with that any more.

Best actor Stephen Dillane
I'm going to give this to my agent
Best actor Stephen Dillane's Bafta dedication

"The sketch show format has come to an end, but we will work together," said French, adding that they are still waiting for the next female double act to emerge.

While an iconic partnership was rewarded, other familiar TV fixtures finally struck gold.

Peep Show star David Mitchell won an individual award for his role in the sitcom, but said it was "unfair" that his co-star Robert Webb had been left out.

Channel 4 stablemate The IT Crowd finally won after two unsuccessful nominations, and its team professed to being "really chuffed", while The X Factor landed a third best entertainment series award.

Presenter Dermot O'Leary paid tribute to the contribution of judge Cheryl Cole to their latest gong, saying: "She's injected a new lease of life into it. She's so, so smart."

Harry Hill, winning another Bafta for his TV Burp series, said a fight was the only way to determine some award winners - a reference to a weekly theme on his popular show.

But a small screen legend who added an astonishing eighth Bafta to his haul on the night was Sir David Attenborough for Life In Cold Blood - and is clearly hoping there may be more to follow.

When asked if he planned to retire, the 82-year-old said: "No! Certainly not. I'm going off to the Antarctic next."

But next stop for the stars on TV's night of the year was a fancy dinner - whether winner or loser.

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