Entertainment

Philip was ‘extraordinary part' of Bafta history, says chief executive

Amanda Berry spoke ahead of Sunday night's ceremony.

The chief executive of Bafta has paid tribute to the Duke of Edinburgh as an “extraordinary part” of the academy’s history.

Philip, who died aged 99 on Friday, became Bafta’s first president in 1959, one year after the British Film Academy and the Guild of Television Producers and Directors merged to create the Society of Film and Television Arts (SFTA), a forerunner of Bafta.

Speaking ahead of Sunday’s virtual ceremony broadcast from the Royal Albert Hall, Amanda Berry praised the duke for his role in creating the body as it is today.

She told the PA news agency: “Prince Philip was an extraordinary part of Bafta’s history. He is the reason we are actually Bafta because he bought together the television guild and the society of film, which created this organisation recognising both film and television at a time when they were actually quite separate industries.

“So he was really forward thinking and in the mid-1970s, when we officially became Bafta and we changed our name, the royal family donated some money from a documentary that was made about them to help us open our HQ in Piccadilly.

“And obviously the Duke of Cambridge, Prince William, is our president today, so we have a long history with the royal family.”

Philip was present at the official opening of the London headquarters after he and the Queen gave their share of the profits from the 1969 documentary Royal Family to the SFTA.

The Duke of Cambridge was to deliver a speech via video celebrating the resilience of the film industry over the past year, but pulled out following the death of his grandfather.

BAFTA Film Awards 2021
Priyanka Chopra Jonas and her husband Nick Jonas arrive for the Bafta film awards (Ian West/PA)

Berry also addressed the controversy over a lack of diversity among nominees in recent years, but noted that this year’s nominations marked an improvement.

She said: “We did a big awards review last year following the nominations. Obviously, fantastic nominations last year but they were not as diverse as we wanted it to be.

“So we were determined to make change and what we have done is we have levelled the playing field.

“We have made sure that more films are watched, that more performances and the brilliant talent behind films can be seen and can be judged.

“We are not there yet, this is definitely still a work in progress, but I am really pleased with how far we have come.”

BAFTA Film Awards 2021
Richard E Grant (Ian West/PA)

Richard E Grant, one of the guest presenters, paid tribute to the Duke of Edinburgh as “eagle-eyed, very interested and very direct”.

Asked whether he thought the duke would have been pleased the Baftas were going ahead despite the challenges of the pandemic, the actor said: “Never give up, that seemed to be his motto, so same for us.”

Priyanka Chopra Jonas, who also features among the presenters, said attending the event made her hopeful for the future.

She told PA: “I think everyone has dealt with this very tricky year. Coming out here, celebrating films and entertainment, I feel like we are stepping towards normalcy a little bit.

“It’s OK, I am just happy to see all of you guys and happy to be socially distant, but just to be out here and do what we normally do is making me feel a little hopeful that we are nearer to an end.”

The film star, who arrived with her husband Nick Jonas, also revealed one area where lockdown and a lack of red carpet events had taken its toll: “I am not comfortable in my heels, I will be very honest.”

BAFTA Film Awards 2021
David Oyelowo (Ian West/PA)

David Oyelowo said the improvement in diversity among the nominations “can’t be the end”.

He added: “I really applaud Bafta for the changes that have been brought into place that have directly resulted in this wonderful group of nominees and nominations.

“But it is a problem that exists throughout the British film industry and television industry and we just can’t afford to get complacent.

“Our job is to reflect the totality of humanity and that means that we have to reflect the world as it actual is.

“I believe that is what we are doing today but it hasn’t been the case for decades and that is indicative of systemic problems that remain and must continue to get fixed.”

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