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  • Eddie Hewitt

The South Bank Show Awards

Updated: Aug 12, 2021

25th Anniversary Event.

In many ways Connected Cultures is inspired by The South Bank Show. Melvyn Bragg is the ultimate role model as a curator of the Arts. A true champion of Culture. All forms of cultural artistic genres. His yearning for knowledge is boundless, and his passion for creative expression is gargantuan.

In a much more humble way I have tried to create my own portal for Culture and the Arts. Less extensive and far from comprehensive. I tend to stick to my preferred art forms; theatre, literature, fine art. But Melvyn does it all. And he makes it clear that Art is for everyone. Well that’s where CC comes in again. CC has a virtual annual awards ceremony, based loosely on the Sky Arts South Bank Awards format. Though I dare say I’ll never make a 25th anniversary event. And tonight, Melvyn was just...Wow!

Lord of the Arts (photo: Directors Cut Productions)

Where to start? There were so many sensational figures on stage and on film. Plenty of familiar faces around the dinner tables too. As for the awards, this might just be the first time I have picked a winner! Just one mind. Maggie O’Farrell completely deserved the award for literature for Hamnet. Yes, yes and yes again! A sad book. Tragic even. And a shame Maggie was not there to collect the award in person, having been pinged the day before. This was a true celebration of literary brilliance. Both Maggie’s and Will’s.

Next, Shakespeare triumphed again. Sope Dirisu, a superb Coriolanus in the 2017 RSC production, came up on stage to present an award to another dramatic hero, Paapa Essiedu, my favourite Hamlet of all time in the RSC touring production at the Hackney Empire in 2018. Paapa rocked up on stage to collect the award for best TV drama for I May Destroy You by Michaela Cole.

Paapa Essiedu (L) and Sope Dirisu (R) (photo: Zimbio)

Now, a musical performance. Don’t cry for me Argentina, sung by the wonderful Danielle de Niese. A superb rendition, truly befitting the occasion. But I won't be told. I did cry for Sergio Agüero when he played his last match at the Etihad.

Danielle De Niese (photo: Zimbio)

And then, a series of tributes to Melvyn and the South Bank Show, via a mixture of archive recordings and new messages. Sir Lenny Henry, comedian turned Shakespearean and all round good bloke, was just the man for the occasion. Followed by a host of lifetime award winners flashing up on screen. Sir Ian McKellen, Benedict Cumberbatch, Dame Judi Dench and Julie Walters, to name a few. Footage of Billy Connolly popped up too, with a grin and a chuckle. And there was an extra special message of appreciation from Tamara Rojo, thanking Melvyn for his encouragement and for sharing his knowledge of the arts. Everyone delights in paying homage to this amazing man.

Next we enjoyed a film of Melvyn visiting Tom Dixon in his workshop. Each year the award trophy is fashioned in a different shape. For this 25th year, Dixon designed a silver trophy comprising two magnetic halves in the form of champagne flutes.

And now another song. This time by Celeste. Isn’t it strange. Strangers to friends. Friends into lovers. Lovers to strangers again. Julian Lloyd Webber emerged with his cello via the archives with a burst of Paganini. Yes, those familiar variations! Then some more historic footage. First a few precious moments commemorating Amy Winehouse. Then a glimpse of Stormzy on film. Back live and a cut away to Jacqueline Wilson in the audience. Then a Tom Hiddleston cameo. On stage again, Sonia Friedman cried out passionately for government support for commercial theatre. And then, Benjamin Zephaniah serenaded the host. Rapping – after a fashion – in praise of Melvyn’s inclusive approach to the creative world, bestriding the whole spectrum of the Arts. The biggest of hugs followed the end of this glowing tribute.

Celeste (photo: Zimbio)

All too soon, we came to the lifetime achievement award. This year it was presented to a man who was referred to as many different people. An artist gifted in a variety of artistic genres. Not disciplines – that would just be so ironic. A multi-faceted talent. A man of warmth, vision, joie de vivre. One who so often surprises us and always tries to bring us together. All hail the extraordinary Grayson Perry. And yet, in a typically uplifting speech, Grayson made it seem as if the award was for everyone in the room and for artists / creatives everywhere, not for himself. We were celebrating him celebrating us. And it was all rather marvellous.

Grayson Perry: simultaneously a self-confessed late developer and a lifetime achiever

(photo: Zimbio)

We return not to the Greeks for once, but to Melvyn Bragg. I love him dearly and I had tears in my eyes. Tears of joy. He has given so much to all of us. Thank you, Sir. I should say Lord but it seems a tad stuffy. And to think he is ever determined, like Grayson, to pay tribute to others. Melvyn generously served as host to a live and virtual dramatis personae combining the talents from a twenty five year period.

Now, I sense I’ve written this review in the style of Eric Morecambe performing for Andre Preview. I’ve included all the right celebrities, but not necessarily in the right order. Inevitable, perhaps. This event was so much fun, so dazzling. I must have made a few errors in the sequence. The show rolled along in befuddling, non-linear fashion. A splendid way to be entertained.

A final moment of genius. Possibly inadvertent, but we’ll never know. Jimmy McGovern, TV dramatist, brought the house down when presenting the award for Best Breakthrough artist to Samuel Bailey. Reading from his notes and reflecting on Samuel’s career to date, Jimmy told us that this award proves to us all that the young playwright “still has a long way to go”. Oops. A quick correction: “has come a long way”. Hahaha!

© Eddie Hewitt 2021

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