BAFTA Brings Back Stephen Fry as Awards Host Despite ‘Bag Lady’ Controversy

Ceremony to be held at London’s Royal Albert Hall

BAFTA Brings Back Stephen Fry as
Jonathan Hordle/REX/Shutterstock

Actor, comedian and author Stephen Fry is to return as the host of BAFTA’s film awards ceremony in February, despite his controversial joke at this year’s awards that an Oscar-winning costume designer looked like a “bag lady.”

As Jenny Beavan, who had just picked up a BAFTA for her costumes in “Mad Max: Fury Road,” left the stage, Fry said: “Only one of the great cinematic costume designers would come to an awards ceremony dressed as a bag lady.” This provoked a torrent of abuse aimed at Fry on Twitter, including accusations of misogyny, resulting in him deleting his Twitter account. Beavan, who was given an Academy Award in 1985 for “A Room with a View” and also won an Oscar for “Mad Max: Fury Road,” later said she and Fry were friends and she was not upset by the joke.

It now looks like Fry, who will be returning to host the ceremony for a 12th time as BAFTA celebrates its 70th anniversary, has been forgiven by the organizers for the kerfuffle.

Clare Brown, director of production at BAFTA, told Variety that Fry wouldn’t be put on a short leash at the event: “With Stephen Fry and hosts of that caliber with that sense of humor you have to let them have their rein a little bit,” she said. “We will have a script, quite obviously, and we have to run to time… It was a bit of a storm in a tea-cup. We felt that it was blown out of proportion, and we are actually looking forward very much to working with him again.”

BAFTA also announced that the awards, which will be on Feb. 12, are to be held at London’s Royal Albert Hall, instead of the Royal Opera House, where they have been held in recent years. Emma Baehr, director of awards and membership, explained that the Royal Opera House was unavailable in February as it is being refurbished. “The Royal Albert Hall is a perfect fit: an iconic, prestigious building with a global reputation and profile,” she said.

It is not the first time the venue has hosted a BAFTA awards event. When the film and TV awards were part of the same ceremony, the event was staged at the Albert Hall from 1971-76. It was used again, this time for the British Academy Advertising Awards, 25 years ago.

The after-party will be held at the Grosvenor House Hotel, as in previous years.

Brown said that she has been keen to work at the Albert Hall for a long time, but it had been unavailable due to the Cirque du Soleil’s residency there.

This has been happily resolved with news that the Cirque du Soleil troupe would perform at next year’s awards show, delivering “a celebration of Britain’s best film talents,” Daniel Lamarre, the troupe’s president and CEO, said in a statement. “As creators, we are constantly inspired by various artists and art forms, and the world of film is a particularly great muse.”

Brown said that working with Cirque du Soleil at the Albert Hall “seemed like a great opportunity to do something different,” although she admitted that adapting the awards show to the circular venue would present “huge challenges.” The venue has a thrust stage jutting into the arena — with attendees seated on three sides — rather than the proscenium arch at the Opera House, and this will give Fry a 200-degree view of the audience. “It will be different for him because he’ll be talking almost in the round,” Brown said. “But it’s great because it gives us lots of creative freedom – the freedom to shoot it differently… [and create] a different look.”

As in previous years, the awards will be televised, with BAFTA Productions and Whizz Kid Entertainment producing a highlights show for BBC One, the U.K. public broadcaster’s main channel.