The British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) has honoured award-winning and iconic comedian, actor, artist, writer, musician and presenter, Sir Billy Connolly, with the prestigious BAFTA Fellowship at this year’s Virgin Media BAFTA TV Awards which took place in May. The Fellowship is the highest accolade bestowed by BAFTA in recognition of an individual’s outstanding and exceptional contribution to film, television or games across their career. Fellows previously honoured for their work in television include Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders, Jon Snow, Sir Bruce Forsyth, Joanna Lumley, Melvyn Bragg, Michael Palin, Sir Trevor MacDonald, Sir David Attenborough, Dame Julie Walters, Ray Galton, Alan Simpson, Katie Adie and Joan Bakewell.
Sir Billy Connolly’s first BAFTA recognition was in 1995 when he won the BAFTA Scotland Entertainment category for Billy Connolly’s World Tour of Scotland. He has since received five BAFTA nominations, and has been presented with a BAFTA Special Award in 2002 and the BAFTA Scotland Outstanding Contribution to Television and Film in 2012. Sir Billy Connolly said: “I am deeply honoured. Fifty films and… I can’t remember how many TV shows, as well as my stage comedy, added up to something that’s a joy to look back on. A lovely thing. I have no regrets at all. I had no idea the Fellowship existed, but I’m told it’s a big deal! (laughs). It’s lovely to be recognised and to become a jolly good fellow.”
Emma Baehr, Executive Director of Awards and Content, said: “We’re honoured to be awarding Sir Billy Connolly with the 2022 BAFTA Fellowship Award. He has made a remarkable contribution to our industry from his first appearance on Parkinson in 1975, through to becoming a national treasure on stage and screen, adored by fans around the world. BAFTA is looking forward to celebrating this award with Sir Billy in due course and thanking him again for his phenomenal career in television.”
Sir Billy Connolly left school at 15 to become a welder at the shipyard in River Clyde in Glasgow. Honing his love for performance and music on the side, the young Billy soon decided to try his hand as a musician and a folk duo with Gerry Rafferty called The Humblebums. But it was his ability to spin stories, tell jokes and hold an audience in the palm of his hand that truly set him apart as he forged a hugely successful career on television, as well as in film and on stage. As a young comedian, Connolly broke all the rules. He was fearless and outspoken – willing to call out hypocrisy wherever he saw it. However, his stand-up was full of warmth, humility and silliness too. His startling, hairy ‘glam-rock’ stage appearance – wearing leotards, scissor suits and banana boots – only added to his appeal.
It was an appearance on Michael Parkinson’s chat show in 1975 – and one outrageous story in particular – that helped catapult Billy from cult hero to national star. TV shows, documentaries, international fame and award-winning Hollywood movies then followed, and his standout 1985 TV special An Audience With Billy Connolly, reducing the audience to tears with his iconic incontinence trousers routine. Billy’s pitch-perfect stand-up comedy kept coming too – for over 50 years, in fact – until a double diagnosis of cancer and Parkinson’s Disease has brought his remarkable live performances to an end. Since then he continues to make TV shows, creating extraordinary drawings and writing. Connolly currently resides in the USA and is unable to attend the ceremony on 8 May to receive his award in person. A recorded acceptance message is to be played during the ceremony.
Photo: BAFTA/Sarah Dunn.