Olivia Colman, Sarah Lancashire, Katherine Parkinson, Julie Walters and Cilla Black were the women of the moment, awarded the coveted prize in recognition of their outstanding TV performances.
Hosted by a characteristically wry Graham Norton, the event saw the biggest names of British TV and beyond gather at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane, to pay tribute to the best in the business.
Broadchurch star Olivia Colman won her third TV Bafta in just two years, winning the award in the leading actress category.
Overwhelmed by the moment, she struggled to speak as she accepted her award. Bursting into tears she said: “Oh sorry, not cool.”
Thanking her family and co-stars she paid tribute to her husband, describing him as “just the best thing in the world.”
Colman faced competition from Kerrie Hayes for her part in The Mill, Helena Bonham Carter for Burton and Taylor and Maxine Peake for The Village.
Colman’s award lead the way for Broadchurch to clean up, winning the Best Drama series award and Best Supporting Actor for David Bradley.
Sarah Lancashire won the award for the Best Supporting actress for her role in Last Tango in Halifax while Katherine Parkinson took home the Best Actress in a Comedy for her long-running role in the Channel Four comedy series The IT Crowd starring Chris O’Dowd and Richard Ayoade.
But it was the veteran stars who received the most rousing reception.
TV veteran Cilla Black was greeted with a standing ovation as she accepted the Bafta Special Award for her services to television and entertainment over the last fifty years, from her friend and fellow Scouser Paul O’Grady.
In a heart felt speech she said: “I’ve lead a charmed life. I’ve worked with incredible people.” The presenter, who has hosted some of TV’s most popular entertainment shows including Blind Date and Surprise Surprise, dedicated her win to her viewers, who she said had made her “feel so welcome over the years.”
Multi-Bafta winning actress Julie Walters, received the night’s top honour when she was presented with the Academy Fellowship. Walters, whose career has spanned nearly four decades, regaled the audience with an anecdote before thanking her peers in the industry for all she had learned from them “about everything other than acting.”
Among the other big winners on the night were Ant and Dec who walked away with two prizes, scooping best entertainment programme for Saturday Night Takeaway and the entertainment performance Bafta.
“We’re so chuffed and this is a really nice cherry on a really big cake,” said a delighted Anthony McPartlin.
“Winning the Bafta for Saturday night with Ant and Dec … this is really great. We brought the show back after a four year break so to win a BAFTA to be even nominated is so great,” he added.
“I’m glad we came now,” joked Declan Donnelly.
The Geordie duo was up against Charlie Brooker’s 10 O’Clock Live, Sarah Millican’s The Sarah Millican Television Programme and the evening’s host Graham Norton’s Friday night chat show.
The Eastenders cast looked despondent losing the battle of the soaps to Coronation Street. The long running soap won their 10th BAFTA in the Soap & Continuing drama category and the award was collected by cast members past and present including Julie Hesmondhalgh, Samia Ghadie, David Neilson, Kate Ford and Jane Danson.
Best International Programme was presented by Jeremy Piven and went to Breaking Bad, with a bearded Aaron Paul collecting the award.
“This is such an incredible honour,” Paul said. “I’d like to congratulate the fellow nominees, I feel so blessed to be in your company.”
He thanked creator Vince Gilligan the cast and the Breaking Bad ‘family’.
While veteran broadcaster Sir David Attenborough’s Natural History Museum Alive 3D scooped the Bafta for specialist factual, ITV News at Ten’s coverage of the murder of soldier Lee Rigby earned the programme the award for news coverage.
A League of Their Own beat Norton’s chat show to the comedy and comedy entertainment programme award while Doctor Who: Day of the Doctor won the Radio Times Audience Award.
Channel Four’s The Murder Trial won Best Single Documentary, while ITV’s Long Last Family won the Best Features Award. Sean Harris won the leading actor prize, for his starring performance in Southcliffe, a drama about the aftermath of a series of shootings in a small town.
In The Flesh, a BBC Three drama, won the mini-series gong, and The Murder Trial was recognised as best single documentary.