Theatre award judges quit over Helen Mirren 'prize fix'

Critic and awards judge Charles Spencer says his 'jaw dropped' when Mirren was awarded the prize

LAST UPDATED AT 11:53 ON Tue 17 Dec 2013

THREE judges have resigned from the Evening Standard Theatre awards panel amid claims that this year's best actress prize was a "fix". 

The award went to Helen Mirren for her role as the Queen in The Audience but it has since emerged that she initially tied with another short-listed actress.

Henry Hitchings, an Evening Standard critic who was on the seven-strong panel, went on to change his vote, putting Mirren ahead. But apart from the paper's editor and awards judge Sarah Sands, the rest of the panel were not informed.

It is not known which of the other shortlisted actresses – Linda Bassett, Lesley Manville, Billie Piper or Kristin Scott Thomas – had tied with Mirren at the top.

Sands says the move was "an absolutely legitimate choice" and that Hitchings only changed his original vote – from Rosalie Craig to Mirren – because Craig was subsequently moved into the best musical performance category. "It would be absolutely wrong to suggest that there was anything untoward about the process," she added.

But three of the judges – theatre critics Charles Spencer, Georgina Brown and Susannah Clapp – will not return for next year's 60th anniversary. One of them said that "one of the awards seemed like a fix".

Spencer, writing in the Daily Telegraph, says his "jaw dropped" when Mirren was awarded the prize. He explains that his concerns began last year when the judging process was changed. Previously judges discussed their top choices and, in the case of a tie, would hold open discussions until a consensus was reached. This year secret ballots were taken.

Spencer said that his impression from the other judges was that the strongest support for best actress was for Bassett or Manville. "The suspicion must be that Mirren, a major star, was felt by the Standard to be a sexier winner with a greater appeal to the paper's readership than the other leading contenders," he said.

The Evening Standard has said that the judges' voting system will be open rather than secret next year. · 

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