The awards were first held in 1977 and originated as an annual event in 1982 under the auspices of the British record industry's trade association, the BPI. In 1989, they were renamed The BRIT Awards. MasterCard has been the long-term sponsor of the event. The highest profile music awards ceremony in the UK, The BRIT Awards have featured some of the most notable events in British popular culture, such as the final public appearance of Freddie Mercury, the Jarvis Cocker protest against Michael Jackson, and the Union Jack dress worn by Geri Halliwell of the Spice Girls.
The BRIT Awards were broadcast live until 1989, when Samantha Fox and Mick Fleetwood hosted a widely criticised show in which little went as rehearsed. From 1990 to 2006, the event was recorded and broadcast the following night. From 2007, The BRIT Awards reverted to a live broadcast on British television, on 14 February on ITV. That year, comedian Russell Brand was the host and three awards were dropped from the ceremony: Best British Rock Act, Best British Urban Act and Best Pop Act. For the last time, on 16 February 2010, the venue for The BRITs was the Earls Court Exhibition Centre in London. The BRIT Awards were held at The O2 Arena in London for the first time in 2011.
The BRIT Award statuette given to the winners features Britannia, the female personification of Britain. Since 2011, the statuette has been regularly redesigned by some of the best known British designers, stylists and artists, including Vivienne Westwood, Damien Hirst, Tracey Emin, Peter Blake, Zaha Hadid and Anish Kapoor.
The first awards ceremony was in 1977, as "The BRITish Record Industry BRITannia Awards", to mark the Queen's Silver Jubilee and was televised by Thames Television. There have been 37 editions to date.
The 1988 BPI Awards was the first of the ceremonies to be broadcast on live television. The BBC had previously broadcast the ceremony from 1985, with the shows from 1982 to 1984 not broadcast on television. The BBC continued to broadcast the renamed BRIT Awards, live in 1989 and pre-recorded from 1990 to 1992. ITV have broadcast the awards since 1993, pre-recorded until 2006 and live from 2007 onwards. BBC Radio 1 has provided backstage radio coverage since 2008.
Since 2014, ITV have aired a launch show in January (The BRITs Are Coming) which reveals some of the artists who have been nominated at the upcoming ceremony. The first host was Nick Grimshaw, followed by Reggie Yates (2015) and Laura Whitmore in 2016. Emma Willis has hosted the show since 2017, which was broadcast live for the first time in 2018.
In 1987 the BPI Awards ceremony was held in the Great Room at the Grosvenor House Hotel. At the time there was a BBC electricians' strike in effect, and the organisers decided to use a non-TV events production company, called Upfront, to manage the show. Despite the show being picketed, the event was transmitted as intended. For a while, the outdoor broadcast scanner was rocked on its wheels by the protesters and they managed to shut off the power to one of the big GE video screen projectors. Upfront was then asked to organise the following year and persuaded the BPI to move the event to a larger venue, starting the trend that continues to this day, albeit at The O2, and with a different production company (MJK Productions).