Two soap actors who play gay characters have been short listed for a top TV honour, it was revealed last night.

Antony Cotton, who plays Coronation Street’s Sean Tully, and James Sutton, who plays John Paul McQueen in Hollyoaks, are both up for the Most Popular Actor award at this years’ National Television Awards.

They face Doctor Who actor David Tennant, who won the award last year, and Charlie Clements, who plays Bradley Branning in EastEnders.

Coronation Street and Hollyoaks are both also nominated for the Most Popular Serial Drama Award, while BBC presenter Graham Norton is in the running for the Most Popular Entertainment Presenter.

The award winners will be chosen by viewers.

Sir Trevor McDonald, the ceremony’s host, said: “It has been a controversial year for the TV industry which has rarely been out of the news, but the National TV Awards are a celebration of TV programming at its most popular.

“The variety of nominees this year shows the remarkable range and diversity of the programmes we all watch.”

The winners will be announced on 31st October.

Antony Cotton and Hollyoaks are also nominees for the annual Stonewall awards, which take place on 1st November.

Jeremy Clarkson, Top Gear presenter and journalist, is nominated for the Stonewall Bigot of the Year award after he refused to apologise after being reprimanded by BBC bosses for derogatory gay jibes on primetime TV.

Top Gear is short listed at the National Television Awards for Most Popular Factual Program.

Teen soap Hollyoaks’ gay storyline between John Paul McQueen and Craig Dean was a massive hit with viewers.

Last month Guy Barnet, who played Craig Dean, spoke about his concerns over the plotline.

In an interview with Digital Spy, Burnet said that he argued against his seemingly-heterosexual character coming out.

“The truth is that it was difficult to play,” he said.

“It was talked about for a long while. I felt uncomfortable with the idea because I didn’t think it was justifiable.

“It’s a story where we have to justify the guy’s sexual confusion.

“Realistically, I wasn’t comfortable but I did it and I’ve learned an incredible amount from it.”

Hollyoaks, which has been on air since 1995, had been criticised for its lack of gay characters.

Choosing to portray a coming out featuring one of its most popular male leads was seen as a positive change of direction.

In July this year, Russell T Davies, the writer of Queer As Folk and [i]Doctor Who,[/i> said that the representation of gay people on television is the best it has ever been.

He cited the arrival of Sean Tully to ITV soap Coronation Street as evidence that times have changed.

Mr Davies, who included a bisexual character in Doctor Who, also praised teen soap Hollyoaks for its handing of the John Paul storyline.

Referring to the first gay kiss on a soap, on Eastenders in 1987, he told Radio Times:

“The thing about Eastenders’ Colin and Barry kissing was how exciting it was.

“Back then, EastEnders was huge, and to have two men showing affection was wonderful.

“Its legacy can be seen in Hollyoaks now. It’s telling the story of John-Paul and his realisation that he’s gay, and it’s doing it so beautifully.

“It’s really powerful and sending a message to teenagers that it’s okay to be gay. That’s brilliant.”

Mr Davies, who worked on another children’s programme, Children’s Ward, early in his career, said that now gay and lesbian characters are presented at complex people, rather than figures of ridicule.

Mr Russell also praised the character of Sean Tully on Coronation Street.

Before taking on the role of Tully, Antony Cotton,shot to fame as Alexander in Queer As Folk.

Coronation Street had a gay voice by dint of its female characters. You could luxuriate in, say, Bet Lynch’s loneliness. It wasn’t screaming out for a gay character, but Sean Tully’s a perfect fit. Putting him in the Rovers and the factory was genius.”

Freema Agyeman, the once unknown actress who became Doctor Who’s first black sidekick has also been short listed for an award, in the Most Popular Actress category.

Her nomination means Doctor Who is on course again for a hat-trick of wins for the third year running.

In the Most Popular Drama category, Doctor Who has been shortlisted to win for the third time. Its fellow nominees are the BBC1 series Life On Mars, ITV’s The Bill, and Channel 4′s comedy-drama Shameless.

To vote in the awards, log on to www.nationaltvawards.com or phone 09018 192021 (25p per minute) before October 31, the day of the ceremony.