Notorious late night chat show After Dark, on which Oliver Reed once drunkenly ran amok and tried to kiss a leading feminist writer, is being resurrected by BBC4.

The decision will delight critics who thought Channel 4's decision to axe the show was one of the most lamentable in the station's history.

At its peak the show attracted more than 7 million viewers who tuned in between 1987 and 1991 to what would now be the described as "car crash TV". Audiences watched as celebrities, politicians, and intellectuals clashed about issues of the day over several glasses of wine and some light moderation from the chair.

Roly Keating, the BBC4 controller, believes the unique format can still attract the late night chattering classes desperate for interesting debate that combines arts with politics and science.

Over 100 public figures, from an astronaut to a zoologist, as well as various MPs, publicly campaigned to keep After Dark going when it was axed.

What made the show so attractive was its unique format - it did not have a celebrity host, it was broadcast live without a studio audience and had no end time, going on for as long as the discussion lasted - which was often until 3am.

That made for some explosive and memorable clashes, including one encounter involving Oliver Reed which led to the channel being taken off air and being replaced by a 1950s documentary about the coal industry.

It quickly transpired that the call to the station demanding it be pulled was a hoax - the Evening Standard's TV critic Victor Lewis-Smith has long been thought to be the culprit.

Other unlikely After Dark pairings included then shadow foreign secretary Gerald Kaufman and a PLO representative, as well as the former commander of British forces in Northern Ireland swapping anecdotes with prominent Republican Bernadette Devlin.

After Dark on BBC4 will retain its original format, with six or seven guests and a host sitting on sofas around a central table, in a studio with subdued lighting.

The show will make its return on Saturday February 22, made by original series editor Sebastian Cody and his independent production company, Open Media.

Mr Cody said some of the original After Dark hosts, including Labour peer and human rights lawyer Helena Kennedy QC, would be returning, but there would also be some new presenting faces.

"Reality TV is artificial. After Dark is real in the sense that what you see is what you get, which isn't the case with something that's been edited to give the illusion of being real," he said.

"Other shows wind people up with booze beforehand, then when they're actually on the programme they give them glasses of water. We give our guests nothing until they arrive on set and then they can drink orange juice, or have a bottle of wine. And we let them go to the loo."

Mr Keating said: "After Dark is one of the great television talk formats of all time - it was careless of Channel 4 to have let it go. In many ways it anticipated the open ended character of today's reality TV, but with the added attraction of real content and genuinely interesting people.

"We expect as many surprises, unexpected encounters and unguarded comments as before," he added.


Jason Deans

The GuardianTramp

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