Do Men Have To Be Violent?
At the height of the Gulf War, Oliver Reed appeared on an edition discussing militarism, masculine stereotypes and violence to women (Reed had won a libel case that week against a newspaper claiming he beat his wife). Reed drank alcohol during the broadcast; he referred to another member of the panel, who had a moustache, as 'tache' and used offensive language. After one hour Reed returned from the toilet and, getting more to drink, rolled on top of the noted feminist author Kate Millett, who then complained (though she later asked for a tape of the show to entertain her friends).
Another guest on the programme, author Neil Lyndon, wrote an article in The Independent about the experience. The producer wrote later to the British television trade magazine Broadcast:
"The team responsible for After Dark were naturally pleased that Broadcast chose our programme as one of the most significant in Channel 4's history in your anniversary issue. Since you referred to the edition in which the late Oliver Reed took part, this seems a good time to correct some of the myths which have surrounded the programme since it was transmitted on 26 January 1991.
"Although Reed was not the only disruptive guest in the history of After Dark, what put this particular show into the headlines was not so much Reed's behaviour as C4's. It took the show off the air for 20 minutes, filling the space with an old documentary about coal mining. When our programme returned, Reed was still on set and still disruptive.
"That night Reed's behaviour was certainly causing concern. But neither the production team nor host Helena Kennedy felt the situation was out of control. Kennedy told us the guests could themselves decide whether and when to ask Reed to leave the set.
"That night, while the then commissioning editor of After Dark, Michael Atwell, was watching the show, he was phoned by someone representing himself as the 'duty officer' of the Independent Broadcasting Authority. This individual said an angry Michael Grade, then Chief Executive of C4, had demanded the programme be stopped. We sought to reassure Atwell, explaining that After Dark often received hoax calls and urged him to check further with his C4 superiors. We could not help reflecting that if Grade were truly upset it would have been more sensible for him to call either the studio or C4, rather than the regulator. However Michael Atwell, without further consultation, decided to stop transmission. We let the guests continue their discussions, though live broadcasting was obviously no longer possible.
"But why did live transmission then resume after 20 minutes? Because further enquries by Atwell revealed that Grade was away on his boat. In fact it was Liz Forgan, awoken at home, who said the programme should be put back on air. The curious event of the disappearance of a live programme provided Fleet Street with some funny stories, not all of them true (but many are still recycled). We at Open Media were asked by C4 to issue a joint statement which would have absolved C4 from responsibility. This we refused to do. Six days later Atwell quietly admitted on C4's Right to Reply that After Dark was not implicated in the screw-up.
"Viewers with long memories may recall that Reed was asked to leave by the other guests some while after the show resumed transmission. Atwell kept his job at C4 and axed the show at the end of that run."
In his column in the Daily Mirror, Victor Lewis-Smith boasted of his hoax call: "The show was taken off air not by C4, but by... little-old-wine-drinking-me, sitting at home, far from the TV studio.... Once connected, I shouted: 'Michael Grade is furious about this. Take the bloody programme off... now!
Channel 4's Deputy Programme Director, John Willis, wrote an internal memo: "Oliver Reed got drunk and a hoaxer caused the programme briefly to be taken off air. I view the latter with a great deal more seriousness than the former... 1,000 calls from an audience estimated at just 300,000. Remarkable."