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The Independent Culture
A week after Nick Leeson began his PR campaign by employing the emollient offices of Sir David Frost, the toughest interviewer on television returned. Darcus Howe, aka The Devil's Advocate (C4), is so aggressive an inquisitor that, had he been around in 15th-century Spain,Torquemada would have handed him the keys of his favourite chamber and let the better talent get on with the job.

While Frost, O'Connor, Zig, Zag and the rest get on with the job of bolstering egos and selling other people's products, Howe is saying things to his guests like: "You're going round and round the mulberry bush, why won't you answer a simple question when I put it to you?" Watching him, Jeremy Paxman must squirm in embarrassment.

Howe's finest hour was when he pinned down Imran Khan (in the days, pre- Jemima, when Khan was a cricketer rather than a Hello! fixture) and got him to admit to tampering with his balls. And, to an extent, he was still on the same subject last night: pornography. Or rather, feminist apologists for pornography. To those of us brought up with the orthodoxy that porn exploits everyone, but in particular women, it was more than a little astonishing to discover that Howe had found himself half-a-dozen pro-porn women to berate.

In his studio was Nadine Strossen, a smooth American civil rights campaigner whose idea of civil rights was that anyone should be allowed to do whatever they choose. "You would defend Ku Klux Klan members who kill black people?" spat out Howe, contemptuously. "No," came the reply. "But we would defend the right of the Ku Klux Klan to advocate violence through their literature." "That's quite a ridiculous line to take," sneered Howe.

Then he got shirty with Candida Royalle, a former porn star beamed direct from America by satellite. Royalle, after a career as a porn performer, now produced what Howe rather cheeringly called "filthy pictures" of her own, allegedly from a feminist perspective. During her conversion to the equal rights cause, Royalle had swallowed, as it were, a dictionary of feminist-speak. Unfortunately, given her chosen profession, the intended gravitas of her conversation was punctured by endless snigger- inducing double entendres.

"In the Eighties I did a lot of self- examination," she said. "And decided to put my hand to the film business." Snort. To help him in his demolition, Howe had recruited the journalist Mary Kenny to sit in his audience and act as a voice of reason. When she put a question to Nadine Strossen, it was quickly dismissed. "You're speaking as a journalist," said Ms Strossen. "Not as a journalist," thundered Howe. "Mary is speaking as a human being." A useful distinction, that.

My only argument with Howe's show is that, since it is strictly confrontational, and his guests are in for nothing other than humiliation once they step into his studio, he may soon run out of folk prepared to be assaulted. Next time Kevin Costner is in town, you can't help thinking, he is unlikely to submit to the Howe line of questioning. "Why do you make crap films, you pseud?" isn't really what he wants to hear.

Meanwhile, proving the old television dictum that, if you want to film stupidity, look no further than California, the admirable Laurie Pike had started her brief as American reporter for Absolutely Animals (C4) in Hollywood, "where," she said, "there is no such thing as too much". Here she found the California Spangled Cat, a fearful cross- bred feline, created solely to pander to the tastes of the pitiful. Neurotic, ugly, couch-destroying things, they are still fearsomely expensive: $6,000 a throw. As yet their creator has not exported any of them to England, because he doesn't want to subject the little diddums to our nasty quarantine regulations. Lucky for them: at least it saved them a grilling from Darcus Howe.