Television Review

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The Independent Culture
THE KIND of events that have befallen Paula Yates in recent years are usually reserved for people called Kennedy or Job. So, understandably, there was little of the giggly flirt who interviewed guests on the bed of the The Big Breakfast, in evidence on In Excess (C4). Only once did the cheeky coquette of programmes past come to the fore. She was asked if her late partner, Michael Hutchence, ever tied her up and attempted to choke her in the name of love and lust. Feigning shock, she replied, as though searching for a soundbite: "Yeah, he did everything. He's a dangerous boy. He could have done anything at anytime. But the one thing he wouldn't have done is left us."

The documentary attempted to get to the bottom of the death of Hutchence, whose naked body was found in a hotel room in Sydney two years ago. It did so by using the traditional staples of factual documentary that have, according to critics, been absent from the genre of late. No charges of fakery can be levelled here. This was broadcaster playing investigator, using reconstruction, specialist know-ledge, and unveiling new evidence to fine tune the truth of a matter that one interviewee believed to be of national, almost global, importance. It isn't.

The sequence of events is mainly significant to the family he left behind. Yates, and the father and brother of Hutchence, gave emotional accounts of their reaction to the news of his death, and all that has followed. The verdict of suicide by the coroner in New South Wales has split them. Kell Hutchence, the rock singer's father, accepts the outcome, despite revealing that during his last meeting with his son, on the night before he died, he was far from depressed. Yates maintains that the cause of death was autoerotic asphyxiation.

Both, in their own way, are striving to preserve the memory of Michael Hutchence. For this father, suicide is perhaps the less ignominious of the two options. For Yates, it suggests that he deserted her and their daughter. "It's no big deal what he did," she said of the manner in which he died. "Lots of people do it. It went wrong. I just want it stopped being made grubby."

This is where Channel 4 came in. Firstly, to point out that in Britain more than 200 people die from accidental deaths resulting from autoerotic acts each year. Secondly, to hold up to the light, like exhibits a succession of anecdotes from friends regarding the singer's sexual history. Let's look at the evidence: the threesomes, the foursomes, and being caught in in flagrante delicto on a plane, by fellow traveller Bob Hawke. The kind of behaviour expected from a man once described as having "the Taj Mahal of crotches". The programme broke new ground by introducing evidence hitherto ignored by the coroner, suggesting that Hutchence had roadtested autoerotic acts in the past. The image of him in death was revealed as that of a naked figure, on his knees, with semen stains on his legs. Alive, he emerged as someone tortured by the media scrutiny of his private life. This documentary would have been his idea of hell.

Robert Hanks is away