TELEVISION / Chat show from over there looks odd over here

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The Independent Culture
LOOKING to fill their afternoon schedules this autumn, ITV have recruited Vanessa Feltz, a substantial blonde from Anglia Television with a wardrobe of ill- advised twin-sets. Her role is to do what they do in America all afternoon - talk to the people. Vanessa (ITV) goes like this: a couple of Aunt Sallys are set up on a platform to open a discussion about some lukewarm topic of the day, which Vanessa then takes into the audience via a vast phallic microphone.

It is not quite a girlie Kilroy or a Brit Oprah (a relief no doubt to the stately Ms Feltz who would otherwise be required to see her weight go up and down like a bulimic lift attendant). It is, rather, a Brit, girlie version of Donahue; Phil Donahue's company is co-producing the series. Indeed, if the first edition was typical, Vanessa bears such a close proximity to its American progenitor, it even has use of Donahue's hand-me-down programme ideas and guests.

To kick off her series, Ms Feltz attempted to generate debate on a topic which isn't even an issue in this country: the True Love Waits movement, presently fashionable among American teenage evangelical Christians who feel obliged to make a public pledge of pre- marital virginity. A couple of well- toothed young Midwesterners were brought over, fresh from the Donahue studios, to put forward their ideas about the new morality. Though judging by the looks of incomprehension from Vanessa's audience of ordinary British women at this odd persuasion, they might as well have come from Mars.

As is standard with a 'people' chat show, in half an hour Vanessa resolved nothing, got nowhere and delivered no news. With one honourable exception. The programme achieved, albeit unintentionally, what was hitherto assumed an impossible task: it made Peter Stringfellow look like a wise, warm and witty old cove. Presented as the man who 'can't remember how many women he has bedded', Stringfellow sat there admirably unable to restrain his sniggers as the earnest young Americans conducted their debate as if scripted by the Carry On team.

'I'm fed up with the media that shoves sex down our throats all the time,' said one Sally Army foot-soldier. 'I want to give her everything I've got inside,' said one young man to his soon-to-be bride. Even Stringfellow, though, had to admire the front of one lad who stood up and spoke into Ms Feltz's apparatus. Brave he was. In my day, publicly admitting to being a virgin at 17 was the equivalent of committing social hara-kiri.

Like virgins, the news that London has become a laundromat for soiled Russian currency seems to have been with us for ever. Nevertheless, Dirty Money (BBC 1) did a thorough job of scare-mongering about quite how lawless society in Russia has become. And quite how keen our financial institutions are to take a bath in the flood of West-bound money. As revealed in this film, Moscow has turned itself into a second Klondike, home to a mad South Sea Bubble economy, where customers are obliged to check in their hand-guns when they call at the bank. Meanwhile London has become the place the successful come to off-load their ill-gotten.

The most telling image of a society hell-bent on the pursuit of the Western dream was, however, not the shots of Russians guzzling champagne in a Stringfellow-style night-club. It was of a cohort of former KGB men training as a private security operation to protect Moscow's top bankers. As they piled into their van, you got a glimpse of a sticker one of their number had adhered to the back door. It was an advertisement for Marlboro cigarettes.