Knickerless Nancy: the first shock-wok

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Three weeks on from the launch of Channel 5 and what have we got? A lot of young people, that's what. It's the one thing you can't help but notice - all the presenters are really young. Switch it on at any time of the day or night and you'll find a young man in a bright shirt bringing you the latest news or a young woman with a big smile telling you the latest showbiz gossip. The main newsreader is even called Kirsty Young, which is surely more than coincidence.

And of course they're all very nice and well-meaning, and they're easy on the eye (although I have to say I have difficulty with a news bulletin delivered by some callow youth wearing hair gel). But you do end up with the rather worrying impression that the gene pool has shrunk to the extent that the world is peopled by earnest youngsters with a mission to be polite.

Thankfully, being polite is the one thing Nancy Lam could never be accused of. Nancy presents her very own in-your-face Oriental cookery show every Thursday evening and she's quickly becoming Channel 5's first big star. With her brightly coloured hair, wacky glasses and toothy grin, she looks a little like Janet Street-Porter (if Janet Street-Porter were to lose a couple of feet in height and then contract some sort of serious thyroid complaint, obviously) and she has one of the most manic laughs you'll ever hear ("ha-haa-ha-ha-haaaaaa!"). Each week she conjures up culinary magic in her wok, occasionally breaking off to chivvy her amiable Ghanaian husband, Ben, for the ingredients. "Quick, Ben! Courgette!" It's great entertainment.

When we meet for lunch in a restaurant in Soho's Chinatown, Nancy's hair is dyed in Channel 5 rainbow colours, something she did for the station's launch, and she's wearing a pair of her trademark specs.

So how many pairs of glasses does she have?

"Why don't you ask me how many pairs of knickers I have?" Nancy responds, ever the one to be outrageous should the opportunity arise. I have to confess this wasn't on my list of questions, but at times like this it's often best to go with the flow.

So how many pairs of knickers does she have?

"Not many pairs. I can't bloody afford them! Ha-haa!"

This theme of poverty is one she returns to often. Nancy grew up in Singapore, where her father ran a small prawn cracker factory, and in 1970, when she was in her twenties, she set off for London. She spoke very little English, but this didn't stop her training as a nurse. And it was while working as a nurse in East Molesey in Surrey that she met Ben. It was love at first sight, apparently, and they were married on Valentine's Day, 1976.

So why move into cookery?

"Nursing was so badly paid," she says. "And I love cooking."

She started with home catering, then sub-leased a cafe in Putney and ran a restaurant there in the evening. Finally, in 1986, the pair opened their very own restaurant, Enak Enak, in Lavender Hill, south London.

You can see the restaurant each week in Nancy's show. I haven't been there, but it seems to be frequented by the sort of young people who present programmes on Channel 5. Nancy is famous for being rude to her customers, but she admits it's a performance, all part of the business. I get the feeling she's quite a shrewd cookie, despite the pleas of poverty. "I'm very serious when it comes to business," she says. And she comes from a family of traders after all.

Nancy admits it's sometimes hard to be the person everyone expects her to be, but she wouldn't have it any other way. And she's very happy to be here. As the meal comes to an end, she gets all sentimental as she lists the pleasures of her life in England. "I have a house, I have gardening, I have lots of friends, I have fish, and the fish when they see me, their mouths open..."

It's time to go.

"That's it?" says Nancy. "You happy with that? Good, you can piss off now. Ha-haaa-ha-ha-haaaaaaaaaaaaa!"

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Troubleshooter takes it easy

BRITAIN'S favourite industrialist celebrated his 73rd birthday last week. "I have to take things a good deal easier than I used to," says Sir John Harvey-Jones, who has suffered two strokes in the last two years, "but I'm still firing on the odd cylinder. I've always taken the view that when you stop flapping your wings, you fall off the perch."

Sir John has been spending his time doing the odd bit of telly, collaborating on a new business book and doing a lot of public speaking. Next week he'll be addressing the Institute of Directors on the theme of competitiveness. "Irrespective of what happens at the general election, the problem remains to increase the competitiveness of the UK, which has been declining since I was a boy," he says with typical gung-ho decisiveness.

No doubt Sir John would have admired the competitive spirit of Chesterfield and their heroic last-gasp FA Cup semi-final equaliser against Middlesbrough last weekend, or indeed the competitive spirit shown by Leicester City when they beat Middlesbrough in the Coca-Cola Cup final replay on Wednesday night. Well, maybe not - Middlesbrough are Sir John's favourite team. "I couldn't bear to watch," he says.

Sir John lives in Hay-on-Wye and unfortunately can't receive Channel 5.

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Gail's decent exposure

ANOTHER Channel 5 presenter who breaks the nice, polite mould is ex- convent school girl and ex-glamour model Gail McKenna, who possesses a Liverpudlian wit that's as sharp as a knife and who fronts the sports show Turnstyle on Saturdays and Sundays. And speaking of fronts, the small number of predominantly (if not exclusively) male viewers familiar with her former incarnation as the host of Gail's Sport Show on L!VE TV will have noticed that Gail's cleavage, which was always very much to the fore, is nowhere to be seen. "I wasn't told to cover up, I just wasn't told to expose myself," says Gail. "I'm much warmer now!"

So does she watch Channel 5? "When I get the time," she says. "I think Jack Docherty's pretty funny. To be honest, I don't watch that much TV."

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Old Dude with a monster hit

IN 1974 as a pimply pubescent I bought a book called Diary Of A Rock Star. It was written by Ian Hunter, the singer with Mott the Hoople, and described the band's tour of the United States at a time when they'd just found fame with "All The Young Dudes". I bought it because I was a fan and I doubt anyone bought it for any other reason.

I'd forgotten all about it until the end of last year, when the book was unexpectedly republished. Even more unexpectedly it shot to the top of the music book charts (until the Spice Girls book came out, of course). Suddenly it had become "the greatest music book ever written" according to Q magazine.

It certainly isn't the greatest music book ever written, but it does have a certain naive charm, as I discovered when I re-read it. The author seems to spend most of the book visiting guitar shops and avoiding groupies, having just got married to his girlfriend Trudy. "Groupies are lousy lays as a rule," he writes.

It wasn't long after the book came out that Mott the Hoople split up and Ian Hunter went to America for good. He did some solo stuff then it all went quiet. So when I rang him at his home in Connecticut it was nice to discover he's alive and sounding rather chipper. He even has a new album, The Artful Dodger, coming out later this month.

He's still married to Trudy ("25 years this year," he says proudly), still has his Midlands accent and hasn't gone bald, though he's in his fifties (a slightly touchy subject). He says he doesn't miss England too much because he manages to live like an Englishman abroad. He gets the Telegraph the day after we do and he only watches English shows on TV. (But he hasn't seen any Channel 5 programmes yet.)

And does he miss the platform shoes? He laughs. "I can't believe I wore them. I didn't mind the clothes, but the platform shoes were disgusting."

A thunderclap in Sheffield

IT'S that snooker time of year again, with the Embassy World Championship kicking off in Sheffield this weekend. So here's former champion Dennis Taylor to tell the story of The Night Bill Werbeniuk Farted:

"We were playing in an evening session and Bill had had about 19 or 20 pints during the day - he used to drink quite a lot of lager before he played. I don't know if you've ever been to the Crucible, but it's quite an intimate place, it's a two-table situation and you can hear everything that's going on on both sides of the arena.

"Anyway, I was sitting there and Bill was on 80-odd with a chance of getting the highest break and he lifted all 23 stone up on to the table to play a shot. And then the inevitable happened - the loudest sound went round the Crucible for many years. I was biting my knuckles so I wouldn't burst out laughing and the crowd were all doing the same.

"Bill was still stretched across the table and going purple by this stage. So he slipped back off the table, turned to the crowd and said, 'Who did that?'"

Dennis says he hasn't been at home very much during the last few weeks, so he hasn't had a chance to watch Channel 5 yet. He reckons Steve Davis could be a good outside bet for the title this year.

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