Channel 4 screens sex opera on Christmas Day

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CHANNEL 4'S mission to startle the nation was reaffirmed yesterday when the network said its Christmas Day broadcasts include the modern opera Powder Her Face, part of which depicts oral sex on stage.

The opera, by the 28-year-old London composer Thomas Ades, is based on the controversial and sexually predatory life of Margaret, Duchess of Argyll, inspiration for the Cole Porter song You're The Tops.

Marg of Arg, as she was known, was at the centre of one of Britain's sleaziest divorce cases, in the 1960s. The opera was first performed at the Cheltenham Festival in July 1995 and is a cabaret-style tale based on the rise and fall of the Duchess. It traces her life in flashbacks from the 1920s to the 1990s. The broadcast will start at 8.40pm, says Channel 4, and has been timed so the controversial oral sex scene is shown after the 9pm watershed.

"Channel 4 realises Powder Her Face may not be family Christmas viewing," said a spokesman. "But it is entirely consistent with our remit to provide a genuine alternative to other channels at this and every other time of year."

Mr Ades is the youngest winner of the pounds 125,000 Grawemeyer Award for Music Composition, the biggest prize of its kind in the world.