The channel's increased budget, which is up 13 per cent on this year and is 90 per cent more than five years ago, comes from selling pounds 25m of extra advertising and sponsorship airtime during 1997, and pounds 25m returning to the channel as its controversial funding deal with ITV is scrapped. The channel believes that by 1999 it will have an extra pounds 80m to spend on programmes.
Daniella Nardini will star in Big Women, an account of feminism as viewed from inside a fictional women's publishing house based loosely on Virago. It has been described as My Friends in the North for feminists, and Carmen Callil, one time head of Virago, has been consulted on its storyline.
Nardini, who played the hard-living lawyer Anna in BBC 2's cult hit This Life, will play Layla, one of a group of four ambitious career women.
Michael Jackson, Channel 4's chief executive, told a meeting of advertising agencies in London yesterday that drama was his highest priority for the channel. Summer next year will also see the airing of a new Alan Bleasdale drama, Soft Sand, Blue Sea, about the lives of two Irish children, and Killer Net, a thriller about a deadly Internet game scripted by Lynda La Plante.
Coming early in the year is the long-awaited four part dramatisation of the life of Oswald Mosley, written by Birds of a Feather writers Laurence Marks and Maurice Gran. Mr Jackson also outlined plans for pounds 25m to be spent next year on creating a Channel 4-branded art-house movie channel that will broadcast on digital frequencies. On its existing channel next year Channel 4 will premier the movies it funded: Nick Hornby's Fever Pitch and Ken Loach's Carla's Song, as well as bought- in films like Quiz Show, Little Women and The Usual Suspects.
This winter the channel will broadcast a new series of the cult comedy Father Ted, a new situation comedy about an deposed African dictator, called Exiled, and Kangaroo Palace, a drama about Australians living it up in London during the Sixties.
New factual series planned for the winter include a history of Henry VIII written by controversialist historian Dr David Starkey.
- Paul McCann, Media Correspondent