Bidding war begins as rivals try to tempt Alan Carr away from Channel 4

The days of working as a struggling comedian on the Manchester circuit are long gone for Alan Carr. With his thick-rimmed spectacles and impossibly white teeth, the co-host of Channel 4's Friday Night Project has become one of television's most instantly recognisable faces during the past three years and now his growing popularity seems about to pay off.

A furious bidding war is expected to erupt in the next few months for a deal with Carr, whose contract with Channel 4 expires at the end of this year.

The Northampton-born comedian, who was snapped up by Channel 4 after a highly successful run of gigs at the 2005 Edinburgh Festival Fringe, is thought to be in talks with executives at the network to extend his contract for another two years, but industry insiders say rival channels are keen to attract a comic who seems to appeal to a particularly wide demographic.

The 31-year-old comedian, who also goes by the name of the Tooth Fairy, said he was "flattered" by the attention but said he felt a great loyalty towards Channel 4. "All this fuss is news to me and I haven't really made up my mind yet," he said. "Channel 4 has been wonderful to me and I am very loyal to them.

"Playing each other off is not really my sort of thing. I'm just an ordinary Northampton boy really so I'll leave the complicated stuff to the agents."

The gay comedian's camp style has often led to him being compared favourably to the likes of Frankie Howerd or Kenneth Williams.

ITV's director of television, Peter Fincham, is thought to be interested in securing Carr while the BBC's entertainment department is rumoured to be interested in hiring him on a non-exclusive basis.

Both networks have played down suggestions of a bidding war but insiders agree that rival network executives are engaged in something of a charm offensive to see whether Carr would contemplate leaving Channel 4.

"It's certainly true that he's highly sought-after at the moment," said one source who has worked with Carr. "There's a lot of interest in him."

Channel 4 will be keen to hold on to one of its most popular comedians. The Friday Night Project, co-hosted by Justin Lee Collins, has become one of Channel 4's most successful comedy formats of recent years – so much so that from next month, the show will under go a name-change and be moved to Sunday in order to beef up the network's end-of-the-weekend programming. Carr has also been given his own solo show, Alan Carr's Celebrity-Ding-Dong, which pits ordinary folk against the intellectual prowess of the modern day C-list celebrity.

The phenomenal sales of his latest live DVD (half a million and counting), and an upcoming autobiography published by Harper-Collins this October, will keep the television interest in Carr burning over the summer months.

Henrietta Conrad, co-founder of Princess Productions which makes The Friday Night Project, refused to comment on any negotiations but said yesterday: "[Carr] appeals to a wide demographic because he combines humour with a kind of down-to-earth niceness. He's the most fabulously charming man. I think people connect with him because he's very real; there's nothing false or put-on about him. What you see is what you get, and I think people respect that."

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