The Channel 4 chief who is praying for a perfect storm

More 4's feisty Hamish Mykura tells Ian Burrell his plans for films on David Cameron and the Queen
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The Independent Online

There is a hint of mischief that twinkles about the eyes of Hamish Mykura. The Scots-born controller of Channel 4's fast-growing digital channel More 4, and head of documentaries across the C4 network, seems to run headlong towards controversy with a smile on his face and shouting "Bring it on!"

In a back office at the organisation's Horseferry Road headquarters, he unveils his latest plans for stirring things up and providing a much-needed lift in the programme-making profile of an organisation whose future position in the ecology of British broadcasting is far from certain.

His intention is to get beneath the skin not just of the monarch, but also the probable future Prime Minister, the capital's mayor, the police service and the world's most famous dog show. Not necessarily in that order. Some of these he will follow around with a camera, others will be turned into the subjects of dramatic reconstruction.

If that strategy provokes a row then Mykura won't mind. "Where there's an argument you are better to have that argument rather than close it down, it's a fundamental part of my philosophy … and Channel 4's and More 4's," he says.

This is the man who commissioned the controversial Diana: The Witnesses in the Tunnel, triggering protests from Kensington Palace and the royal princes. After the programme was broadcast, most critics backed Mykura. He was also buffeted over The Great Global Warming Swindle, Martin Durkin's challenge to the consensus on climate change. Mykura just about got away with that one as Ofcom ruled that Channel 4 did not "materially mislead" viewers, although scientists, who complained in large numbers, remain angry.

The Scot has a thick skin. Although a documentary about the Queen famously led to the downfall of the then head of BBC1 Peter Fincham, Mykura has boldly commissioned The Queen, a five-part series dramatising some of the most difficult moments in the monarch's reign. "The BBC would do a post-war history of Britain with Andrew Marr, but this one sees it through the eyes of one character who was so much at the centre of so many of the big social and political changes that have taken place, and that character is the Queen," he says. "It effectively tells the whole story from the 1950s to now and there are opportunities for different actresses to have a crack at that fantastic role."

Diana Quick (the partner of Bill Nighy and best known as Julia in the television version of Brideshead Revisited) will play the Queen in the most contemporary of the five hour-long episodes that will be screened on Channel 4 from September. This final episode will focus on the relationship between Prince Charles (played by Martin Turner) and Camilla Parker-Bowles (Joanna Van Gyseghem).

Samantha Bond (Miss Moneypenny from the Pierce Brosnan 007 movies) will play the Queen at the time of her strained relationship with Harold Wilson in the winter of discontent of 1973-74. Lisa Dillon, who appeared in the BBC costume drama Cranford, will play the young Queen at the start of her reign.

He has green-lit a project in which, Toby Young, the author of How to Lose Friends and Influence People, is dramatising the school and university years of David Cameron and Boris Johnson. When Boris Met Dave will feature the little-known comedy actor Jonny Sweet in the role of the probable next Prime Minister and another relative unknown, Christian Brassington, as Johnson. The 90-minute More 4 drama documentary is being made by Blink productions, the company run by former head of programmes at channel Five Dan Chambers.

Mykura is hoping for some flying sparks. The film will show the Oxford undergraduates and their friends often "pretending to be people that they weren't", he says. "Even though Boris is the one who's always highlighted as the toff, he's someone who in some ways wasn't to the manor born, he was adopting that personality, whereas Dave, who was from that upper echelon, was playing it down far more when he was at university."

When the BBC fell out with Cruft's over a Panorama investigation into dog-breeding and decided to stop broadcasting the internationally-famous show, Mykura typically saw an opportunity. "As a result of the very public spat between the Kennel Club and the BBC…next year's Cruft's will be on More 4," he says proudly. He promises that More 4 will not shirk from questioning the more unsavoury elements of pedigree dog breeding. "It's a great opportunity to highlight that debate and educate people about it," he says. "So we approached the Kennel Club and said would you be interested in broadcasting it and in addressing questions of dog health and dog welfare as part of the coverage. They said they very much would and we proceeded on that basis."

He is also determined to explore the reality of modern British provincial policing and has that opportunity thanks to the unprecedented access granted by the Hampshire constabulary to the veteran documentary maker Patrick Forbes, who has made The Force for Channel 4. "Patrick got really lucky. There was a grisly murder where the body was found in a field and that led to a tangled web of international crime stretching across eastern Europe and beyond," says Mykura. "A force that 15 years ago would be dealing with a bicycle theft from the back of the cricket pavilion is now dealing with Islamic fundamentalist terrorism, people-trafficking from Albania and Moldova, a whole new internationalised wave of criminality."

Mykura's dual role helps him in bringing international documentary to More 4 in the Tuesday night True Stories strand, his "favourite part" of the channel. He is especially proud of the recent Afghan Star, a film about an Afghani version of Pop Idol. "For many Afghans it's their first experience of democracy, the notion that you can vote for somebody and that person can win is a fantastic novelty," he says. "It took off in Afghanistan yet some of the performers, particularly the females, were receiving death threats for dancing and singing on television."

He acknowledges the role in the More 4 schedule of popular lifestyle staples, such as Grand Designs, Come Dine With Me and Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares. Ramsay's contract with the broadcaster is up in 2010 and Mykura deflected suspicion that the beleaguered chef might be dropped. "He's in the news all the time and controversy always follows him, but that's quite a good characteristic for a Channel 4 star," he says. "There's no suggestion, so far as I'm aware, that his contract won't be renewed."

Meanwhile, Mykura has other, artistic ambitions. "Arts programming is a bit imperilled at the moment - we've seen The South Bank Show finally breathe its last - and there isn't a great deal on. That provides a great niche for us."

Inspired by the response to More 4's Christmas Day screening of a film version of King Lear, for which Ian McKellen has been nominated for an Emmy, he is in talks with the National Theatre to film the current West End hit War Horse. Just like Joey, the brave nag in Michael Morpurgo's story, Mykura never hides from a battle.