Will Poliakoff turn drama into a crisis for the Beeb?

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The Independent Online

* Stephen Poliakoff, one of our greatest living screenwriters, is the subject of an intriguing tug-of-war battle between the BBC and Channel 4.

Having worked only for our national broadcaster since 1999 - making blockbusters such as The Lost Prince and Perfect Strangers - he is now being courted by its rival, which has increased drama budgets after losing cricket coverage to Sky.

Although Poliakoff, above, is unlikely to sign an exclusive contract with either employer, the Beeb is reported to be insisting that he fulfils current commitments to them before signing a deal with any other TV station.

This week's Stage will reveal that the dramatist has decided to delay a possible move until he's completed a trio of BBC films. The first two, Friends and Crocodiles and Gideon's Daughter are scheduled to be broadcast in the new year.

"[Channel 4] have been courting me and I think it would be a very good thing for me to do," he says. "But the BBC are making it quite difficult at the moment.

"Originally it was three dramas but these two were so emotionally draining that I felt I just couldn't do it. But the BBC kept asking: 'Where is it?' So there will be a third and some add-ons on top of that."

Poliakoff's agent last night admitted he's been talking to Channel 4, but was anxious to stress that he won't sever all links with the Beeb. "He isn't disillusioned with the BBC, and is on the point of signing up to a project with them."

* The supermodel Caprice has grown accustomed to messy break-ups, following the recent demise of her relationship with the England cricketer Kevin Pietersen.

Now she's got another unpleasant split to contend with, after parting company with agent Ghislain Pascal in messy circumstances. It's the end of an era, since Pascal was responsible for "discovering" her in the early 1990s.

Although they were together for more than a decade - save for a short split a few years back - Pascal is rumoured to have grown frustrated at the daily grind of the job.

"Basically, Caprice is demanding copy approval and photo approval for more and more of the interviews she does," says a rival agent.

"When someone behaves like that, it can be very hard work to manage her. Rumour has it that they had a huge row and he decided to call it a day."

When Pandora called yesterday, Pascal would say only: "I just don't need the headache any more."

* I do hope it isn't about to kick off all over again in the long-running showbusiness super-tiff between George Michael and Sir Elton John.

They last traded handbags in February, when John told Heat magazine that Michael smoked too much dope and had "a deep-rooted unhappiness in his life".

Michael responded with a withering put-down: "Most of what Elton knows about my life is limited to gossip he hears on the gay grapevine."

Now I hear of another threat to diplomatic relations. Monday sees the UK premiere of George Michael: a Different Story, a documentary in which Sir Elton is interviewed.

"It's supposed to be a tribute, but Elton is actually remarkably queeny," I'm told.

"Talking about Michael's sexuality, he jokes that: 'To be busted in a toilet is no way to come out of the closet'."

* John McEnroe isn't usually one to duck out of a fight, but he's just pulled the plug - at the last minute - on a mano a mano encounter with Frank Skinner.

The tennis veteran was due to headline Skinner's chat show tomorrow but is currently laid up in his native US with a severe bout of the flu. It's also likely to prevent him competing in this week's Masters Tennis tournament at the Albert Hall.

"Frank is a bit gutted, because apart from anything else, it recently emerged that McEnroe is a big West Brom fan like him," says a spokesman. "We're trying to get him back later in the series."

"Charlotte Church takes McEnroe's place, with the boy-band, Westlife." It's no replacement!

* Harold Pinter's recent health problems, not to say his Nobel Prize for Literature, haven't prevented him from being an object of ridicule to fellow men of letters.

On Monday, the pressure group Pen - which campaigns for authors' human rights - held a pub quiz at the Café Royal. During the fundraising speeches, Pinter suffered the indignity of being pilloried, mercilessly.

At one point, Will Self discussed the plight of writers whose work lands them in the clink. "Let us not also forget writers from the UK who are imprisoned," he said. "Especially one HP, who is imprisoned in an enormous pad in Holland Park Avenue, behind an enormous pile of cash."

This met with applause. Over the years, Pinter has been a generous donor to Pen, so I trust he takes it all in good spirit.