Phoney father hoodwinks Channel 4 film-makers

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The Independent Online
CHANNEL 4 was not to know it was a hoax. To any outsider the story of Marcus and Victoria Greetham looked believable enough. Victoria, 19, was starting out on a career as a model, and her father, Marcus, 39, was prepared to talk to the cameras about his mixed feelings as his daughter posed for photos.

Over a four-month period, the two were filmed by the seasoned film-maker Edmund Coulthard from Blast! Films, for the documentary Daddy's Girl. Channel 4 was delighted with the result, and the programme was due to be broadcast at 9pm tonight.

Until, that is, Victoria's real father, Geoff, spotted Marcus and Victoria Greetham in a programme trail, and phoned Channel 4 with the information that Marcus was not Victoria's father at all. Instead he was her boyfriend, Stuart Smith. The TV station had come within a whisker of being branded the latest perpetrator of "Fake TV".

Channel 4 yesterday leapt into action to pull the programme off the air. Executives were busy rushing round, asking contributors to Daddy's Girl to produce their driving licences, trying to work out how much of the documentary was true, and how much fabricated.

The hoax was so elaborate, a Channel 4 spokesman said, that anyone could have been fooled. It was not just the Marcus-Victoria relationship that was a fake, but another five or six other characters had been prepared to go along with their story. One scene showed Marcus and Victoria breaking open the champagne on her birthday, with a host of other characters joining in the conceit that this was a father-daughter relationship.

Last night Channel 4 was still trying to get to the bottom of what had happened. The only thing it knew was that Marcus was fictional, not the father, and was probably Stuart Smith. Who then is the chap in the documentary acting the role of Stuart Smith? Nobody seemed to know.

Channel 4, while flummoxed, also allowed itself a sigh of relief. At least it had learnt of the deception before the programme was broadcast. "It is important ... that none of our viewers has been misled," said Karen Brown, the deputy director of programmes.

The station was also keen to stand by Mr Coulthard, who it described in glowing terms. Mr Coulthard was reassured that his work would continue to be used by the network.

The elaborate hoax bears little resemblance to the run of controversial fake elements in factual programmes. When Maureen from BBC1's Driving School acted out scenes it was with the full connivance of the director. Fake drug-running scenes from Carlton's documentary The Connection were also constructed by the programme-makers. This was more similar to cases on Kilroy, Vanessa, and other talk shows, where the public is tempted to pose as a polygamist or vampire to get on television.

Channel 4, though, was seriously perturbed by its near-miss, and is now contemplating legal action against the people who spent four months acting out a sophisticated drama.

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