Phoney sob stories were supplied by agency

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The Independent Online
SAVANNAH DAVIES seemed close to tears as she poured out her heart, explaining how desperate she was to leave her violent husband.

Watched by about a million television viewers, she told of feeling trapped and isolated, and of her desire for a divorce. As she spoke, fellow guests on The Vanessa Show, including a vicar and a divorce lawyer, sat quietly offering moral support.

"When you get married, everyone thinks it's for life. But how can you determine how someone's going to behave two and a half years later?" pleaded Mrs Davies. "That's what happened to me - he changed. When you are being beaten up, thrown around your room and held by your hair, talking isn't really going to solve it any more."

In fact, unknown to the viewers and studio audience, Mrs Davies's husband was not violent. Indeed Mrs Davies was not married. She was not even Mrs Davies.

Yesterday it was revealed that Mrs Davies was actually a struggling actress by the name of Angelina Candler, who was paid pounds 75 by an showbusiness agency to "perform" as a battered wife. Performing such an act of duplicity for a quick pounds 75 might be bad enough, but what sent shockwaves through the world of broadcasting yesterday was the allegation that - unlike the audience - at least some of the BBC programme makers knew "Mrs Davies" was a fake.

Yesterday it was revealed that Ms Candler was recruited for the show through an agency which advertises in The Stage magazine. The agency, Absolute Entertainers, owned by Tony Papotto, was seeking kissagrams and strippagrams for work in London and the Home Counties. It added: "Also exotic dancers and speciality acts required."

Ms Candler said in The Mirror yesterday: "It was only last Thursday night at 8.30pm that an agent contacted me and said they were looking for people to go on The Vanessa Show the next day. I spoke on the phone to a researcher and I quickly thought up the name of Savannah Davies."

According to Ms Candler, by the following morning she was being taken by taxi to the BBC studios at Shepherd's Bush and recounting, in tearful detail, her experiences as a victim of domestic violence.

The Mirror yesterday claimed to have transcripts of a conversation between Mr Papotto and a named BBC researcher, revealing that both of them knew Ms Candler and other guests were fake.

While many will be shocked by the revelations, it seems that The Vanessa Show may not be the only programme to use agencies to supply the sort of people they want.

A researcher for a leading show said yesterday: "You really have no option. If you have the producer demanding you find a one-legged animal lover to come and talk about being a trans-sexual within 24 hours - you have no choice.

"Sometimes you do wonder if the guests are genuine."

One woman admitted yesterday that she had appeared on nine separate television shows including The Time ... The Place, Kilroy, and The Vanessa Show. Hazel Wheeler, aged 42, said that before appearing on The Time ... The Place she arranged with a fellow guest to fabricate an argument for the cameras.

Many of the guests who appear on different shows may be genuine. In the space of just a few weeks, Marie Bassett, 16, featured on three shows - This Morning to talk about bullying, GMTV to talk about teenagers and smoking, and the Trisha show to explain how she found it hard to give up her teddy bears.

"It was great fun - they were all very nice," said Miss Bassett. "The researchers just told me to tell the truth."

Yesterday Mr Papotto, purveyor of battered wives and strippers, was not forthcoming. "Sorry, no comment. I've done a deal with The Mirror," he said. "If you want a stripper I'll put you on to one of the girls."