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Smiles and chaos as programme focuses on launch: Channel 4's Big Breakfast starts next week with Paula Yates and Bob Geldof the attractions. Maggie Brown reports

IT had the mad air of an alternative wedding reception. An air of creative shambles which accompanies new television ventures. There, on the lockside, was the tiny Paula Yates, in an off-the-shoulder, green ballerina dress.

She was smiling through the morning drizzle at the massed ranks of cameras, while a grumpy press took breakfast in a marquee. The first pilot run of Channel 4's Big Breakfast, which starts next Monday, had just taken place.

The power had failed. No telephone lines were working. Latecomers straggled in disbelief through the mud and across a canal bridge to the Big Breakfast 'studio' - a line of three remote lock-keeper's cottages in London's East End. The secret charms of Old Ford lock had previouly been monopolised by a peanut factory and abattoir.

The press were grumpy for a reason. There was an absent guest: Sir Bob Geldof, styled as the 'Big Breakfast heavyweight'.

'He's in Germany on tour,' a press officer ventured. 'He's in Paris,' Channel 4's Andrea Wonfor, the executive responsible for the channel's lurch towards wacky, but carefully controlled television, said. 'He's in Australia . . . no Italy,' said Paula, who added that he never gets up before 10am anyway.

But Geldof was on the tape of highlights of the weekday two-hour show, interviewing Nelson Mandela: he has a regular ten-minute pre-recorded spot in which he talks to world leaders about unconventional topics. Mandela described how he was circumcised. 'You are lined up, son of a commoner first, then son of a chief. If the knife is poisoned the commoner dies first.' Geldof waved his hands in horrified pain.

The relentlessly pacey Big Breakfast will replace the failed Channel 4 Daily, which never caught on, despite three and a half years of air time. The aim is to cut costs to pounds 15,000 per hour and double audiences to 500,000 by attracting 'the young at heart'. It is very different from the BBC's straightforward Breakfast News and the cosy sofas of TV-am.

This new approach has been achieved by handing the problem over to young, trendy producers: the core team have been responsible for such entertainment as The Word, The Ruby Wax Show, The Bobby Davro Show, The Last Resort, Kilroy and Reportage.

It includes household 'super hints' from the great and good; Cupid's Arrow, in which a couple tell Paula how they fell in love; and nostalgic cartoons such as the Banana Splits.

The morning ended with television reporters earnestly asking other journalists whether it could possibly work.