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Friday, June 19, 1998 Published at 23:06 GMT 00:06 UK


TV boss becomes Lord of Cool

Waheed Alli and Melvyn Bragg are among 18 names put forward by Mr Blair

The brains behind Channel Four's Big Breakfast, Waheed Alli, has been given a life peerage by the Prime Minister.

Lord Alli is one of several Labour supporters whose knowledge of the younger generation - those aged 15 to 35 - Mr Blair is keen to tap.

[ image: Melvyn Bragg ... to become Lord Bragg]
Melvyn Bragg ... to become Lord Bragg
The uncrowned king of low-brow TV makes Labour's party political broadcasts and sits on the influential Panel 2000, a 25-strong group which advises the government on how to present the right image abroad.

His peerage would be the beginning of New Labour's transformation of the House of Lords.

Another Labour "luvvie" being knighted is Melvyn Bragg, the 58-year-old presenter of ITV's flagship arts programme, The South Bank Show.

Lord Bragg, head of arts at London Weekend Television, became a multi-millionaire when LWT was floated on the Stock Exchange.

[ image: Culture Secretary Chris Smith ... has attended parties at Lord Alli's home]
Culture Secretary Chris Smith ... has attended parties at Lord Alli's home
Lord Alli would be the antithesis of the stereotypical "establishment" peer - an elderly, Oxbridge-educated, white, former politician.

The Asian 34-year-old left school after his O levels. He has made no secret of his homosexuality, and has made his fortune through shrewd deals in the entertainment industry.

Unlike fellow Labour supporters such as Ben Elton, Noel Gallagher and Melvyn Bragg, Lord Alli has kept a low profile.

His company, Planet 24 Productions, is best known for the Big Breakfast - the popular and irreverent morning show on Channel Four.

Lord Alli was brought up in Norwood, south London and began his working life at the age of 16 as a £40-a-week researcher on a magazine called Planned Savings, before going on to work for the late Robert Maxwell's publishing companies.

In the mid-1980s Lord Alli, living in fashionable Islington, got a job in the City and began earning big money.

But he got bored of investment banking and formed a television production company with his friend Charlie Parsons, a rising star of television.

[ image: Bob Geldof ... Mr Alli's business partner]
Bob Geldof ... Mr Alli's business partner
In 1992 their company, 24 Hour Productions, teamed up with Bob Geldof's Planet Pictures to form Planet 24.

They made an audacious bid for Channel Four's new breakfast slot - and beat 31 rivals for the coveted franchise.

Threw out the rulebook

Throwing out the rulebook, they rejected traditional studios and produced the breakfast show from a block of houses near an east London canal.

The show, fronted by Chris Evans and Gaby Roslin, was a big hit and soon there was demand for more Planet 24 programming - shows such as Gaytime TV.

[ image: Chris Evans...Lord Alli made him a star]
Chris Evans...Lord Alli made him a star
Critics blame Planet 24 for "dumbing down" British television but admirers say the company has broken taboos and is a throwback to Channel Four's radical early days.

In recent years Planet 24 have tried to move into more serious programming. Earlier this year the former cabinet minister, Ann Widdecombe, was persuaded to host a series of mock trials in a series called Nothing But The Truth.

The company has also made a documentary with Earl Spencer, entitled Diana, My Sister, The Princess, which will be shown next week.

Lord Alli's 300 employees have differing opinions on him. Some point out the harsh terms laid out in the company's contracts and the long hours expected while others point out his largesse, which includes stumping up for sumptuous Christmas parties.

In recent years Mr Blair, Peter Mandelson, Mo Mowlam and Culture Secretary Chris Smith have all been guests at his £1m mansion in Kent.

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