'Car-crash' television has drawn

censure for a late-night show,

reports David Belcher

CHANNEL 4 was yesterday reminded that car-crash television is not

without its drawbacks when The Word was issued with a formal warning by

the Independent Television Commission, who urged the station to impose

stricter controls on the content of the items it broadcast.

The regulatory body objected strongly on grounds of ''taste and

decency'' to a number of ''debasing stunts'' staged during the most

recent series of the late night, youth-targeted programme, which is

currently off the air.

Studiedly controversial, The Word earned its ''car-crash TV''

soubriquet, when it became clear that it based much of its viewer appeal

on the same ghoulish and voyeuristic impulses which draw gawking crowds

to road traffic accidents.

There were three such specific film sequences to which the ITC

objected, all of which were broadcast last December. Chief among the

ITC's complaints was the edition of The Word which featured a kilted

strongman, the self-styled, self-evident Mr Powertool.

He was seen pulling a chair, on which a young woman was sitting,

across the studio floor by a rope fastened round his penis. During the

course of this endeavour, it became plain that Mr Powertool favoured

wearing the kilt au naturel.

In addition, the ITC was unhappy with the treatment meted out to two

victims of one of The Word's weekly feature strands, The Revengers.

Vengeance befell one victim in the form of Santa Claus vomiting over

him. Another victim was sprayed with the contents of an elderly man's

colostomy bag. The ITC noted that while the vomit was real, the urine

was not. As to Santa's status, meanwhile, there was no word.

''We think the Channel 4 licence has been breached by these items, and

we expect them to take account of this,'' noted the ITC, who once fined

Granada #500,000 for breaches in advertising regulations on This

Morning. They also pointed out that the colostomy bag incident

contravened ITC guidelines on jokes about personal disability.

''The element of debasement of the individuals involved. . . (was)

among the factors which took (The Word) over the edge of acceptable

standards of taste and decency required by the Broadcasting Act,'' the

ITC concluded.

Oddly, though, the ITC seems to have had fewer objections to an

equally demeaning segment of the show: I'll Do Anything To Be On TV,

aimed to discover the depths to which telly-aspirants would descend. It

regularly featured young women lowering themselves into baths of horse

ordure; youths eating maggots, and young people of both genders engaged

in graphic kissing sessions with old age pensioners who had removed

their dentures to facilitate the process.

Channel 4's commissioning editor for Youth and Entertainment Features,

Dunbartonshire-born David Stevenson, was yesterday unavailable for

comment on the ITC's censure. In keeping with his job-status, he was

reportedly on a Club 18-30 holiday in Torremolinos.

Stevenson has previously defended The Word, however, as being ''comedy

of embarrassment, a bit of slap and tickle on a Friday night. . . an

irreverent antidote to eat your greens, let's help young people across

the road TV.''

Ironically, The Word itself now seems to have stumbled fatally in

heavy congestion on terrestrial telly's info-tainment superhighway. Its

future was under debate even as the 105th episode was broadcast in

March. Channel 4 supremo Michael Grade indicated then that The Word's

makers, Planet 24, who are also responsible for C4's Big Breakfast,

would have to present an unusually good case for its retention.

But The Word isn't facing extinction because it debased its intended

audience of 15 to 24-year-olds. Indeed, as the ITC acknowledged in its

judgment, late night vomitings and genital tug-o'-war displays are

unlikely to upset a young generation who have repeatedly demonstrated

their approval of the self-same freakshow antics by filling theatres

whenever the Jim Rose Circus has come to town.

Nor is The Word in trouble for having debased the TV presenters' craft

-- because, frankly, if anyone's seen any TV frontwoman more glazed,

self-regarding and vacuous than Dani Behr, or heard greater inarticulacy

than that of Terry Christian, you're welcome to fill my hat with maggots

and eat it.

Rather, The Word has discovered the most painful truth about car-crash

TV. When you've deliberately taken the traffic lights away, the

resulting collisions lose their power to shock and outrage, eventually

becoming a crashing bore.