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Bits and Pieces
It is a late finish for Screen Break, but you would not expect Britain’s premier sport-on-TV column to allow last night’s Sports Personality of the Year show to pass without comment, so hearty congratulations, worthy winner, glittering evening, Rebecca, eh, shoes, what is she like, nation’s sweetheart - take that Cheryl Cole – sports people in evening wear, Gary Lineker, Sue Barker, weak jokes, etc. etc. Oh, and Jake Humphrey.
Jake, third banana on last night’s programme, came to mind, when I was watching Craig Doyle hosting Champions’ League highlights on ITV last week – stay with me, I promise you this is going somewhere – and I began to wonder if one of the problems with sport on TV these days is that some of the presenters are just too young and good looking? Is that not tampering with the natural order of things?
Surely, these fresh-faced kiddies – let us throw Manish Bhasin into the mix - belong on Blue Peter or regional news programmes, leaving sports presentation to more mature, comfortably upholstered chaps, usually with a face like a bag of spanners, and occasionally with a troubled or faintly lurid private life.
Any of us over about 35 grew up watching that kind of character on sports shows. It is no accident that when Steve Coogan first launched Alan Partridge - gauche, indiscreet, with a rocky marriage - he made him a sports reporter. Similarly, the bald, insensitive, politically incorrect Bob “Bulldog” Briscoe on the Frasier show was the radio station’s sports anchor.
Another classic of the genre was the Fast Show’s Ron Manager routine where Mark Williams and Paul Whitehouse’s soccer chat with a nervy Simon Day invariably spilled over into homoeroticism. There is clearly a great comic tradition here, in danger of dying. Can anybody imagine Craig Doyle being nicknamed “Bulldog” or “Moose”? Where is the fun in Manish Bhasin?
When I was growing up, a well-fed Scottish journalist called Sam Leitch presented the football preview each Saturday lunchtime. The camera was no friend of his, but he derived a certain authority from the fact that he was manifestly our-man-in-the-press-box squeezed into a slightly grubby cardigan and an ill-fitting overcoat. His place in my pantheon was assured when someone told me he used to turn up to matches with a big shopping bag full of apples and work his way through them.
The rot set in, I think, with the substitution of moustachioed boulevardier Des Lynam with clean cut Gary Lineker, respected for his feats in an England shirt, but suspiciously careful about his appearance, and not a man who looks like he knows his way around a big bag of apples. Crisps, maybe.
Leitch or the equally grizzled Geordie journo Ken Jones, who also did the Saturday preview gig sometimes, were never in danger of being asked to do commercials, whereas Craig, Jake, and Manish give the impression they are merely doing a little light sports presenting on the way to celebrity dancing, or some of that lucrative corporate work. Not that any of them is a particularly bad presenter. They just feel a little too practiced and smooth, insipid compared to Saint and Greavsie, say, or the inky-fingered figures of my youth.
Frankly, I like my sport less Gabby Logan, more Jimmy Logan; although if I could choose a Scottish entertainer on whose lines I would most want my sports presenter to be built, it would be Chic Murray (kids, try Google images, or ask your granddad).
That said, Gabby did a creditable job on Inside Sport in her interview with sports favourite fruit loop – and I mean that in a caring way - Ronnie O’Sullivan. The troubled snooker star (copyright: everything that has ever been written about him) has spent time in the Priory and flirted with religious gurus, so he seemed quite comfortable with Inside Sport’s self-conscious getting-under-the-skin-of-the-subject psychobabble style.
When Gabby asks, “Are you in a good place right now?” the temptation to reply, “Yeah, Dartford, it’s OK,” must be overwhelming, but Ronnie went along with it, although he winked to camera at one point giving the impression he might have been sending the interview up slightly. His wackiest answer came when Gabby asked him about the incident in 1996 when he was accused of disrespecting his opponent by playing left-handed.
“I first played with my left hand when I was 17. Things weren’t going well, I needed to find a way through, and it felt good,” said the TSS, “My left hand is like my mistress. My wife is my right hand and my mistress is my left. It’s been good to me, and you don’t want to let it go.”
Ronnie certainly gives good interview when he is in the mood, and Gabby got the best out of him; but I should still prefer it if her hair were a little less perfectly straightened, and she were to develop an alcohol dependency, or at least a serious apple habit.
Glamour has its place, of course, and it is on the X-Factor, which saw the coronation of Cheryl Cole, who has apparently replaced Princess Diana in the hearts of the nation. A documentary on Five pointed to the parallels between the two, even down to their choice of unpopular husband. One married a man cloistered in a privileged moneyed world, unaware of real life outside, whereas the other (punch line available in Screen Break special edition Christmas crackers).
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