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Bits and Pieces
...and the prize for worst sports chat show ever goes to.....
By Martin "is this man becoming dangerously obsessed with Clare Balding?" Kelner
Sep 30, 2013 - 12:21:20 PM

A fellow is telling his friend a story about how he was walking through town when across the other side of the road he spotted six guys beating up his mother-in-law.   "Blimey," his mate says, "Didn't you go over and help?" "No," he answers, "They seemed to be doing O.K. without me."


Now I realise that old joke is wrong on a number of levels, I feel ashamed for committing it to print and in the unlikely event of your repeating it, please don't say you heard it from me.  


Back in the 1970s, though, you could switch on Saturday night telly and regularly hear similar material from much-loved family entertainers.   Les Dawson more or less built a career on it - "I knew it was the mother-in-law at the door, the mice were throwing themselves on the traps," that kind of thing.  


Well, thank goodness we've evolved, and our entertainers these days are careful not to say or do anything that might unduly offend readers of The Guardian.   


Apparently all comedy now has to be approved by a committee chaired by Stephen Fry before being aired in public, for which TV viewers should be eternally grateful. Because Miranda Hart falling over for half an hour is so very much funnier than Rising Damp.


It is, nevertheless, bracing from time to time to encounter one of those great acts of the 1970s you don't see on TV nearly enough nowadays.   Rodney Marsh, for instance, who wasn't strictly speaking a variety act - although you might find supporters of Manchester City and Queens Park Rangers who would disagree - cropped up on BT Sport's Life's A Pitch, the best of the new breed of sport chat shows.


Rodders, of course, lost his punditry gig on Sky because of a dumb, ill-advised joke following the tsunami in the Far East, but far from licking his wounds, he's moved to Florida, and returned as cheerfully insouciant as ever in conversation with Des Kelly.


We're currently either living through a golden age of sport chat shows or in danger of drowning in a sea of blather.   The launch of BT Sport, the revamp of Talksport radio, plus the BBC raising its punditry game now Alan Hansen has said he'll hang up his gob after the World Cup, all mean our contribution to the European bullshit mountain - sorry, but it really is le mot juste - is at an all-time high.  


Not that I'm complaining.   Were I not ill, I should be an enthusiastic contributor - Brian Moore and Paddy Barclay can't do every programme - but probably not to the Clare Balding Show.   Certainly not after asking what the heck dear Clare is playing at.


Some of you may remember Larry Sanders, a brilliant American show of the 1990s satirising the conventions of the chat show.   One episode concerned a new producer arriving, with a mission to make Larry more showbiz.   He suggests the host bounds onto the set high-fiving the audience, the joke being that this was about the corniest thing you could do on a chat show.


It was, therefore, with open-mouthed disbelief that I witnessed La Balding on her BT Sport show last Friday bound onto the set high-fiving the audience.    And that was just the start of the horror.   She did a little dance on stage a la Alan Partridge (I'm not making this up), greeted by the crowd with a chant of "Balding, Balding" in the style of the Jerry Springer audience.


And don't even get me started on the monologue.   On Chelsea's Champions' League defeat by Basel, she mentioned Jose Mourinho's convoluted egg metaphor leading to headlines like "Shell Shocked" and "Scrambled Eggs."   "I'm quite worried about where this whole thing is going," said Clare, "Does he realise that eggs turn into chickens?"   We waited in vain for a punch line, as our host ploughed on with a terminally weak "joke" about Manu Tuilagi serving David Cameron rabbit stew for dinner, and a routine about Gareth Bale carrying his things in a plastic bag.  


"He's wiser than you think," quipped the Bob Hope de nos jours , "Because he was probably given it for free, and you have to pay 5p for them in Wales, and you have done for some time."    I find it difficult to believe that somebody actually wrote this stuff down, and some other poor drone had to type it into the autocue.


The consolation for Clare is that few people, apart from the bored, drunk, and heavily medicated like me, will be witnessing her painful foray into showbiz, so she should be able to put the whole thing down to experience.  


The stuff she is good at, she's clearly still good at.   The interviews with Joey Barton and Usain Bolt, both chat show gifts, were fine; and as we know, Clare is horse racing royalty, whose occasional turns on Channel 4's coverage undeniably lift the show.   A cobbler, as the old saying goes, should stick to his or her last - and maybe leave the other cobblers behind.


Finally, after a hot run, I find the gambling gods have deserted me.   I had St Helens and Harlequins in a rugby double on Friday, and was five minutes away from a decent win.   And the on Saturday I was five yards or so away   - I am not an expert - with my big bet, York Glory at Newbury.   I am in a hole, and no mistake, and would welcome any help in getting out of it.  






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