The Week in Comedy: A Question of Sport doesn't need a spin-off, it needs an early bath


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The Independent Culture

There are few more dispiriting sentences in the English language than “Jason Manford is to host a spin-off from A Question of Sport”. It is not Manford’s fault; of course the unimaginative BBC would choose the ubiquitous everyman for the job. The question is whether it was a job anyone wanted doing in the first place.

A Question of Sport: Super Saturday will feature team captains Matt “haven’t got a Scooby” Dawson and Phil “whatisname?” Tufnell and celebrity guests playing a series of physical games, “with a sporting twist”. In the “Kids vs Captains” round, ex-internationals Tuffers and Daws will play crazy golf and the like against children. Which is funny, because children are funny. It sounds like an unholy, and wholly unfunny, mash-up of Total Wipeout and a rugby club quiz night.

The original Question of Sport is Britain’s longest-running quiz show, having racked up 43 series and almost 1,100 episodes. Since its first northern-only episode, presented by Stuart Hall in 1968, it has been a constant fixture, although the line-up of its first national broadcast two years later – George Best, Ray Illingworth, Tom Finney, Lillian Board, and team captains Cliff Morgan and Henry Cooper – has rarely been outclassed. Forty-three series – that’s about 600 hours of questions and conferring and banter and Mystery Guests and Observation Rounds, only about 580 of which have been wasted on Tufnell having convulsions, shoulders shaking like Mutley, at one of his own jokes.

It is odd that the show has lasted so long. These days, it does not really appeal either to sports or comedy fans, apart from Sue Barker who still, after 16 years, appears to find everything everyone says hilarious. Perhaps it looks different from where she is sitting. While fellow long-running quiz Have I Got News for You still manages to score witty points against its guests and topics, A Question of Sport long abandoned insight or analysis for crash helmets and green room larks. It doesn’t need a spin-off; it needs an early bath.

Perhaps sport simply isn’t funny. For those in the heat of competition, it is always deadly serious. That is why when anything remotely amusing happens – a rogue pigeon on court, a loud sneeze, a streaker – everyone watching laughs like drains. The bar is set low. And while sport has inspired some great comedy characters and moments – Eastbound & Down’s Kenny Powers, the baseball scene in Naked Gun, Alan Partridge – real-life sportspeople tend, rightly, to save their most sparkling performances for the field.

On television, sporty entertainment has tended to centre on the sofa or the panel show, to emulate the chat that goes on in sitting rooms and pub quizzes across the land. David Baddiel and Frank Skinner got it right with the matey Fantasy Football League, a show that made the game beautiful even to non-fans. They Think It’s All Over was similarly appointment viewing in the 1990s: watch the risky, laddish chat of Rory McGrath, Nick Hancock and co on YouTube now and it looks like a relic from a time before super-injunctions and stage-managed sports stars. More recently, A League of Their Own has proved an ideal vehicle for James Corden, John Bishop and Jack Whitehall, while The Last Leg, first broadcast during the 2012 Paralympics, made the names of Adam Hills, Josh Widdicombe and Alex Brooker. All are examples of talented comedians riffing on sport, which is, after all, a very different thing from talented sportsmen having a go at comedy.

It is the Baftas on Sunday but not everyone is excited

Sarah Millican has written in the Radio Times about her experience at last year’s ceremony, when she was nominated for the Entertainment award and presented another.

The comedian had a wonderful night until she got home and saw thousands of cruel comments about her John Lewis dress on social media, in the newspapers and on breakfast television.

“It was like a pin to my excitable balloon”, she writes. “I’m sorry. I thought I had been invited to such an illustrious event because I am good at my job.”

Upset, then furious, Millican resolved that if she was invited this year – which she was, and nominated too – she would wear the same dress. So when asked the inevitable question, “Where did you get your dress?”, she could say, “Oh, it’s just last year’s, pet.” Bravo. It would have shown the red carpet up for the absurd, sexist irrelevance it is.

In fact, Millican will be busy on Sunday doing what she does best, making people laugh at a gig in Buxton. I know what I’d rather be watching.

What I Watched…

The Comedy Vaults

By far the most interesting offering yet in BBC2’s 50th birthday celebrations this show had rarely and never seen comedy clips from the archives. Fascinating to see Borat, Miranda and Partridge, among others, in embryonic form. Recommended.

People Just Do Nothing

Already a hit on YouTube, the daft mockumentary set in a pirate radio station has become the first BBC comedy to be uploaded to iPlayer in full ahead of its transmission on BBC3 later in the year. Watch all four in a binge.

The Midnight Beast

An easy target, perhaps but the comedy trio’s parody of One Direction’s “You and I” is nicely done. The “It’s all a bit vague” chorus is a real earworm.