TELEVISION / A fat lot of good

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The Independent Culture
40 MINUTES (BBC 2) went to Japan to support our national team in that most British of sports - Sumo wrestling. Steve, George and Terry had already enjoyed a cushioned ride through the qualifying competition in London. Only three wrestlers were set to go on from there to represent Britain in the Tokyo finals. But only Steve, George and Terry had turned up. So the winners had been Steve, George and Terry. That's how big British Sumo is these days.

Hard to fault our boys' physique, though. Basically, there appeared to be two ways to develop as a Sumo wrestler. Either you adopt the Japanese method, disciplining both the mind and the body by means of traditional Oriental arts, developed and refined over thousands of years. Or you follow Terry, and eat a lot of fried eggs. The programme indicated that, as for all athletes, diet was the key consideration: for Terry, the consideration was whether to eat the bacon before the sausages or after.

The programme got its comic mileage from watching Steve, George and Terry struggle against the indignity which comes built in with Sumo. After all, real men don't wear Pampers. And real men certainly don't spend their time trying to get a significant grip on other men's Pampers. When it came to self-assertion in the face of these overwhelming odds, it was George the Geordie who had the clearest advantage.

To call him tattooed would be an understatement. Rather, at some point in his life, he seems to have decided to get an entire copy of the Dandy reproduced on his torso and arms. This kind of thing goes down fine around Newcastle, but the only people wearing wrap-around tattoos in Tokyo are gangsters, which meant that George was both frightening the tournament audiences and also finding it difficult to get served in the local bars.

That last detail took on greater significance as the competition wore on. Just before the team was ignominiously carted out of the ring by Australia, Syd the coach was advocating 'shock tactics'. Steve told George, 'Just for one day, be Mr Nasty.' Terry thought he'd sink a bit of sake beforehand, just to loosen up, but on the morning of the bout, he was still queasy after the sake he had sunk the night before. Too hungover to get drunk, Terry was clearly, by now, some way outside Olympic guidelines on pre-match preparation. The message was, for British Sumo you need a strong stomach. Certainly to watch it.

Something like the principle of Sumo informs Coltrane in a Cadillac (ITV), in which two large objects are forced together - in this case, Robbie Coltrane and a big car. But the result is more pleasant to watch. Last night, Coltrane's trans-American journey breezed across Utah, Colorado and Kansas. All the while, Coltrane told jokes and pulled off a trick rarely seen on television - making his reservations felt while keeping an open mind.