TELEVISION / Everywhere you look: balls

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The Independent Culture
FORGET Brazil's Leonardo in World Cup 94 (ITV, BBC) and Agassi at Wimbledon (BBC); the week's prize for televisual athleticism goes to Wendy and Tony of Leyton.

According to the Sun, Wendy and Tony have been having sex three times a day in front of a BBC camera crew so that the orgasm can be laid bare for a forthcoming Desmond Morris programme. Wendy sportingly put a camera into her vagina. Fitted with a tiny torch, the camera bobbed around in there like an usherette seeking a spare seat among the crimson plush. Another camera went along for the ride on Tony's manhood. Morris was delighted: 'As they approach climax, Tony's nostrils flare and his earlobes swell.' The news that lovers have swell earlobes is the best argument yet for the remystification of sex. Morris calls this 'a piece of biological education'. I call it another lurch across the final frontier of taste: to coldly go where man has only gone on heat before.

It was in the same spirit of scientific inquiry that your critic arranged to have a camera stuck up the BBC commentator John Motson. For years now, the theory has gained ground that Motson is talking out of his bottom, and here was a chance to find out the truth.

Known affectionately as Motty, Motson would be better dubbed Motto as his commentary style draws heavily on the kind of homilies normally confined to Christmas crackers. He was all over the US for World Cup Grandstand - San Francisco, New Jersey - and yet, however far he travels, Motto is always at home, hermetically sealed in the fact-lined bedroom of the trainspotter. He is not afraid to describe the big event. Not afraid and not able. There he was failing to capture the insolent grace of the Brazilians ('And the scene very much one of yellow and green'), there he was again failing to sum up the sprawling contest ('Very much three different time zones'). During the Italy v Norway match, when it looked as if Italy might not get through, Motto finally realised something expansive was called for: 'Just look at this scene. And the reserve referee is English]'

My hidden monitor recorded no hot flushes or swollen earlobes until we came to Motto's New Fact: the polyurethane finish on the ball. 'Mmm, must be the special coating keeping it in,' he mused with a rapture Dan Maskell used to lavish on the new balls straight from the Wimbledon refrigerator. When Motto takes a rare break to look up the inside-leg measurement of Argentina's 1954 centre-half, he is relieved by Trevor Brooking. Trev is a smashing bloke, but he too has the odd spot of bother with the verbals. During Cameroon v Brazil, he thought one player was 'gonna chance his arm with his left leg'. Very much a mixed metaphor situation there.

The BBC may have trouble upfront, but it completely dominates back in the studio. The presence of Bob Wilson, Des Lynam and Gary Lineker even compensates for Terry Venables and Jimmy Hill - wide and narrow boy respectively. ITV has the best commentator in the suave, succinct Brian Moore, but his good work tends to be undone by pundit Ray Wilkins. Asked to comment on a dazzling performance by the Nigerians Ray, who has the

ferret-like demeanour and adenoidal delivery of EastEnders' Grant, said: 'Defensively, I fort vey was very naive.' Naive, it becomes clear over many long nights, is code for black.

The real victor of the World Cup so far is public-service television. Anyone who still doesn't understand why the BBC must retain the licence fee till the last minute of recorded time can't have witnessed ITV's coverage of the Ireland v Italy match. After an intoxicating game, we were straight back to the studio and a split-second discussion. You were longing to return to the stadium for a word from an exultant Big Jack, but it was into the extended logo for the sponsors, Panasonic, and then a raft of ads. Back to the studio. Surely now we would get to soak up some atmosphere in the Irish dressing-room? Nope. After a brief flash to another match it was back to the Panasonics. I made that two commercial breaks in five minutes.

Over at Wimbledon, they were busy trying to pep up the bleariest first week in memory. There was a winsome short film on new tennis dads ('Family life has been the inspiration for Jeremy Bates and Stefan Edberg this season') and I actually turned on one afternoon to find Des Lynam interrupting a Centre Court match to take us live to a whimpering heap of oestrogen outside the dressing-rooms. 'Yes, it's Him,' sighed Des, as Agassi wove his Immac-ulate pins through the fans. Fake drama of this kind only emphasises a lack of the real thing. The choice of matches doesn't help either. Today at Wimbledon is meant to show highlights, but if they've stuck with a dull match in the afternoon we invariably get it again with no recompense for those tantalising glimpses of great outside-court play. Thus we watched Edberg lose twice to the Danish Carlsen (probably not the finest player in the world) and didn't get more than a peep as Jim Courier, that pneumatic Charlie Brown, went down to the wispy Gauloise in shorts, Guy Forget.

The boys and girls in the commentary box kept their spirits up in traditional fashion by pinning them on The British Hope. The British Hope can be called Chris or Andrew or Jeremy but he always plays an all- purpose opponent known as The German or The Very Tall German or, on one memorable afternoon, This Very Tall German Not Easy to Lob at 6ft 5. The British Hope is not to be confused with 'An Unknown Moroccan' who is a better player than The British Hope but regrettably foreign - almost, one might say, naive.

When The BH's range of shots is small, the commentator's range of excuses is breathtaking. Mark Cox, in particular, excelled himself during Chris Wilkinson's humiliating dismissal: 'He was having some discomfort with the sock there - rucks up in the shoe.' Ah, yes. Things were nearly bad enough to wipe the smile off the face of pert Sue Barker: 'A disappointing tournament for the women. In fact, the worst ever.' By Friday afternoon, Des was marvelling at the vagaries of fate: 'Britain had 18 players in the singles. Nine men and nine women and we're left with Jeremy Bates.' Not for long: he'll soon be off to spend more time with his family.

The Bloke Next Door (BBC2), Michael Cockerell's Portrait of Ken Clarke, shared many of its subject's attractions. From the Blue Note record sleeves in the opening credits, it was full of a mellow slip-your- shoes-off charm. The Chancellor of the Exchequer was, Cockerell promised us, a far more complex character than his image suggested. To prove it he had lined up a number of witnesses - Norman Tebbit, Edwina Currie, Edwina Currie and Edwina Currie. Sourpuss Edwina was star witness for the prosecution, suggesting that should her former boss become Prime Minister he would undoubtedly start World War 3 before a six- pint lunch - while smoking.

Why not talk to Clarke's PPS or comparable opponents? I would have liked to hear Prescott on Clarke - bruiser to bruiser. Only Michael, Clarke's younger brother, offered a painfully acute new angle. It was sad to hear him recall that their mother had been an alcoholic, but even more curious to hear Ken deny it, and haltingly gloss over their relationship: 'That would be unkind to my mother to say I didn't get on well with her. She was a perfectly reasonable mother and I had, I think, the usual feelings of affection towards my mother.' A more ambitious investigation would not have left that numb 'perfectly reasonable' dangling there unchallenged.

And finally, after 21 years of good consumer journalism and naughty root vegetables, it was That's Life All Over] (BBC1). Male presenters came and went - all bluff coves who could switch from the seaside-postcard snigger to the mortician's mask for child-abuse items - but it was always Esther Rantzen's show. Archive footage reminded us of those heady early days when Esther would sweep to her stool in a burnt-orange A-line or Laura Ashley marquee, her cleavage quivering like eggs in a coddler.

Esther's great achievement was to pull off a most un-British thing - the inculcation of the right to complain in a people who know their place before their name. A magazine Mary Poppins, she would add a spoonful of sugar - or smut - to help the medicine go down, and the result was a faintly queasy mixture of consciousness raising and consciousness debasing. That held true to the last show when organ-transplant kids whose lives had undoubtedly been saved by the Ben Hardwick appeal turned up alongside a man who once ran a class for Trimphone impersonators (breep, breep). He has moved with the times and is now offering tuition in the mobile phone. Cheap cheap, goes the phone, cheap cheap. And looking at the children's faces, you wondered.

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