TV Rewiew: Scotland v England (C4).

The programme that sweated blood to get two countries to talk to each other on the eve of conflict. By Jasper Rees
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The Independent Culture
Today brings the most emotionally fraught football match played on our island for 30 years etc etc. To celebrate the event, and butt in on Euro 96 like sozzled gatecrashers, Channel 4 gave us Scotland v England, the pub debate.

When the channel's high-minded founders came up with the idea of a station that would cater for those whose voices are not usually heard on television, it might not have been foreseen that Friday night on Channel 4 would eventually metamorphose into pissed night. Scotland v England, broadcast the night before the game, required its viewers to be so befogged with booze that they wouldn't notice that it had got its own title wrong (England v Scotland, shurely?)

A noisy, testosterone-fuelled exercise in triumphalist jockularity, an excuse for cheerfully ironic jingoism, this had Stuart Cosgrove's pawmarks all over it. Cosgrove is the controller of arts and entertainment at Channel 4, but he also moonlights as a professional Scotsman. He once, for his sins, wrote an entertaining book about Scottish football's saints and sinners - the Presbyterian teetotallers and alcoholic ne'er-do-wells who have somehow rubbed along in the national side. You could tell the dice were loaded against the home team when Gordon Kennedy, representing Scotland, entered flanked by stirring bagpipers. Nick Hancock got a couple of Morris dancers. Morris dancers never fail to crop up when someone is trying to make a point about the meagreness, the tameness, of England's folk iconography.

The best running joke of the proceedings belonged to Father Ted's Dermot Morgan. Though referee, in the spirit of Celtic fraternity he flagrantly supported the Scottish cause. In fact most of the sharper barbs went to Hancock. Even though he didn't write his script, Hancock has a wry personal line in sarkiness that makes words put into his mouth sound like his own. He enjoyed the idea that the three-foot high Hadrian's Wall kept the Scots at bay for hundreds of years, and that Robert the Bruce took tips on battle tactics from an insect. He also quashed the legend that disdaining underwear when dressed in a kilt is somehow manly. "We've got no pants" has always seemed a hollow boast.

Generally, though, subtle wit spent this encounter on the subs' bench (in the real contest it won't even get as near the pitch as that). There was copious use of the words "shit" and "crap", usually a good sign that the rhetoric is not in the Ciceronian class. In the mythical beast section, Kennedy claimed that while Scotland can field the Loch Mess monster, England can only come up with the Beast of Bodmin. Hancock omitted to make the obvious rejoinder that while Nessie is probably fictional, the Cornish cat is probably real, and therefore altogether more awesome. If only we could say the same for the animal in the England midfield (mentioning no names).

Needless to say, Scotland walked all over the opposition in a rigged contest. A channel with a remit to cater for minorities could allow no other result.

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