Review: It's downhill all the way from here

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The Independent Culture
ON Saturday afternoon, the Olympic flame reached Lillehammer and was dunked into the tall ornamental bowl from which it will burn for the next fortnight, high above the Winter Games. Except it wasn't as simple as that.

In fact, on its overland journey (as tracked by Olympic Grandstand, BBC 2), the torch was borne through the frozen forests by a senior citizen, carried down a towering ski-jump by a last-minute student stand-in (the original cast-member had done himself a mischief in rehearsals), conveyed across the arena floor by a partially-sighted cross-country skier and then run by an athlete up a staircase so steep it was practically a rope. It's hard to think how the risk factor could have been enlarged, short of involving under-fed circus animals or entrusting the final 300 yards to a Group 4 security van.

Blame Barcelona for raising the stakes sky high at the last Olympics by employing an archer to fire the flame into the bowl on a lit arrow from a breathtaking distance. The Lillehammer organising committee seems to have read this as a blatant challenge. And at some point, during some meeting or other, someone must have looked up from the table and said: 'Remember those old commercials for Cadbury's Milk Tray . . ?'

As for the rest of the ceremony: remember those old commercials for British Airways? The competitors had passed waving before us, nation by nation, wearing shellsuits in every colour of the rainbow, and in several thousand other colours from somewhere less appetising. Questions bobbled up but there wasn't time to resolve them. Like, how come the Mexican team flag was being carried by an Austrian prince? And how did it ever occur to four guys in tropical Samoa to start a bobsleigh team?

But the athletes' parade wasn't the half of it. In fact, by my watch, it wasn't even the quarter of it. First came the giant display of traditional Norwegian folk pursuits - amusing or not, depending on how you feel about watching a man trying to kick a hat off a stick. Up on a hill throughout, schoolchildren dressed up - for no good reason that one could easily fathom - as multi-coloured sperm, formed the Olympic rings and jumped up and down to ward off frostbite.

'The reindeer has a will in itself,' said David Coleman, commentating for perhaps the first time in his career on a display of old-time Norwegian sled-driving. It's just possible that he was reading from a script, rather than casually tossing us nuggets from his own deep stocks of Nordic wisdom. But even scripted, the Coleman voice takes on a slightly worried judder, as if his commentary position was at the epicentre of a strictly localised earthquake. This may have been the cold ('minus 10 degrees and falling,' Coleman told us at the start) or it may have been nerves. But more likely it was the impending doom of the man who knows that, once the folk-dancing is through and once the parade of the teams has passed, he will still have to narrate a Norwegian fairy tale enacted in mime on ice.

Later that night, Chris Evans took a deep breath and launched himself down a slippery slope called Don't Forget Your Toothbrush (C 4). He just about made it on his feet, but he looked pretty shaken at the bottom. This is a new live show in which a lot of external fizz is used to enliven a flat quiz format - answer some questions, win a holiday. There was so much tedious call-and-response stuff that the audience's script was almost as long as Evans's. And there were moments of inactivity in which a Norwegian hat-kicker would have been welcomed like a returning Elvis Presley. But at least we had the Superstar quiz segment, in which Sandie Shaw went head-to- head with her biggest fan to answer questions about Sandie Shaw: the moment where the fan beat her to the buzzer over the names of her three children was genuinely funny. For the rest, imagine The Word transferred to daytime television. French daytime television.

Tom Sutcliffe returns tomorrow