Robin Scott-Elliot: Lawro's new puppy injects some life into an old dog

View From The Sofa: A Question of Sport / Football Focus, BBC 1
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The Independent Culture

Between them they are within spitting distance of retirement age, at least as it stands ahead of next year's general election. Television longevity is harder to achieve than was a lasting marriage to Henry VIII, but A Question of Sport and Football Focus have been around since the early 1970s and show no signs of joining Grandstand and Sportsnight in the great archive in the sky, or following in the carefully marshalled footprints of One Man and his Dog and going to Sky.

A Question of Sport has to take pride of place, or the Katherine Parr slot. There it is, surviving in prime-time blandness on BBC 1. For four decades viewers have watched (and mystifyingly come back for more) Willie Carson or Emlyn Hughes struggling to identify tennis players. And the picture board is still going – "Munchenova," said Phil Tufnell, one of the captains along with Matt Dawson, as a tennis player popped up on screen. Tuffers seems to model his leadership on Mike Gatting, his captain at Middlesex, whose thoughts never strayed far from the next meal break.

Dawson, meanwhile, was schmoozing Victoria Pendleton. "You were the most glamorous Olympian of 2008," he said, sending a shiver up and down the land. Even Sue Barker's smile slipped. Dawson is no stranger to BBC light entertainment shows, where he plays a similarly irritating role to the one he graced the rugby field with. A Jack Russell (the animal, not the wicketkeeper-turned-artist) would be the ideal casting were the panel to be replaced by dogs, a programme for which there is definitely an opening since OMAHD departed the terrestrial world.

Over on Focus, the host Dan Walker is a labrador puppy. Which might explain Mark Lawrenson's hangdog look. Walker is so enthusiastic that any moment you expect him to jump on to Lawro's lap before giving his face a vigorous licking.

Unlike QoS, Focus spent years living at home with its parent programme Grandstand, before tipping all its belongings (Lawro, Garth Crooks, Stubbsy) into a binbag and finding a place of its own. Sometimes it still tries to justify that independence, and this week Walker's team attempted to "prise open what could be a significant can of worms" and investigate foreign ownership of Premier League clubs. For Lee Dixon this was no can of worms. It was a "roller coaster". And a "juggernaut". Which makes for one hell of a ride. Especially if you're attempting to prise open a significant can of worms.

The language of Focus is aimed at those who don't remember Ray Stubbs, let alone Bob Wilson. There were combos, blokes and pukka pundits. And then Lawro tried to join in by describing David Beckham's beard as "minging". Walker's wife doesn't like it either, apparently, although no one thought to ask John Motson about it when they went live to Fratton Park where Motty was with Peter Storrie. The Portsmouth chief executive had been keeping an eye on the "Arabian papers", but the can of worms remained unprised. Prising is not really a Focus thing.

Walker is the ideal host for the show, injecting pace and enthusiasm into a role that has not been happily filled in recent years. The show's heyday is gone but nevertheless it lollops along, tail wagging, Lawro tugging on the lead and clutching a plastic bag just in case. The oldest puppy in town.

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