Robin Scott-Elliot: Cavendish may be Rain Man but he's the perfect spokesman to light up Sky
Special Report, Sky Sports News / John Arlott, BBC4
Monday 19 December 2011
Leaked copies of the running order for this week's Sports Bloke of the Year – please hand coats and scarves to Clare Balding and Hazel Irvine on the way in – reveal the programme includes a Christmas comedy skit by disc jockeys Richard Keys and Andy Gray, Smash-it and Not-so-nicey. It is, say the BBC, not their fault that there are no women nominated for Thursday's bauble, a spokesman adding that this is the problem with allowing other people to chose. He went on to ponder whether we shouldn't actually scrap universal suffrage as when the public at large are allowed to vote on things you end up with minor royals as Sports Personality of the Year and David Cameron as prime minister.
In this neck of the woods, SPOTY has consistently been the most disappointing programme of the year. My father, for some reason, used to feel the need to apologise to the rest of the family as the credits rolled – it was the first sign of Christmas. Having said all that – and if Christmas is not the time for hypocrisy (or is it humbug) when is? – I hope Mark Cavendish wins sport's most meaningless award. Strangely enough Sky Sports neglected to mention "The Fastest Man On Two Wheels" is up for the top prize on the Beeb. They did let the viewer know several times that TFMOTW had joined Team Sky, during what was a diverting half-hour devoted to one of the most interesting men (or women) in British sport at the moment.
Cavendish is impossible not to like, although that is not a view that has always been shared by the peloton. He is obsessed with his sport, but also mindful of its place and his place in it. "I'm a little bit weird," he said at one point, describing himself as "Rain-Manish". This was an endearing portrait, and his attitude to looming fatherhood added to the self-labelled Rain Man impression. His partner Peta Todd "fell pregnant", according to the voiceover, and although the baby is not due until April, they have already bought all the gear, from pram to some sort of infant CCTV device.
"She [they already know it's a girl] will have you wrapped around your little finger," suggested the interviewer and Cavendish grinned in acknowledgement. Next summer he has the chance to win Britain's first gold in the London Games and if he can achieve that, he will have a nation wrapped around his little finger.
John Arlott managed something similar through the power of his voice. Last week marked 20 years since his death and the BBC repeated an interview he gave to Mike Brearley in 1984. Originally it was three different programmes – the sign of a different TV era – and it was squeezed down to one engrossing hour. Arlott's rich, rural voice is hypnotic, an effect helped by expressive eyebrows that draw you towards a snug, happy place. He did also have an ability to launch withering verbal attacks. He and Brearley were discussing the great cities of the world. "Sydney?" said Brearley. "Ah yes," went the tone of Arlott's dismissal, "beautiful but full of Australians."
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