He's shown some good form so far in this tournament," said Andrew Castle yesterday, in the BBC's Centre Court commentary box. It was an unarguable assessment of Andy Murray's fourth-round opponent, Richard Gasquet, and Castle wasn't to know that the camera would at that second focus on a man in the crowd with an umbrella strapped to his head. I can't have been the only one fleetingly wondering why the umbrella man's form was so worthy of comment. Was this perhaps the third or fourth silly hat he had been seen in since Wimbledon fortnight began?
Matching the words to the pictures is a challenge that on the whole brings the best out of the BBC's commentary team, and after all is what television commentary is all about, but sometimes they get thrown by the visuals, and have to drop in an abrupt reference to Billie Jean King in the royal box during an in-depth analysis of Murray's backhand. On the radio, of course, they are unconstrained by such inconveniences. But poor old Castle was given a right royal runaround yesterday. "Of course we're talking about someone in the top echelons of the game," he said authoritatively, as a shot of the Duchess of Cambridge filled the screen. "Not that lady," he added, limply.
The presence of the former Kate Middleton in the front row of the royal box clearly gave the director a dilemma. Normally, when Murray plays, the unwritten or possibly even written rule is that his lovely girlfriend Kim Sears must be featured every 25 seconds. But yesterday was almost as much about Kate vs Kim as it was about Murray vs Gasquet, and Kim was a straight-sets loser.
Alongside Castle, meanwhile, were the two Johns, McEnroe and Lloyd, the latter his usual deferential self when McEnroe is in the room, speaking only when spoken to. Never mind William and Kate, it was the three-times Wimbledon champion who was the object of the bowing and scraping on Centre Court yesterday, as he always is. Splendid pundit he might be, but it would be nice if his BBC colleagues didn't respond to his every quip as if he were Lenny Bruce.
In Made in Britain, Evan Davis continued his perceptive and enlightening study of the nation's economic health. Someone clever once said that economics is all about moving forward by looking in the rear-view mirror, which makes it sound intriguing, but the truth, if only from where I'm sitting, is that balance-of-payments deficits and import-export ratios hold all the fascination of last year's railway timetable.
So hats off to Davis for injecting fun into the proceedings; indeed, last night's programme began with a chase over urban rooftops that looked for all the world like the start of a James Bond film, or at least an episode of The Sweeney, except with him as Daniel Craig. Or at least Dennis Waterman. It was meant as a visual metaphor for the economics of the last two centuries, with Britain getting ahead and desperately trying to stay ahead, which was a little bit fanciful, and it could be that it was less about elucidating things for the viewer and more about Davis indulging a fantasy in which he is chased by two sinister men in black, but either way, it was an arresting way into a programme dealing with Britain's place "in the most nebulous sector of all, intellectual property".
Davis visited the World Expo in Shanghai, one among 400,000 daily visitors to a show that has its roots, as all these things do, in the Great Exhibition of 1851. The Great Exhibition might have had a German, Prince Albert, as its driving force, but it was intended to showcase the best of British, and Davis assured us that 160 years on the best of British is still pretty damn impressive in global terms. But our very best this past half-century or so has been as much about ideas as products. For instance, the most efficient way of mass-producing windows is the float-glass process, invented in the 1950s by St Helens-based Pilkington. It cost £7m to develop, the equivalent of £130m today, yet has reaped billions.
We're good at marketing and packaging too, and always have been. In 1884, a pair of brothers called Lever started pre-wrapping soap, which until then had been hacked off great blocks. This was Sunlight soap, which by the 1930s had made the company the biggest in Britain. Today, we know it as Unilever.
Strolling the aisles of a supermarket, and wryly pondering how much shortbread a society needs, Davis pointed out that with so many of our basic requirements fulfilled, simple aesthetics take over. So packaging and marketing become all-important, and a particular triumph is the Kit Kat, one of Britain's great gifts to the world (apparently, nowhere shifts Kit Kats like Dubai airport, where they sell a ton of the things every day). When the Swiss food giant Nestlé bought Rowntree's for £2.55bn a few years ago, only a fifth of that sum went on the nuts and bolts of the operation. Most of the value was in the brand.
All this, Davis concluded, "has made us rich ... but it hasn't made us rich enough". We're still not selling as much as we're buying, and what happens, he asked, "when the next hit chocolate bar is Chinese, not British?" It's an interesting question. And all we can hope is that the runes are not in the strawberries, for at Wimbledon last week, Britain's own Elena Baltacha was eliminated in three sets by China's Peng Shuai.Reuse content