TELEVISION / Lie back and think of David Coleman

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The Independent Culture
'SHE'S THERE to be taken,' exclaimed David Coleman as a female luge-er whizzed past in Olympic Grandstand (BBC 2). Given that the luge is a gynaecological examination table on skates, this remark had a certain vivid force to it, though it seemed less than gentlemanly to point it out. Then again, with an event like the luge, in which the fastest performance looks no different to the slowest, a commentator must work with what comes along. And few can touch Coleman for his ability to build castles of conviction on clouds of unknowing.

At speed, rattling over the ice, luge-ers have the physique of a rubber glove full of jelly - you wonder for a moment whether they've been de-boned in some mad attempt to reduce wind resistance. None of this deters Coleman from the utterly conventional patter. 'In superb form at the moment,' he said as another cat-suited blancmange zipped by. 'Totally relaxed . . . tension is transmitted to the luge.' The Greek entrant relaxed so much that she decided to let the luge have a turn on top but unfortunately I missed his remarks about that. I doubt if Alan Partridge could have done it better.

Nor could David Vine, who tries hard but can't quite match the master. There's always a sneaking suspicion with Vine that he may know something about the event he's describing, even when he blatantly pilfers from the resident expert. In unfamiliar sports you can practically hear him learning on the job. 'Nice and tight,' said Julia Snell on Tuesday as someone jackhammered over the moguls in the Freestyle event. 'She looked very compact all the way down,' said David a little later, slipping in a synonym by way of wiping his fingerprints clean. 'Nice aggressive attitude,' said Snell of another skier, who had just bounced 15ft into the air and was combing her hair with her ski tips. 'Good aggression there,' said David a few minutes later, waving his purloined authority with impressive cheek.

The Underworld (BBC 1) has to pretend to disapprove of the criminals it profiles but is actually beside itself with excitement at their presence. It opens with rain-soaked streets, a vintage Jag and plenty of dramatic backlighting, and the Long Good Friday feel is accentuated by the decision to have Bob Hoskins do the voice-over. In other words, the irrepressible appeal of the outlaw is reinforced by plenty of retro-chic - police cars with bells on front and Ealing Film wrong'uns.

There was certainly more than a whiff of nostalgia for the days when good honest criminals only carried coshes and did their porridge without whining to the Appeal Court. Try as he might, Hoskins never found a tone of voice which sounded convincingly disdainful - 'He prides himself on never having won even a day's remission for good behaviour,' he said of 'Mad' Frankie Fraser, and he couldn't extinguish the little thrill of respect for the hard man that the remark contained; he even talked at one point about 'the post- War generation of British thieves', as if they were an artistic movement due for reappraisal on The Late Show.

They were undoubtedly more innocent times. 'Quantities of discarded chewing-gum have been discovered,' said a Cholmondeley-Warner voice from the BBC archives, 'leading the authorities to believe that the crimes are the work of a band of foreigners - possibly Americans.' They were, in fact, the work of Eddie Chapman, a charming safe-cracker who introduced gelignite to the trade in Britain. This television tribute to a lifetime's achievement will have been small beer to Eddie - he's already been played by Christopher Plummer in the film Triple Cross, an account of his extraordinary exploits as a double-agent during the War.

Others though, including 'Mad' Frankie (certified insane three times, he announced proudly), will be well pleased with the result. They already know that crime pays - they calculated the profit and loss of each crime with an accountant's precision - but it must be a nice bonus to end up famous as well.