Film: There's only one Desmond Lynam

James Rampton pays homage to the coolest man in Britannia, a broadcaste r on the verge of becoming a movie star

It was one of those rare occasions where you cast off decades of ingrained journalistic cynicism and revert to being a pure, unquestioning fan. I was reduced to a gibbering groupie as I recently found myself in a late-night drinking session in a pub in Ravenscourt Park, west London, with Des Lynam. I was living in a fantasy world. It was My Night With Des.

But why exactly was I there? Had I taken regression therapy which demanded that I return to the stage of a 13-year-old autograph-hunter? Well, no, I was there to observe Lynam finally grab the limelight he deserves and become a movie star.

Lynam out-cools anything this side of the Arctic Circle. As the BBC's premier sports presenter, he has carved a reputation as more unflappable than a chicken with no wings. Neil Morrissey, his co-star in the film, reckons that "a bomb could explode underneath him and he'd say: 'Sorry, there appears to be a bit of smoke'. He's the Elvis of sport."

With this image, it was only a matter of time before Lynam made the move into movies with the title role in My Summer With Des, written by Arthur Smith. So now he is sitting in the pub waiting for his close-up.

Smith was responsible for An Evening with Gary Lineker, about Italia 90 (is he praying England do well in the World Cup this summer so he can get another drama out of it?). In My Summer with Des, the writer has cannily cast Lynam as a divine, omniscient mentor - not unlike the Humphrey Bogart figure in Woody Allen's Play It Again, Sam. Des comes down from on high to advise the lovelorn Martin (played by Morrissey) on his affair with the angelic Rosie (Rachel Weisz). The whole thing is obviously tongue- in-cheek, but the writer has tapped into this latent sense of Lynam as a national treasure.

"In a crisis, you'd trust Des to look after things," says Smith. "He's a masterful presence - yet compassionate. He's an ideal deus ex machina. You can easily imagine him descending from the skies and sorting everything out.

"He also realises that sport isn't everything. He'd be fun over dinner - unlike the other sports presenters, who'd be nerdy. You get the impression that Des may have had a secret past; he might have run off and joined some Patagonian bandits in his youth and rescued a dizzy blonde. He has a witty quality. There's a touch of the writer about him. I remember him saying once: 'There's Leboeuf with his son, Le Spare Rib'."

The director of My Summer with Des, Simon Curtis, is also a card-carrying member of the Des Lynam Appreciation Society. "Those sporting events on the BBC like the World Cup, Euro 96 and Wimbledon do unify the nation. Des is a symbol of all that. He's our MC. After the penalty fiasco and Gazza crying against Germany at Italia 90, Des said "and those of you going out tonight, go out with peace in your heart". He has a kind of Churchillian rhetoric that elevates an event. People perceive him as a god-like figure." I wasn't in the least surprised to hear a continuity woman on set singing "there's only one Desmond Lynam".

For Weisz, who has starred with Keanu Reeves and Vincent Perez, "Des has more charisma than practically any actor I've come across. He's got movie-star eyes and that slow-burn, smouldering quality. He would be very good in a leading role. The main thing you need in films is charisma. Without trying, he's just got pots of it." Next stop, 007?

Sipping a whisky and water with no ice (the sports presenter's equivalent of a dry martini shaken, not stirred) in the snug bar between takes, Lynam is done up as suavely as we've come to expect: a natty blue admiral's blazer and dark slacks, teamed with an official Euro 96 tie. In a typical flourish, the sobriety of the ensemble is subverted by a cheeky cartoon cat pattern on the socks.

The man himself plays down the image which had him described in one article as "the Jesus of Cool". "Me and the word 'icon' were not mentioned in the same breath till Chris Evans started using it - and then I had to go and look the word up. I don't deal with it, I just turn up and do the job. New presenters are always being compared to me - I don't know why, I've done some bloody awful programmes. All that does drive me slightly mad. You're not a live TV broadcaster for as long as I've been without going slightly cuckoo - as some of my predecessors have proven."

The film takes as its backdrop the ready-made drama of England's progress through the Euro 96 tournament, which climaxed in the thrilling - and ultimately heart-breaking - penalty shoot-out against Germany in the semi- final (again). As he signed off that night, Lynam pinpointed the mood of the nation: "You'd better remember where you were watching this tonight, because in 30 years' time someone will probably ask you." He had instinctively realised that this was a "JFK moment".

Lynam is able to send up gently the accolade of having his name in the title of a film. "It's been a long time coming," he snorts. "All my life, I've wanted a play named after me - now, of course, I've become very precious as a result, demanding better lighting and make-up. I have people scurrying around asking if I want a cup of tea every five minutes. Never get that in BBC Sport; they just throw the tea at you."

Smith says the screenplay is "A Midsummer Night's Dream meets An Evening With Gary Lineker", and Weisz reckons "that summer already has mythical status. Our fairytale slides together with it very easily".

It was a time when, for once, it wasn't embarrassing to be English. In Morrissey's eyes, "the feeling of Euro 96 was so electric. After all that crap about the dentist's chair in Hong Kong and Shearer not scoring for 12 games, it was a great boost. It's easy to forget how magical it was in England, to walk down the street and hear shouts from people's houses. It was like the VE Day celebrations over again".

And, according to Curtis: "The connection between England's football team and the psyche and confidence of our nation is extraordinary. Football allows people to express their emotions in a way that they can't at home. It becomes a shorthand for thwarted relationships and ambitions. We had got used to losing and to the dark days of Heysel, Hillsborough and hooliganism. Cool Britannia began with Euro 96. Suddenly we were proud to be British again.

"The last time football was this trendy was during the George Best era. Football is at the centre of this exuberant, Britpop, Men Behaving Badly culture. But the bubble might burst. You always knew that Harold Wilson was blessed by 1966. If France 98 isn't a success for England, it might signal the downfall of the government!"

Before I reel out of the bar, Morrissey reflects on his job. "How good is this? I get to drink with Des Lynam - and I get paid for it. I have to pinch myself sometimes." Hear, hear.

'My Summer with Des' is on BBC1 at 9pm on Monday 25 May.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookA wonderful selection of salads, starters and mains featuring venison, grouse and other game
Arts and Entertainment
Sheeran arrives at the 56th annual Grammy Awards earlier this year
musicYes, that would be Ed Sheeran, according to the BBC
Arts and Entertainment
AKB48 perform during one of their daily concerts at Tokyo’s Akihabara theatre
musicJapan's AKB48 are one of the world’s most-successful pop acts
News
Ian Thorpe has thanked his supporters after the athlete said in an interview that he is gay
people
News
The headstone of jazz great Miles Davis at Woodlawn Cemetery in New York
news
Arts and Entertainment
Brendan O'Carroll has brought out his female alter-ego Agnes Brown for Mrs Brown's Boys D'Movie
filmComedy holds its place at top of the UK box office
News
newsBear sweltering in zoo that reaches temperatures of 40 degrees
Arts and Entertainment
Professor Kathy Willis will showcase plants from the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew
radioPlants: From Roots to Riches has been two years in the making
Arts and Entertainment
TV The follow-up documentary that has got locals worried
Arts and Entertainment
Eminem's daughter Hailie has graduated from high school
music
Arts and Entertainment
Original Netflix series such as Orange Is The New Black are to benefit from a 'substantial' increase in investment
TVHoax announcement had caused outrage
Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur
fashion

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

News
One Direction star Harry Styles who says he has no plans to follow his pal Cara Delevingne down the catwalk.
peopleManagement confirms rumours singer is going it alone are false
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    JavaScript Developer (HTML5, Ext JS, CSS3, jQuery, AJAX)

    £40000 - £70000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: JavaScript Dev...

    Dynamics CRM Developer (C#, .NET, Dynamics CRM 2011/2013)

    £40000 - £60000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Dynamics CRM D...

    Web Developer (C#, ASP.NET, AJAX, JavaScript, MVC, HTML)

    £40000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Web Developer ...

    C# R&D .NET Developer-Algorithms, WCF, WPF, Agile, ASP.NET,MVC

    £50000 - £67000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# R&D .NE...

    Day In a Page

    Super Mario crushes the Messi dream as Germany win the 2014 World Cup in Brazil

    Super Mario crushes the Messi dream

    Germany win the 2014 World Cup in Brazil
    Saharan remains may be evidence of the first race war, 13,000 years ago

    The first race war, 13,000 years ago?

    Saharan remains may be evidence of oldest large-scale armed conflict
    Scientists find early warning system for Alzheimer’s

    Scientists find early warning system for Alzheimer’s

    Researchers hope eye tests can spot ‘biomarkers’ of the disease
    Sex, controversy and schoolgirl schtick

    Meet Japan's AKB48

    Pop, sex and schoolgirl schtick make for controversial success
    In pictures: Breathtaking results of this weekend's 'supermoon'

    Weekend's 'supermoon' in pictures

    The moon appeared bigger and brighter at the weekend
    Iraq crisis: How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over the north of the country

    How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over northern Iraq

    A speech by an ex-MI6 boss hints at a plan going back over a decade. In some areas, being Shia is akin to being a Jew in Nazi Germany, says Patrick Cockburn
    The evolution of Andy Serkis: First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

    The evolution of Andy Serkis

    First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
    You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial: Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried

    You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial...

    Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried
    Refugee children from Central America let down by Washington's high ideals

    Refugee children let down by Washington's high ideals

    Democrats and Republicans refuse to set aside their differences to cope with the influx of desperate Central Americas, says Rupert Cornwell
    Children's books are too white, says Laureate

    Children's books are too white, says Laureate

    Malorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
    Blackest is the new black: Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...

    Blackest is the new black

    Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...
    Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

    Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

    The US Ambassador to London holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence – it's all part of the job, he tells Chris Green
    Meet the Quantified Selfers: From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor

    Meet the 'Quantified Selfers'

    From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
    Madani Younis: Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

    Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

    Madani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
    Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

    Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

    When it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish – among others – know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor