Having spent quite sizeable portions of my adolescence avoiding the game I can't say I was first at the turnstile for The Rugby Club (BBC2) - a new observational documentary series about Bath, one of the best sides in the country. But, if ever there was a good time to make such a programme the producers had found it - following the team through the 1996 season, when it made the stressful transition from amateur to professional status. No longer just the occasion for burly men with scars to get misty and sentimental, the club now had to transform itself into a profit-centre and brand asset - a fighting machine for the selling of team shirts and logoed coffee mugs. The old amateur committee had been sent off and replaced by businessmen, who hoped to turn a venerable local institution into Manchester United with oval balls.
It was part of Nick Shearman's luck as producer that things did not appear to be going very smoothly. There was no problem with securing the star players - the deep pockets of their owner meant that the club's director of rugby, John Hall, had been able to go on a spending spree. What's more, the players themselves were handling their new challenges with aplomb - they'd found their agents, signed up with the right sponsorship deals and were happily choosing free gear from local outfitters to maximize their earning potential. Unfortunately, they weren't winning many matches - a loss of form that rather undermined Bath's spiffy new marketing slogan - "A higher class of rugby". It wasn't long before John Hall was doing a pretty good imitation of a football manager facing relegation - a role which includes a lot of Easter Island glaring and unconvincing statements about how much you enjoy pressure. Nor can 130 years of amateurism be done away with in just a few months; Bath's pitch is owned by the local council, which meant that for the first game of the season it had to share the recreation ground with a lacrosse championship. Screens were hastily erected to prevent Bath supporters (or customers, as they are probably known now) being stunned by an overzealous shot at goal. The presence of even tiny doses of undiluted rugby (you must have seen about three minutes of play in all) means I'm unlikely to return but it will be bliss for some viewers.
The best thing in last night's Animal People (BBC1) was not the kangaroos - even though they have a certain rakish charm - but Dennis Ford, a blunt road-clearance worker whose task includes retrieving dead animals from a long stretch of bush highway. This being an early-evening programme Dennis's speech could not be transmitted in its full pungency, but you got the flavour all the same, particularly when he described the occasion on which a roo had crashed through the windscreen of his ute: "The worst part about the bleeping thing was when I got out of the door - the bleep followed me out and bleeped off". Dennis has plenty of work to do, despite the immensity of the outback and the rarity of passing cars. There are around 20,000 reported collisions between kangaroos and cars every year, a statistic which is the result of one of those unpredictable ecological frictions between old and new. Dew runoff from tarmac roads produces fresh grass, which attracts the kangaroos to the one spot in thousands of square miles which is most dangerous for them. Australian car manufacturers take the problem seriously enough to have constructed a crash test kangaroo, with which they explore the best ways to protect the driver. On the other side of the bumper are Helen and David Dawson, who scoop up injured roos from the roadside and nurse them back to health with garlic bread, soft- furnishings and centrally-heated pouches. Graham Booth's film (which betrayed an admiration for the Mad Max movies in several low-angle tracking shots) covered the story with a light, dry touch which, astonishingly, managed to preserve it from mawkishness.
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