Abandon this asset? You would have to be barking

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The Independent Online
SO, FARMER Birt and his loyal shepherds Yentob and Salmon have pursed their lips and blown time, after 23 glorious years, of One Man And His Dog.

You'd think they would have built up the spectacle of sheepdog trialling so that when critics made remarks to the effect that the BBC no longer seems committed to sport - having lost the FA Cup Final and Test cricket, not to mention the unsociable scheduling of Match of the Day - they would have been able to say, "Ah, but we still have One Man And His Dog."

While ITV's Gladiators made heroes of Jet, Hunter and Saracen, who were tough, nimble and quick-thinking, BBC2's One Man And His Dog also made heroes of Jet, Hunter and Saracen. And they were more than tough, nimble and quick-thinking. They had really bad breath, too.

In 1994, Robin Page filled the capacious wellies of the legendary presenter Phil Drabble, and had that slightly in-bred look which suited the programme perfectly. It makes my heart sing to know that Page now plans to take sheepdog trialling to Sky, where it deserves to become a bulwark of pay- per-view TV alongside championship boxing.

Latterly, Page had a wonderful foil in the commentator Gus Dermody, who bore comparison with the likes of John Morrison and Bill McLaren. In fact, he was arguably an even finer commentator, for it is a relatively simple matter to excite viewers when a great goal or try is scored, but it takes some doing to get pulses racing with "And all seven sheep are safely off the trailer and down towards the shedding ring."

Dermody considered it very non-ewe to get too frenzied. He delivered his commentary flatly, without the shrieking hyperbole of a Murray Walker, in fact without the shrieking hyperbole of a speaking clock.

"And Sid's away to the right, Sid's going quite square, Sid's working them well," I recall him saying one week of the eventual winning dog.

Every word carried the conviction that sheepdog trialling is the noblest and most thrilling pursuit known to man. And he may have been right. In which case, BBC executives have got rid of one of their greatest assets. They must be barking.

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