Sport on TV: Eubank was probably thinking: 'I have failed!.. They still think I'm from another planet'

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The Independent Online
COMEDIENNE in grey wig and charity shop dress gets celebrity guests on her show and takes the piss. They respond by playing along or displaying varying degrees of shirtiness. Everyone goes home.

Mrs Merton (BBC1) is a one-joke show, and perhaps should have been a one-series show. You can always guess how particular guests are going to react, and the only variation is when someone like Bernard Manning comes along to subvert the formula, in his case by the simple tactic of being odious and repellent. Or there's a one-off like Chris Eubank, who behaved in his usual manner, like an alien beamed down to inculcate humankind into his planet's ways and demonstrate (unsuccessfully) that, despite all physical and mental indications, they're really just like us.

This week's opening guest, Barry McGuigan, being a Really Nice Bloke, presented a dilemma. How could Mrs Merton possibly say nasty things about him? Especially as every mildly amusing remark sent him into life-threatening fits of laughter. So it was pleasing at the beginning when he played the unwitting deconstructionist, violating the show's central conceit by mentioning that he'd met her mum before the show. He hadn't, of course. He'd met Caroline Aherne's mum. No Barry, this isn't real life, it's only the telly.

Mrs Merton looked embarrassed (in fact, Aherne looked embarrassed)and stage-whispered, "Don't say that!" McGuigan, realising what he'd done, threw himself about the sofa in paroxysms of discomfiture, then compounded his faux pas by turning to Mrs Aherne Snr in the mock audience saying, "Sorry, Maureen."

With Aherne unable to take the rise out of her guest, the whole point of the programme had gone, leaving only little conversational run-ups to her prepared jokes, the best of which came when McGuigan, asked about women boxers, said that although it was their democratic right, he felt queasy because of "wombs and other parts of the anatomy." Aherne replied: "Well, the lovely thing is, in here, most of us have had our wombs removed anyway." Well, I smiled faintly.

(There was passing evidence from Aherne of Eubank's strangeness, incidentally. "I was a bit worried about him," she said. "He didn't know what was happening, and after the show me and Ann went back to see him in the dressing-room - he was punching his own face." He was probably thinking to himself, "I have failed! I have failed to appear normal! They still think I'm from another planet!")

McGuigan was followed by the fiddling Villa fan, Nigel Kennedy, who began by giving him a little vote of thanks for uniting Ireland. True, he did have fans north and south of the border, but to link him to the peace process itself seemed overly grateful.

He wasn't finished there, however, serenading the former Clones Cyclone with a rendition of the tune his father used to sing before his fights, Londonderry Air. It sounds like a sickly sweet business. But Barry's eyes were brimming. Oh, all right, damn it, it was a genuinely touching moment, marred only by the singalong caterwauling of Aherne's grey panthers, none of whom allowed their enjoyment to be spoiled by not knowing any of the words beyond "...and down the mountainside".

Afterwards, the lads indulged in some male bonding on the sofa. "That's for my dad," McGuigan said of Kennedy's performance. "Your dad," the violinist said pointing at him, with the heavy emphasis of a closing-time philanthropist. For a second, the two of them sat in silence with the intent expressions of drunks trying to express their feelings about their best mate. You almost wanted them to let it all hang out - "I really, really love you! Come here, you big bastard, and give us a hug!"

There was a fascinating hour and five minutes of much-delayed highlights from the Winter Paralympics in Nagano on BBC2 this week, which was a bit on the stingy side when you consider the relatively intensive coverage the Olympics enjoyed. It was also apparent that able-bodied Auntie Beeb hadn't bothered to ask anyone to stay on in Japan, the commentaries quite audibly emanating from a cubicle in Television Centre. Still, the papers don't do much better, so I'd better shut up.

I was intending to cast my rod in the waters of Fish TV (Sky Sports 3), hoping they would be stocked to overflowing with chances for a cheap laugh. Sadly, I could do no more than dip my toes. But then again I'm not an angler, so what could I expect? There was as much going on as in one of those New Age aquarium videos. The quintessential exchange, and the one that pushed my mental off button, came a few minutes in.

"What do we do now?"

"Well, we cast... and wait."

After that for me, I'm afraid, despite the absence of any Cosa Nostra connection, it was a case of "he sleeps with the fishes".

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