Sport on TV: Every question was a springboard for some bizarre autobiographical ramble

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Lester Piggott refused repeatedly to have anything to do with Secret Lives (C4), a documentary devoted to digging up all the dirt on him that was fit to transmit. Finally he agreed - as long as he was paid what the programme called "a small fortune."

This was the film's pay-off, the intended twist in the tale, the final, telling example of a sporting hero's venality. Except that to my mind it seemed a reasonable request - you trash me, you pay me.

Sportsmen hardly need to have perfect private lives to win the hearts of nations (sportswomen probably do, but that's another story), so it's not at all paradoxical that Piggott should still merit the epithet "much- loved", despite his spell in chokey and being stripped of the Queen's baubles.

Secret Lives called him "Britain's greatest sportsman", which is slightly debatable. But they had to put him on his high horse in order to knock him off - which they did with a remorselessness that, if the programme was anything to go by, was worthy of the Long Fellow himself.

The picture was of a compulsive skinflint, womaniser, ligger supreme and all-purpose sponger. Worse, a mistreater of horses, and a ruthless jockey, on the track and away from it. And even worse than that.

His former chauffeur, Michael Hinchcliffe, told a story from 1976 when the driver of another car took exception to something Hinchcliffe did and began to berate Piggott, who ordered Hinchcliffe to drive off at speed. Unfortunately, the man's arm was caught in the car window, and he was dragged along then thrown clear.

"I think he's dead," Hinchcliffe said. "Serves him right," Piggott replied.

There was a heady scent of scores being settled. "He is sick with money and general meanness," said "The Scout" - Ross Benson, formerly of the Daily Express. "He can't help himself. It's compulsive, like a child or an animal."

Benson, owner Robert Sangster, Lloyd's syndicate partner Ian Posgate, erstwhile rival Willie Carson, trainer Luca Cumani, they all queued up to have a go, and few of them were able to pass up the opportunity of imitating his nasal, hard-of-hearing diction.

Which was what my favourite anecdote centred on. During the Cumani letter affair, his friend, Charles St George, and "The Scout" went round Fleet Street, trying to impose their own D-notice. Privilege gathered its skirts around it as the race-loving newspaper magnates sealed their lips - apart from People owner Robert Maxwell, who, according to Brian Radford, the journalist covering the case, was bouncing up and down in his leather chair in glee.

Piggott rang Radford, pretending to be a Customs and Excise officer, to find out how much he had to fear. Unsurprisingly, Radford wasn't fooled, and played him along, saying, "We've got enough on this fellow to put him away for 20 years." Finally, he could stifle the giggles no longer and said, "Lester, what are you playing at?"

"How did you know it was me?" Piggott asked.

Sometimes it was hard not to laugh, for all his small-mindedness. I liked the story of how he pinched another jockey's whip, mid-race at Deauville, and another tale it was hard not to relish was how he was nabbed by the Inland Revenue.

Having come to a hard-fought agreement to disclose everything and stump up a huge wedge, he wrote out a cheque. Except that he was drawing on an account he hadn't declared. Do not pass go. Do not collect pounds 200.

One fact Secret Lives missed out on was the fact that Piggott had his prison sentence lengthened by a week for smuggling in phonecards. This emerged in They Think It's All Over (BBC1), which was otherwise devoted to one man. The programme's purpose, it became clear from the first question, was to allow Chris Eubank to make a complete dickhead of himself.

In the past, when Brighton's soi-disant Beau Brummel (crazy cane, crazy guy) has appeared on programmes for a which a sense of humour is recommended, he has been found wanting, completely unable, for example, to see the joke about Mrs Merton - that the joke's on him. But he has done so many of them now, he's finally realised that, similar to the apparently contractual tantrums required of John McEnroe in seniors' tennis, Eubank is on to come over as an egotistical wally and give his fellow participants, and the audience, a good laugh at his expense. Much like his boxing career, really.

With that Mike Leigh-style absence of self-consciousness, he takes himself risibly seriously, and every question was a springboard for some bizarre autobiographical ramble - "Have I been sacked and nobody's told me?" said Nick Hancock during one excursion through Eubank's past life.

"Do you need a visa to enter your world?" Hancock said at one point. And Lee Hirst was not one to let a spot of piss-taking go by without joining in. Eubank said, apropos of nothing remotely relevant, "I raced rats as a child - [derisive audience laughter] - this is educational - rats can only live 15 years -"

"So you can never shag 'em then, can you?" interjected Hirst.

I have been critical in the past about They Think It's All Over's easy recourse to scatology, but there was a lovely moment as Randy the horse, one of the mystery guests in the touchy-feely round, was led off stage by its showjumping rider, Michael Whitaker. Rory McGrath referred to the hard-to-miss equine penis, and Hancock leapt in, quick as a well-scripted flash, "that makes two massive pricks on the show this week."

You can easily imagine Eubank becoming, in time, one of that band of fondly regarded (by some, anyway) Slightly Irritating Great British Eccentrics, such as Jimmy Savile, Russell Grant and, until recently, Gary Glitter. Unlike Lester Piggott, whose strangeness, compounded by what Willie Carson called his "ring of steel", will always keep him apart from his fellow men.

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