Sport on TV: Sue Barker hasn't really changed anything: the trouble is, we all know what happens next

Click to follow
The Independent Online
It's hard to imagine A Question of Sport (BBC1) without David Coleman. But consider this: at one time it was probably hard to imagine it without Cliff Morgan. Memories like that, happily, are the kind the subconscious tends to do an excellent job of suppressing.

At 71, Coleman thought it was all over, and so it was, for him at least, and an erstwhile Stockport County footballer has been replaced by a former French Open tennis champion - plus ca change and all that. Woolly jumpers are out; hooded tops are in, as sported in the first of the new series by the new MC, Sue Barker.

In its last couple of series, the programme had already responded to the challenge of They Think It's All Over (a gauntlet not so much thrown down as flung in its face with a cry of "You're shit-aaah") by upping its IQ (Innuendo Quotient, that is), and that trend continued on Tuesday with plenty of limp-joked ribaldry over the recent magazine photo-spread featuring one of the guests, the heptathlete Denise Lewis, wearing nothing but a few licks of body paint.

"It's very nice to see you with your clothes on," said captain John Parrott, while his oppo, Ally McCoist, said of the snaps: "They're certainly on my wall." You couldn't imagine Nick Hancock or Rory McGrath being quite so polite.

The producers seem to have told them to play it a bit more laddish, though. In the picture round, Parrott's reaction to a picture of the young tennis player, Anna Kournikova, was the defiantly unreconstructed: "Unfortunately, the answer 'fit bird' wouldn't go down too well." Frankie Dettori's response, meanwhile, was a low groan of "Oh yeah."

But apart from Barker's arrival and an injection of minute quantities of testosterone, nothing has changed. The format may have been different some time in prehistory, too far back for me to remember: questions on the contestants' own sports, with the accompanying cosy, slightly teasing fireside chats, then the picture round, home and away, mystery guest, what happened next, one-minute round and the rest of the pictures - a format as familiar and soothing as a really soft and woolly Coleman jumper. It's like Desert Island Discs or Alistair Cooke's Letter from America. As some historian or other remarked after the poll tax protests, only the British riot to keep things the same, and you sense that the massed ranks of Middle England - 8,000,000 of them according to the viewing figures - would be outside Television Centre breaking up paving stones if the Birt brigade tinkered unduly with QoS.

Sad to report, then, and call me churlish, but I have to say I was a bit bored. Maybe my palate has been coarsened by Hancock's half-hour of pub-crawl vulgarity, all the talk of shags and slappers and twats and gits, but Barker and Co did little to lift QoS out of its stultifying routine.

When does a groove become a rut? That word cosy kept coming back to mind. Maybe I should start reading Loaded.

That particular organ should have been around in 1934, when Italy came over for the Battle of Highbury and there was more testosterone on the pitch than in the veins of a battalion of cheating athletes. The excellent series Leviathan (BBC2), which takes historical perspectives on current stories in the news, took the opportunity, in the light of this evening's Rumble in Rome, of looking back to another confrontation between England and the Azzurri.

There was some nice scene-setting, explaining how English expats were responsible for spreading the gospel 100 years ago, starting out with cricket clubs, and how later football became fascism's favourite battleground (well, apart from Abyssinia). There was some great archive footage, with lots of marching blackshirts (unless it was Manchester United parading their latest away strip), and a commentator who made Harry Enfield's Cholmondely- Warner sound like Fat Fred from Coronation Street: "Before the game commences," he says over film of an earlier match, "the great Italian crowd roars a welcome to Signor Mussolini." Il Duce is sitting there (in a trilby for some reason) looking immensely pleased with himself, like a Capo Di Tutti Capi who's just arranged for a horse's head to be delivered to some unfortunate recalcitrant.

Cholmondely-Warner was in action again at Highbury: "The stends are pecked with some 60,000 spectators and tremendous enthusiasm." As a policeman fans a spectator, he says: "Fainting already? It can't be the heat, so it must be excitement - or speghetti." The match, a 3-2 victory to England, was a bloodbath (though the programme had too little of the mayhem - there goes my coarse palate again), and we were shown a headline which in its genteel way was in a direct line to today's tabloid nonsense: "This Italian Football: Not Soccer As We Know It". C-W, though, had kind words for the vanquished: "Well tried, Ettely."

Cut to the present day, and presenter Mark Urban reminded us that "Italy have won seven of the last 11 encounters. Perhaps it's just as well they never took up cricket too." Another 3-2 win for England tonight would be worth a few more bloody noses.

Comments