Sport on TV: He's never wrong but Brown fails to frighten the bookies

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We could have woken up to a different world this morning. When the master illusionist Derren Brown said he would reveal his "guaranteed" way of winning on the horses on 'The System' (Channel 4, Friday), many of us thought we'd be facing the mother of all hangovers after a Dettori-style 100 per cent success rate at the races yesterday. But it was not to be. Why did we ever think that it would? The great disillusionist, more like.

Basically it was a sham, relying on basic and base human impulses such as greed and vanity. The only "system" was a flood of emails to 7,776 random members of the public who were effectively covering bets on every horse. Only one of them was still winning after five races.

He managed to convince his guinea pig, single mum Kadesha, that she should part with £4,000 on the sixth and final race. She begged and borrowed the money from her father and a loan company. By then there was no reason why the system would still work.

Yet Brown conjured another win. He changed his mind on the way to the betting booth, keeping a distraught Kadesha in the dark as her old nag limped home in fourth place. If there is a system here, it's the sort that gets television companies into big trouble. Apparently all the 7,775 other punters were fully reimbursed for their outlay. The programme must have been as much at a loss as the bemused viewers.

So how did he manage that final win? Perhaps he really does have a system but decided in the end not to tell everyone. Even after he exposed his dubious methods, you could hardly doubt him. Earlier he had performed a trick which had odds of 1.48 billion to one, the exact equivalent of the racing scam. But the illusionist left us feeling like the millions of delusionists who watch the afternoon racing between 'Neighbours'and 'Countdown'.

It would have been fascinating to know what went through the minds of the bookmakers as the programme went on. They will have slept soundly, counting their lucky stars as well as their money.



For those whose adrenaline was still pumping after the show, there was some light relief as 'TV Heaven, Telly Hell' (Channel 40), revived Fred Trueman's 'The Indoor League'. The fast bowler puffed on his pipe, with three more in his pocket, swilling his ever-present pint of mild. He was at the Queens Hotel in Leeds for "the biggest bonanza of sporting skill I've ever clapped eyes on".

There was bar skittles: as a commentator said, "stark naked drama" – that really would have been weird, rather like cheese-rolling in your pants – and yes, even something called "cheese skittles". This Seventies extravaganza lost its prime-time slot and was put on at 5.15, on the fag end of children's TV. That were a proper upbringing, that were. Next thing us kids knew, we were betting on the horses. Now where did I put those cheese skittles?

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