Sport on TV: Can Fred Flintoff avoid image of TV presenters as cavemen?
Sunday 30 January 2011
So what has Andrew Flintoff been doing while his old muckers have been winning the Ashes? After a decade of straining every sinew, quite literally, for his country, you might think he would put his feet up. But instead he has entered another world where the capacity to inflict pain is even greater: TV presenting.
Performing daredevil stunts across the globe in Freddie Flintoff Takes On The World (ITV4, Tuesday), that's the easy part. Not saying something daft that will turn you into a hate figure, now that's a challenge. Ask Freddie if he had "smashed it" and he'd probably say yes but he would be talking about his knee or his ankle.
Fortunately the amiable Flintoff was accompanied by Darren Gough as they paintballed on paragliders, wrestled lucho libre-style and dived off cliffs in Mexico. Gough and his cheeky grin couldn't offend anyone. He is much more of a TV natural with his posing and ceaseless chatter – he filled our screens with his fully rounded personality when he won Strictly Come Dancing back in 2005.
Flintoff has taken tentative steps – aren't they always with him? – into TV as a team captain in the comedy sports quiz A League Of Their Own, but like David Gower in They Think It's All Over, he seems uneasy in the role, almost as uncomfortable as the viewers squirming on their sofas. Our sporting heroes inhabit a different world after all, full of high peaks and deep valleys, and it's not easy to bridge the gap with reality.
In Freddie's case it's almost guaranteed he would hurt himself if he tried to bridge that gap but at least he's not likely to hurt anyone else. It came as no surprise that his physio from his playing days, Dave "Rooster" Roberts, was following him around the world on his latest venture. It's as if they are joined at the hip, which may actually be the case if one of Freddie's operations went a bit wrong. Sure enough, he broke down after one wrestling session, aggravating an old rib injury, and had to go to hospital.
So Gough took over as presenter, which he had pretty much done anyway, and the sidekick happily submitted to the side-kicks in the wrestling ring while Freddie stood on the sidelines looking more Mercury than Flintoff in his lurid latex.
Flintoff was fit enough to compete in the cliff-diving, after which he said: "I've never experienced fear, excitement, nerves, adrenalin in my life like that before." It was just like Dominic Cork describing his first session in Dancing on Ice as "better than anything I ever experienced in cricket". So were our heroes merely going through the motions during their careers? In Flintoff's case, even that could be dangerous. Perhaps he should stick to cameos on Casualty.
* There was, as usual, plenty of banter on the new series of Top Gear (BBC2, Sunday), Jeremy Clarkson making several references to Countryfile – where the BBC was found guilty of ageism in replacing presenter Miriam O'Reilly. That's old news now, of course, but he was more up to speed at the National Television Awards; when he was asked if he thought there were enough women on his show, he replied: "Who do you think tucks our microphone cables in?" Perhaps he should be more careful: it's not a good time to be an ageing male presenter with a bubble perm and ridiculously tight jeans.
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