Sport on TV: Coleman's birthday present takes a long time to arrive

Click to follow
The Independent Online

One of the quite remarkable things about The Quite Remarkable David Coleman (BBC2, Tuesday) is that it took BBC Television so long to honour the man who bestrode their sports coverage for decades. Coleman presented three of their flagship sports programmes, Grandstand, Match of the Day and A Question of Sport, not to mention covering 11 Olympic Games, six football World Cups and much else besides, and making his excitably gurgled "Won-nil!" a catch-phrase for millions of football fans.

Yet when his last contract expired at the end of 2000 there was precious little fanfare, and last week's Radio Times didn't exactly shout from the rooftops to announce this belated encomium, apparently timed to chime with his 85th birthday.

Sue Barker, the current presenter of A Question of Sport, claimed loyally: "He didn't want a big send-off," but as the great and the good of his era, including Sir Michael Parkinson, Sir Bobby Charlton and Lord Coe, lined up to extol his singular talents, and we were treated to plenty of archive footage of him in his motormouth pomp, it began to seem more and more extraordinary that he had been allowed to slip away so anonymously.

Perhaps it was because he had made enemies as well as friends – John Motson mentioned euphemistically: "He was very demanding of editors and producers," while Steve Cram added: "Some of the production staff were fearful of him," and certainly the recordings of him off-air mercilessly laying into various underlings were wince-inducing. But he was by no means the first, or last, big television name to bully the backroom brigade. Who knows what the old boy made of it all, assuming he watched it, in his retirement home in the West Country; he would certainly have been excused for thinking: "Too little, too late."

* An altogether quieter commentator, "Whispering" Ted Lowe, who died aged 90 as this year's Snooker World Championship (BBC) reached its climax, hung up his own mic in 1996, and retirement was in the air at the Crucible this time around when the seven-time winner Steven Hendry, blitzed 13-4 in the second round, contemplated quitting if he fell out of the world's top 16. In the event he clung on to the last spot, but was left to reflect that at 42 it was exactly half a lifetime ago when he had claimed his first title.

On Monday, Judd Trump attempted to emulate Hendry's feat of winning the big one at the age of 21. But in the end, Trump, who with his modish hairstyle and goofy grin looked more like a kid who had bunked off school and blundered into the arena by mistake, was outfoxed by the solid Scot John Higgins, who said afterwards that the young Bristolian had played better than him and was "the future of snooker".

Whether he was the better player or not – and if he was, then why on earth didn't he win? – it was largely due to Trump that viewing figuresfor the final session were 50 percent up on last year, and that the tournament overall enjoyed the best ratings for five years. While Coleman will doubtless be quickly forgotten again by the BBC, Trump is one man from the West Country they willbe desperate to welcome back next year.