Sport on TV: Freddie is hit-and-miss as he talks over the punchlines
Sunday 19 June 2011
It was five years ago that Andrew, sorry Freddie, Flintoff ran himself into the ground bowling 50 overs at the Sri Lankans. He was captain of England, he flogged himself almost to death and he was never the same again.
Since his retirement from Test cricket in 2009, he has been flogging himself to the highest bidder as one of the nation's best-loved sportsmen, and now he has landed a talkshow, Freddie Flintoff's World of Sport (BBC Five Live, Thursday). You can't see his big grin and cherubic features on the radio, but at least you can't see the bits falling off his body.
On last week's show he had a British Wimbledon champion (that's mixed doubles and Jamie Murray, not Andy), a member of the Harry Potter cast (ex-rugby player Martin Bayfield, who was a stunt double for Robbie Coltrane and never showed his face in 10 years) and a mixed martial artist called Brad "One Punch" Pickett (who's not fighting at the moment because of a bad back).
Not exactly a knockout cast, but Pickett told us about a cage-fighting manoeuvre which has been banned, called "the flying foot stomp in the face" – when your opponent is on the ground, incidentally. Apparently it's very difficult to execute, though it must be harder for the other guy. At least Flintoff didn't try any moves because his arms and legs might have come loose.
After an hour of chatter, the listeners might feel a little battered, and want someone to put them out of their misery. Flintoff may be full of repartee but he is not a natural presenter, talking over the top of his guests and trying a few awful jokes that result in dead air. And everyone is a "mate". But amid all the nonsense we do learn that Freddie is afraid of the dark and has to sleep with the light on. So the big fella has a weakness; will we finally learn something we don't already know? "It's a long story and I'm not going to go into it." So we were left in the dark, suitably enough since you can't see anything on the radio. It's more Freddie switch-off than Flintoff.
From mate to checkmate, and strangely chess could make quite a good radio sport for those who know about the positioning of the pieces. The Chess Girls (BBC Radio 4, Thursday) was a drama documentary about the three Polgar sisters from Hungary, Susan, Sophia and Judit, who became child prodigies at the insistence of their obsessive father Laszlo and shattered the male domination of the sport.
Laszlo made them play for seven or eight hours a day, with 15 minutes thrown in when they were allowed to tell each other jokes. They were also permitted one toy each. When the authorities allowed them to travel outside Hungary, having confiscated their passports for five years, the world was surprised to find that these prodigies weren't at all dysfunctional. As one journalist noted: "With a family as close as that, who needs Teddy bears?"
For Laszlo, who is interviewed with his long-suffering wife Klara, chess provides the girls with all they need: "sport, science and art." He is "bringing up genius to make a happy person, for society and personality. For everybody it would be good. But people weren't interested." Clearly the girls were merely pawns in his game of social experimentation but no one can doubt that it worked.
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