Sport on TV: When it comes to jokes Hills holds the moral high ground
Sunday 02 September 2012
The Paralympics have arrived on Channel 4 with a bigger bang than even Stephen Hawking could have predicted. The coverage will be unparalleled and, even by the first evening, Clare Balding was calling it "the best-attended Paralympics in history". Outside, the crowd in the Village were chanting: "There's only one Clare Balding," but by the time the second half of London 2012 is completed, Channel 4 might have used up several Baldings. Perhaps she can get by with a bit of recycling – that's not a Paralympic sport, by the way.
She was accompanied on the first day by former swimmer Giles Long, who won three gold medals, as the frenzied drama unfolded at the pool with the performances of the brilliant Daniel Dias and Team GB's Jonathan Fox. Long was asked about how success can create a momentum in the camp and confided the secret: "If you're a room-mate, you let the energy radiate out of you." Hawking would have approved of the notion, but it sounds like the last thing you want your room-mate to be doing while you're trying to get some sleep.
For many of these presenters and pundits, it will be their first exposure to an audience of millions. Wheelchair basketballer Ade Adepitan is something of a TV veteran, and he was talking us through GB's nailbiting encounter with Germany – in which every free throw was terrifyingly reminiscent of a penalty shoot-out – but he wasn't required to unravel the intricacies of the classification.
That task was left to Lexi, the "Lexicon Decoder", who is our automated guide to the Games. She sounds rather like the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, which could come in useful when all that radiation kicks in. And make sure you have your towel with you at all times to wipe away the tears, not least when the wheelchairs collide violently and spill the players across the court.
It's hard to know how to react to such sights, and likewise there is a very fine line to be trodden between being humorous and offensive. Instead of a highlights package, Channel 4 have opted for a comedy show to look back on the day's events. So the Last Leg with Adam Hills is something of a high-risk venture, and the comedian fronting it reminds us frequently that he has a prosthetic leg, giving him licence to crack jokes that most of us wouldn't dream of.
The fact that he's an Australian helps – no one expects him to be subtle. "You will say the wrong thing," he said in the first show. "Don't worry." Then he went on to ponder whether in the equestrian events it should be the horse rather than the rider that is disabled.
Rather more edgy was the contribution of Josh Widdicombe, a vaguely recognisable comic who has no disabilities. His report on the day's events included an item on how horses defecating in the arena was supposed to be beneficial to their performance. If horses are to be the focus of attention at these Games, then someone in the production department has got the wrong idea. No wonder that Balding is anchoring the coverage.
But it's not quite as wrong as Widdicombe's jokes about how the weightlifters don't have to lift the weights very high. Joshing Josh may have to raise his game a little – or they may as well go for his namesake Ann. Or Frankie Boyle.
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