Des, Motty and clips with everything

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The Independent Online
The programme opened with a computer-generated journey, a mesmerising trip through 1994 on a winding path, the road turning from Tarmac to grass before our eyes and at every turn, another set of sport's big achievers doing their thing. Generous of whoever designed this sequence not to have simulated an Alton Towers-style rapid ride downhill when we reached the England cricketers, but that's BBC1's Sports Review of the Year through and through - all-seeing and big spirited, not unrealistic, but po sitiveand forgiving where possible.

This was the programme's 40th anniversary, which meant that the normal sentimental humidity level reached new degrees of dampness, what with the Second World World War film theme music and the Oscar-night scenes in the lobby - Sally Gunnell arriving withwhat appeared to be Dougal wrapped around her neck, Paul Gascoigne swanning in wearing something loud and creamy. The mild shock of these images had less to do with individual items of apparel than with the way they made you realise how unusual it is tosee sportsmen and women with their clothes on.

Opening the proceedings within, Sue Barker, Steve Rider and Des Lynam stepped forward into a brightly lit circle, something like the Energiser on the Starship Enterprise, and off we went, gliding majestically through crisp portfolios on the year's heroes- Colin Jackson, Damon Hill (Sports Personality of the Year), Brian Lara, Martina Navratilova. And John Motson, who, what with USA '94, had a stunning 12 months. Clips reminded us of perhaps his finest moment out there in the American heat: "It's that inevitable man, Gheorghe Hagi." Devastating.

But unlike any of the sports people, who just sat there all night, Motty had contrived to save his best for last, able to surprise and delight us all over again with his voice-over for the Sports Review football round-up, which began: "The fall-out from the World Cup saw a whole galaxy of stars land on Planet Premiership." Three minutes and several hundred words later, that metaphor was still going strong. "Billy Wright joined Matt Busby in football's upper firmament." For a minute here you imagined theupper firmament was the name given to the corporate boxes at Old Trafford. That was before you realised that Motty was doing the obituaries.

There's always a dramatic interlude in the Sports Review. Last year, memorably, they dragged Aintree's faulty starting-gate into the studio and Des cut his finger on it, just to prove it was cursed. This time, in something of an imagination slump, we gota dance routine from people dressed in 40 years' worth of sporting costumes. Purgatorial, John Motson might have called it. One of the things some of us really like about sport is the fact it isn't dance. All that available archive footage, and we get to watch some anonymous male model prancing about in a pair of plus-fours. The way things are tending, next year we'll have to endure a representation of Wigan's 94-95 rugby league season in mime and sound sculptures.

But doubtless Frank Bruno will still get a role. Bruno may have been partially eclipsed in the ring by younger fighters such as Herbie Hide, but they can't match him for sheer panto. Hide, seated beside Bruno, gave Des Lynam a charmless boxer's bragging routine: how he was the best in the world, wouldn't even consider fighting an old lag like Bruno etc. "Talk is cheap, Des," said Frank. Des pointed out that, what with cancelled bouts and everything, Frank hadn't had an especially busy year. "I went to Hong Kong," Frank explained, "and that kind of unbusied it." The truth is, with Frank, talk is never cheap. Talk is priceless.

Near the end, we were shown a film sequence dedicated to Britain's world champions. Because we do actually have some. On the world stage, our national contribution to sport is marginal - except in the marginal sports, where Britain is absolutely central.Model-flying? We clean up. (The clip here was tantalisingly brief - two guys in knee-pads wrestling wildly with kite handles. It took three replays of the video to figure this out.) And it's the same with speedway, canoeing and any sport you care to mention involving medieval weaponry.

There were games in this sequence which even the satellite channel Eurosport - with its breezy "if it moves, give it an hour-long special at prime-time, especially if it's people racing lorries" policy - might have considered slightly left-of-centre. Britain can offer champions in 8-ball pool, short mat bowls and roller-skating and you can be pretty sure we lead the world in messing about in the back garden with a tennis ball, too. Some would argue that, in the great sports reckoning, these fringe event s are not what the Sports Review of the Year should be bothering with. I say, congratulations to Elvis Parsley for another great year in Tae Kwon Do. (I'm not making this up.)

Then again, Stephen Hendry, our reigning snooker champion, was seen to complain in the papers this week that his sport had featured for precisely 20 seconds in the evening's ceremonies. You had to take his point. There's a limit. Those 20 seconds would have been far better spent on a proper sport.