Fast women meet James's driving ambition

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The Independent Online
THE protocol for making a Clive James documentary runs something like this: 1 Fly James halfway around the world to a strange and beautiful place. 2 Surround James with rich and glamorous people, preferably female. 3 Immerse James in some mystifying ritual that he can amusingly fail to understand.

Last year's Australian Grand Prix in Adelaide fitted the bill perfectly, and The Clive James Grand Prix Show (ITV) was a gem.

What a feast we would be in for if James were to pick up the commentator's microphone when ITV take over coverage of the sport in 1997. A grand prix car, he said, is "a piece of modern sculpture propelled by burning money". The atmosphere in the paddock reeked of "high-octane petrol and premium- priced cosmetics - and that was just the men". And the sport, he noted with obvious approval, "attracted glossy women the way a neon dollar sign attracts moths". It was also attractive to James, who spent the entire programme looking like a cat who has inherited a creamery.

He beamed contentment in a straining tuxedo at the Grand Prix Ball, revelling in his glamorous proximity to the stars. He patrolled the paddock with a permanent grin, clocking the attendant lovelies. He confessed to how smug he felt wandering about on the grid. There was just one problem: no one would let him drive their car.

He hunkered down next to Eddie Irvine's Jordan while the driver took him through the basics of the gearbox. James was much encouraged to find that the throttle had a filter to prevent a trembling foot from affecting performance. "So a nervous man like me could drive one of these things?" he asked, hint, hint. "You never know," Irvine responded knowingly. "If I could get into it, the computer would help me drive it?" James pleaded. "Would it?" "You never know," Irvine repeated, leaping out of the car to greet a gaggle of gorgeous hangers-on, leaving James to reflect morosely that "the rewards of a racing driver would never be mine". From his expression it was impossible to tell whether he was thinking about the women or the car.

James seemed a little carried away by the sex and speed theme. He quizzed drivers about the availability of women on the world's circuits. Gerhard Berger: "No, no, I am married. I have nothing to do with ze womens." Jean Alesi: "Sometimes you 'ave ze possibility to meet a nice girl. But I 'ave a fiancee." David Coulthard: "Some of the old-hand drivers, you can watch them performing" - an alarming thought - "but I have a girlfriend so I behave myself." James then interviewed the reason for Coulthard's good behaviour, who was called Andrea, and looked (a) gorgeous and (b) as hard as varnished nails.

Having failed to get the stars to admit to grand-scale naughtiness, James set himself an even harder task: to bring together Damon Hill and Michael Schumacher for a friendly chat.

Somehow it was done, and the two drivers sat down. Their arms were folded to recover from the twisting that had been required to bring about their meeting. "So," James kicked off, "How much do you really hate each other? Have you ever laughed at anything together?" There was an uneasy pause while Schumacher got his head around the concept of laughter. "I think we did, yeah," he said, unconvincingly. "But I don't remember it." Eventually James managed to persuade the rivals to wish each other luck, and they actually shook hands rather than fists for a change.

Seeking a further insight into the character of the moon-faced Teuton, James consulted the Australian former champion Alan Jones. "Schumacher?" Jones pronounced. "He's an arrogant little bugger."

James is your man for articulacy and forthrightness. Phil Young, the presenter of Channel 4's snowboarding series, Board Stupid, is not. "There's one thing about snowboarding," he declared, zooming down a Swiss slope in a blizzard, "and that's doing it." He disappeared into a snowdrift.

Emerging looking like a man with a terminal case of dandruff, he continued his mission to explain. "A lot of people say that snowboarding has lost its soul" - a lot more people are not aware that it ever had one - "but that's a load of rubbish." Young struggled once more to express the essence of his sport. "It's like the best thing you've ever done," he claimed. "But better."

Undaunted by his mishap on the mountain, Young presented his next segment while sliding down the high street of Leysin, in Switzerland, scattering startled burghers in his wake. "Sit back, relax, and enjoy it," he said, looking backwards at the camera as a Renault loomed behind him, headlights ablaze. Cut!

Reasoning that the only way to get an uninterrupted sequence out of his presenters was to get them off the snow, the producer sat Ronnie Krensel on a ski-lift to interview one of the competition's judges, Tony Brown. Krensel was keen to find out what Brown thought about one Terje Haakonsen, who is something of a legend in snowboarding circles.

"How is Terje going to do this week?" Krensel asked, as they soared above the piste. "He's going to kill," Brown replied. "He's going to rip. He's just a natural, he's a god. It's going to be Terje's week again." Impartial, these snowboarding judges. Krensel had another question, but the top of the lift loomed. The judge leapt off and swished away. The presenter leapt off and fell on his bottom. It was that kind of show.