Chris Maume: Sport on TV

Wor Jackie or war in Iraq: just when did Blair tell the truth
Click to follow
The Independent Online

This week, 10 years after the self-styled "Queen of Hearts" spoke to her people via a kid-gloved Martin Bashir, the BBC re-ran the legendary Panorama interview. It was a massive propaganda victory in her cold war against Chuck and the Palace - Buckingham, not Crystal - and when Tony Blair appeared on Football Focus last Saturday, after a bit of a difficult week, he must have been hoping a little football-related brown-nosing would send his career trajectory sneaking back upwards.

And the BBC was there with him all the way. Are there licence-fee negotiations coming up or something? First, they helped him sort out a little question of veracity that had been dogging him for a while, establishing beyond doubt that in fact there were loads and loads of WMDs in Iraq.

Sorry - silly me - they weren't able to clear that one up. But they did dig out the Radio Five interview in which he allegedly claimed to have seen Jackie Milburn play for Newcastle; disappointingly, he can be heard confirming that he came just after "Wor Jackie's" golden age. So, not a liar, then...

The Focus presenter, Manish Bhasin, went on to ask him about his unsung heroes of the Premiership. As well as re-running the Diana interview, the BBC also showed a film catching up with members of the vast team that pulled that project together - and a similarly-sized legion of researchers was doubtless employed to provide answers for Blair.

He - they - came up with Steed Malbranque, the "really, really good" Fulham midfielder (Blair's obviously not looking at punditry when he's finally prised out of No 10), Teddy Sheringham and Arjan de Zeeuw. Like the PM, the Wigan Athletic defender "never gives up". In fact, Blair said, "I could do with him in the whips' office." The Dutchman might even have been able to help out with the 90-day vote on Wednesday.

As we now know, the cosy fireside Focus chat wasn't much help to the Prime Minister - in fact things got worse, thanks to said vote. But that's no fault of the Beeb, who posted a report on their website headlined, "Blair on the ball", with an intro that drooled, "The vultures may be circling around Tony Blair, but the canny PM... appears to have the golden touch when it comes to the beautiful game. He played a blinder."

The article went on to detail how his unsung trio performed - "each one went on to have a fantastic weekend." After detailing their exploits, the piece went on: "Incredibly, that was not the end of Blair's Midas touch. Not only did he choose Sir Alex Ferguson as the manager he'd most like to have in his cabinet, he also predicted a win for Manchester United over Chelsea." Despite that result, there's a widely-held view suggesting that Sir Alex may have gone on too long in the job. Not at all like the PM, then.

Not having seen the interview when it went out, I was grateful to the BBC for making it available on the website. Like Blair's premiership, however, the sound was fine but the vision was shaky.

Blair might be expected to feature in Scandal (BBC2, Wednesday), when the series reaches the present decade. This week's installment dealt with the 1970s, and included an all-too brief account of the Boris Onischenko affair, when the Soviet modern pentathlete hot-wired his épée in the 1976 Olympic Games in Montreal to register false hits.

One reason we remember it so well is that was one of our brave boys, Sgt Jim Fox, who detected the scam, and there was lovely film of him on Blue Peter, towering over John Noakes.

"They [the Soviets] stripped him of all his titles," Sgt Fox said sadly (a friend of Onischenko, he was devastated by the whole business, despite the fact that it let in Britain for gold). "He's now a taxi driver."

So that's what happens when you lie and cheat. Can we assume, then, that the Prime Minister will sign up for "The Knowledge" when he's booted out of Downing Street?

Comments