Sport on TV: Hancock turns out half decent. Not before time

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The Independent Online

Since being booted off They Think It's All Over in favour of the considerably funnier Lee Mack, Nick Hancock has been keeping an agreeably low profile (agreeable for us, the viewers, that is). Apart from appearing on an alleged comedy magazine programme in the summer, World Cup Heaven and Hell (hell, mostly), Hancock appears to have been taking a bit of a breather. Best thing all round, really.

But those who fondly thought his career was all over were having to reconsider this week when the egregious anchor (Cockney rhyming slang never dies, does it?) returned with another alleged comedy magazine, Hancock's Half-Time (ITV 1, Thursday). I was expecting it to be more Hancock's Half-Witted, and in the credits there's a cartoon of the Cantona drop-kick in which the victim is the presenter himself: Eric gets one in for the rest of us, was the inevitable thought.

But in fact for a Hancock project it wasn't horrible, just run-of-the-mill. There was Steve Claridge, who's always good value, and John Hartson, the plainly decent Friar Tuck lookalike who was on to plug his new book, which rejoices in the thrilling title of The Autobiography. Claridge wrote one of the best-selling footballing memoirs of the last few years, Tales from the Boot Camp, and Hancock wondered whether the huge number of clubs they've both played for made for a big market. "When you're at the club, supporters have terribly short memories," Claridge said, "but when you leave the club they've got long memories."

The bottom seemed to have fallen out of the football-book market in the aftermath of England's miserable World Cup, but that's just the pampered prannets who ruined our summer and were remaindered for their sins. You're always likely to get more entertaining stuff from players like Hartson and Claridge, who err on the raffish side of life.

Hancock read from Hartson's index: "Personal life: divorce, drinking, gambling addiction, greyhound-owning, smoking, stealing sheep and speed." His only regret, he said, was kicking Eyal Berkovic so famously in the head. Hancock also read from a passage dealing with Claridge: "I looked up to him as the possessor of a personality I wanted to be around as much as possible. He gambled, which was an attraction - we often spoke when our paths crossed at the local bookies..." You don't get that in Ashley Cole's My Defence or Frank Lampard's My Rubbish World Cup (I think that's what it was called).

Apart from that, there was much inconsequential chat about the game's current affairs - Chelsea, Arsenal, West Ham et al. I was touch-typing badly while watching, and rather than "WHU", I keyed in "WHO", which might have made a more interesting show. Next week, apparently, Wayne Rooney, Vinnie Jones and Robbie Savage discuss the International Monetary Fund.

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