From Bob the talking log to a princely prat

Sport on TV
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The Independent Online
WE ARE watching the emergence of a new sub-genre of television programme. Part sporting event, part variety show, the draw for a major football tournament is never less than wholly embarrassing. The BBC pulled out all the stops with the FA Cup third-round draw; last week they joined forces with ITV to stage the tombola for what we are going to have to get used to calling Euro '96. In charge were Sue Barker, and Bob Wilson, doing his usual impression of a talking log.

Faced with the Fifa big cheese Lennart Johansson and clearly fazed by the fact that the chap was foreign, Wilson chose to address him in a kind of poetic code. Instead of asking, "Do you think a lot of people will come to the championships?" Bob said: "You're expecting large numbers of fans to visit the shores next summer?" Johansson responded: "I think the problem you will have is not to fill the stadia, but to take care of the fans who hurgle nurgle durgle."

At least, that's the way it seemed to me the fifth time I played it back. Reviewing the same exchange on Fantasy Football League (BBC2), David Baddiel opted for "the fans who clam clam chlamydia". Frank Skinner suggested that Lennart might have duetted with Boy George on "Karma Chameleon", which was a very dangerous idea to express. The way these ceremonies are going, Lennart in frock and make-up is a pretty good bet for the draw of the 2000 championships in Holland and Belgium.

Baddiel and Skinner were in feisty form, although Skinner looked like he had spent the night in a tumble-dryer. Their show was jam-packed with football-related goodies: so much so, in fact, that the original premise of the programme - celebrities discussing their fantasy teams - was almost submerged by the trivia. No matter: most of the trivia was funny or informative or both, such as the clip of a Jack Charlton nude dressing-room walkabout which revealed, among other things, the source and accuracy of his nickname.

Also good value were the pair's selection of (quite genuine) gift items: the board game Premier League, sub-titled Burnley v Blackburn and endorsed, worryingly, by the English Schools' Football Association; the Darlington car air freshener kit; and the Scunthorpe United cream shower and bath lotion.

This last remarkable product may appeal to women who are seeking to repel unwanted advances this festive season: if it really does contain the essence of Glanford Park, Scunthorpe's unsalubrious home, it must be the ultimate anti-aphrodisiac.

The only section that fell flat was an unfunny Holiday Special from Scotland, based on the less-than-challenging assumption that Scottish fans and players are unspeakably violent. The only redeeming aspect of this skit was that David Baddiel was required to don an all-enveloping green Loch Ness Monster costume, which improved his looks no end.

The other blot on the programme was "Prince" Naseem Hamed, who would get my vote as Obnoxious Sports Personality of the Year every time. Being an epically talented boxer has earned him the right to clown around in the ring to his heart's content: it has not earned him the right to behave like a spoilt child on an otherwise inoffensive light entertainment programme.

"Less of that," he said, giving Skinner a nasty stare, "or there will be trouble in here." Then the audience giggled as Naseem itemised the precious metals in a watch given to him by the King of Qatar, and he again took umbrage. "Let's not get too sarky," he warned, "or there'll be some slapping around here." What made these little outbreaks all the more unpleasant was the feeling you got that he'd rehearsed them, that Frank Warren, who sat silently next to him on the sofa throughout, like an indulgent uncle, had given him a script before the show.

When Skinner bravely asked: "If he doesn't like people taking the piss, why the bloody hell did he come on here?" Naseem made it clear that the whole thing had been Warren's idea. Perhaps Warren thought that the show would "humanise" his charge in the eyes of the public. It didn't work.

The most startling revelation on the Top Gear Motor Sport Review of the Year (BBC2) was the appearance of Jacques Villeneuve, Damon Hill's new team-mate. With his little spectacles and dishevelled hairdo, the diminutive Jacques looked like a naughty schoolboy. No doubt he hopes that the story of next year's world championship will be Just Williams.

The show was fronted by Tiff Needell, who I have previously suggested has the telegenic qualities of a smoked herring. But there has been an improvement. For this gala occasion Tiff had donned a particularly natty dinner jacket and black tie and looked the spitting image of Pierce Brosnan: from Fisheye to Goldeneye in one move. Now, if he can just get the hang of reading an Autocue . . . .