Matt Butler: Concerned, sensitive and, thankfully, nothing like Madeley

View From The Sofa: London Marathon, BBC1

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The Independent Online

Broadcasting after a disaster requires a balance to be struck. Presenters have to walk a fine line between saying too little or too much. And their choice of words is crucial as well. It is all too easy either to go all Richard Madeley and trample all over people's sensitivities, or become like a reality singing contest voiceover person and lay on the mawkishness too thickly.

With Jonathan Edwards, whose "concerned" face pops up even when speaking about something as inconsequential as the ins and outs of triple jumping, hosting the London Marathon coverage, there was always the danger of the latter, even given the seriousness of last week's terror in Boston.

Thankfully, he and the rest of the BBC set the tone perfectly. Their talk of the "running community coming together", while shots of the carnage at the end of the Boston Marathon flashed over the screen, rang true. Because if there is one band of slightly addled people that look out for the rest of humanity it is long distance runners – especially the type who train for nothing more than raising money for others.

Coverage of the London Marathon can give viewers goosebumps in any year, from the opening strains of Ron Goodwin's evocative theme music to the parade of pre-race interviews with runners putting themselves through hell for their chosen charities.

But this year's footage yesterday morning will have had the more emotional among us welling up before the elite women had even laced up their shoes. There were touching tributes to the people killed and injured in Boston, along with a piece with the former London Marathon race director David Bedford, who summed up the message of defiance. "Please carry on, please run the race," he said.

Commentator Steve Cram added just after the period of silence prior to the start of the mass race: "If you are trying to break the human spirit, marathon runners are the wrong sort of people to pick on."

There was one jarring moment – one that also smacked of annoying nepotism – early on, as Sian Williams, part of a gaggle of BBC news staff all running the London Marathon, recounted in an interview with Edwards her training difficulties leading up to the race: "I have missed training with a bit of a cough, but I have to finish it, with Boston in mind."

Edwards almost winced. But he reiterated how every runner in London had Boston in the backs of their minds, before switching to the commentators. Because amid the tributes and masses of normal folk running for others, there was a race – and the prospect of a world record – to be covered.

Paula Radcliffe was part of the commentary team and even though her bitterness at being unable to race through injury lay just below the surface ("Of course I'd rather be out there racing" was one of her first utterances), she proved to be an excellent pundit, with forthright opinions, never more so than when talking about Mo Farah's decision to run half the race.

And she was empathetic to the 35,000 plodders lining up at the start line, saying it was a "perfect day" for running. It was, for reasons beyond the crisp, sunny weather. And the perfect way to pay tribute to the people taking part, as well as those affected by Boston last week, was shown just before 10am, with 30 seconds of silence, followed by a deafening roar from 35,000 runners. The period of silence, accompanied by a long shot of the massed athletes lined up and the City of London in the distance, was exceptionally moving. There was no need to say anything more. And, credit to the Beeb, nobody did.