Chris Maume: Sport on TV

Bruno's friends win on points in lightweight mismatch
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The Independent Online

"When he went off the rails, I know that definitely, definitely affected him mentally," the promoter said in Frank Bruno: Gloves Off (ITV1, Tuesday), the former world heavyweight champion's first TV appearance since his excruciating Celebrity Sleepover in 2001, which was filmed the day after he had been served with divorce papers and was visibly on the slide.

The Uncle Tom issue seemed to come to a head for Bruno in 1993 before he fought Lennox Lewis, who evoked Harriet Beecher Stowe for the purposes of hyping the bout. Bruno did not forget. A couple of years later, after he had beaten Oliver McCall to win the world title, his ringside interview was tortured.

"It's hard to put it into words," he said, "I'm busted up, I'm over the moon, I'm happy." Then he started crying. "I'm not an Uncle Tom man, no way, I love my brother, I'm not an Uncle Tom." Warren was edited back in to say, 'I told you so'. "I'm telling you, man, that was in his head."

Retirement also hit him hard, coming as it did after a second crushing defeat by Mike Tyson, while much was also made of the role of his ex-wife Laura - who was effectively mugged by the film's makers. True, any notion of objectivity was hobbled by the legal fallout from the divorce which means they're forbidden from talking about any aspect of their lives together. But could someone not have been enlisted to speak up for her?

There was an ascending scale of bitching from The Friends Of Frank Bruno. Sophie Lawrence, the former EastEnders actress who played in panto with him, was first and kindest. "A lot of Frank's success was down to the fact that she was there, and she was driven," she said. His friend Stephen Purdew, the owner of Champneys Health Resorts, weighed in with, "There's a side to her that I don't find very pleasant", while Nigel Benn, who often carried the flag into the ring for him, ventured: "A lot of people think she's a pain in the backside." Cass Pennant, the hooligan turned writer who has been a friend since he rescued the young Bruno from a gang of skinheads, fired the heavy artillery.

"She's two people," he said of Laura. "She's a down to earth, ordinary girl ... then she's this other character - that's the character Frank's terrified of, absolutely terrified of." So terrified that he obtained a court order banning her from harassing or molesting him. Sorry, my mistake: Laura obtained the court order, not Frank, though you'd hardly think so from Gloves Off.

After his breakdown a couple of years ago, when he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and sectioned for 28 days, Bruno has been slowly finding inner peace. He lives at a Champneys Resort courtesy of Purdew and takes his medication every day. You wish him well, but it's difficult to know how far his cause was served by such a one-eyed film.

Tommy Simpson didn't have to deal with retirement blues. When he died on Mont Ventoux during the 1967 Tour de France, he had big negotiations coming up; at 29 he was looking for a fat contract to make him financially secure. Which meant, he reckoned, a podium finish or a few days in yellow. That was why he took the drug that helped kill him. What also helped kill him was his innate ability to push himself beyond sane limits.

Death on the Mountain (BBC2, Wednesday) concentrated on the last day of his life. He had been sick since the first Alpine stage and was struggling. Histeam-mate Vin Denson told him to settle for what he had.

He didn't, and paid the ultimate price. One of cycling's ancien régime, Jean Stablinski, lauded him. "He kept going to the end of his reserves," he said. "That's a great quality. All the great riders know how to do that." Including the dead ones.

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