Fragrant Sue, peerless Peter

Julie Welch looks and listens as the BBC enjoy a happy return
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The Independent Online

It was rather like election night, when we also sat around waiting for hours while not very much was happening. The last time BBC cameras were present for the Epsom Derby the year was 1979 (Willie Carson on Troy, for those too young to remember) and they stayed a mere 50 minutes before heading off for Sofia and England's European Championship qualifier against Bulgaria. This time they had three hours 35 minutes to fill. You kept half- expecting anxious cuts from the studio to see if Sunderland South had declared yet.

Coverage started at 1.15, which meant two hours 35 minutes of foreplay for something that was going to be over in less than four minutes ­ much less, given Galileo's winning time. Not surprisingly, Grandstand's presentation of the 222nd Derby wore more padding than an American footballer. To be fair, the BBC had limited time to prepare, having only got the job a week before Epsom's spring meeting when C4 reared up entering the stalls.

Considering Friday's Oaks was the dress rehearsal, they did it proud. But you can only watch so many Jeff Banks interviews with actors from East-Enders and shots of the car- parking layout on the Downs before you are reduced for entertainment to counting the number of times Jimmy Lindley and Graham Rock say "electric atmosphere" and "housewives' choice".

There were gems, notably a wonderful, nostalgic trawl through the memorabilia of Derbies past, all fuzzy black-and-white footage, soundtracks by commentators who said "creche" instead of "crash" and an 18-year-old Lester with his bum in the air on Never Say Die. Clare Balding did her usual excellent job of providing the expertise. Less successful was Carson's pre-recorded interview with Pat Eddery, which bore an eerie resemblance to an Old Gits sketch.

We had plenty of time to observe the BBC racing team's Derby outfits. Roped in as presenter, Sue Barker was fragrant in lilac, though she seemed to be wearing a Fiat Punto on her head. Carson sported a splendid bit of shrubbery on his lapel, and a waistcoat apparently designed by a team of psychotic Tippex-wielders. But by the time the last runner was nosing its way into the stalls, it was time to turn down the volume on Grandstand's Epsom-fest and switch on Radio 5 Live to hear the last Derby that will ever be called by Peter Bromley. At 72 and after taking us through more than 10,000 races in a 40-year career, the owner of one of the nation's most evocative voices is switching off his microphone.

It was a nostalgic experience, a vale for my lost sporting childhood, like Tottenham having a winning team. The last crescendo we will ever hear rang out: "And now they start the descent, six furlongs out! Down Tattenham Hill! Beginning to turn Tattenham Corner! And it's two furlongs out! Here comes Galileo!" They should have employed him to call the election. It would have seemed much more exciting.

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