Grand National on TV: Barker, Balding, bad pop and a true classic

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The Independent Online

The BBC at last changed the worn-out theme tune from Champions - you know, the "da-da-da-dah-dada" etc - for the opening sequence of their Grand National coverage and replaced it with the moody score from The Mission. But it still sounded more suited to ice-skating than racing.

What followed though was the kind of musical torture last endured by Quasimodo up on the towers of Notre Dame but instead of bells there was a K-Tel - remember them? - style compilation of tracks to accompany virtually every segment between races. Three Irish features got the Clannad treatment, with pipes, fiddles and drums on one and an unnecessarily mournful harp theme over an interview with last year's successful owner - what's he got to be mournful about? The last got the Father Ted theme.

Mercy Rimell, 87, and full of the sort of beans that helped her trainer husband, Fred, train four National winners gave a funny and touching interview, which was all but drowned out by a piano and violin concerto, possibly Putin's FSB Interrogation Suite in B-sharp.

Using music of the time to cover two nostalgia sequences was fair enough - one marking Red Rum's third win in 1977 and one for the Aintree bomb threat of 1997 - but the cumulative effect was like being trapped in a hospitality box with Cilla Black, Bonnie Tyler and Ken Barlow.

You began to wonder if the races themselves should be run to an accompanying barrage from Wagner or the Dambusters theme.

This was all a great pity because the afternoon's fillers were pretty decent - a People's Race, which saw two willing but foolish members of the public floored, and it was only a flat race. There was a sharp-edged Scouse poet whose name I missed and who will be hoping that the women racegoers did too after he referred to mutton dressed as spam and make-up being applied with a Black & Decker sander. And then a style contest won by a Scouse David Beckham look-alike with a Chinese surname who went to school with Wayne Rooney's girlfriend - I'm not making this up. It was all the sort of stuff that could knock spots off celebrity dog owning, ballroom dancing and ice skating in the early evening schedules.

Even the standard Sue Barker interview with the retired but defiantly non-PC Ginger McCain, a hand-grenade with the pin out on live television, passed with only a few buggers, pillocks and prats and only one frisky remark about females. Indeed the only dubious moment came when Clare Balding remarked on the course's capacity to ejaculate the jockey.

But then the effect of the music gave rise to a conspiracy theory. The two nostalgic sporting sequences had featured events that the BBC no longer cover - Formula One, Test-match cricket, European Cup football, etc. Was there a subversive message being sent to viewers about the murder of live sport on the BBC? Could next year's Grand National be reduced to a mere musical podcast?

Then the demented theme roared in again, the great race was finally upon us, and commentator Jim McGrath waded gallantly through the runners against a background of screaming brass and massed glockenspiels. Angus Loughran swished feverishly through the last betting movements. A hushed Clare stalked the saddling boxes. You crossed every limb hoping that every horse would come home safely.

What followed was the pure, unscripted, unembellished drama of a great sporting pageant. No fewer than six botched starts before the charge, the early fall of a favourite, the first breathless circuit, the last effort, the wavering run past the Elbow and a thrilling finish. Memo to the new BBC Chairman who doesn't watch much television. Watch this race. Keep it. Cherish it. Just lose the music.

Race Verdict: 'We'll party and enjoy it'

"We will have a party and enjoy it, then think about the next move."

Gordon Elliott, trainer of winner Silver Birch

"Unbelievable, what a ride I got all the way. It does not get any better than this. I should retire now!"

Robbie Power, winning rider

"I've been second in a Gold Cup and second in a National. It's a good feeling, but I prefer winning."

Peter Bowen, trainer of Mckelvey

"I'm thrilled to bits. He will be turned out for the year now and have a light campaign to come back next year."

Nick Williams, trainer of 100-1 fourth Philson Run

"He ran another fine race, but I suppose the weight and lack of a run told in the end."

Ruby Walsh, rider of the 2005 winner, Hedgehunter

"He just overjumped at the first, landed too steep and came down."

Philip Carberry, jockey on well-fancied Point Barrow who fell at the first

"Over £250 million was gambled on the National and a fair portion of that will stay with the bookmakers. Silver Birch has caned the punters."

Damian Walker, spokesman for the Tote