Robin Scott-Elliot: Wordy Porter runs out of puff in the commentary box

View From The Sofa: Cycling/Man Who Cycled The Americas, BBC
Click to follow
The Independent Online

In a world where female librarians go on Mastermind to display their knowledge of Victorian poisoners, the Australian Men's Shed Association offers a reassuring presence in a man's life. Or perhaps it's because associations such as the Australian Men's Shed exist that women find solace in the deeds of Victorian poisoners. They – Victorian poisoners, not Australian shedders – had a 70 per cent chance of getting away with it. An earnest (male) student answering questions on the early history of the World Cup didn't stand a chance after that.

The Aussie male has never been afraid of lauding shed culture. Look at the opening ceremony for the 2000 Olympics and the squadron of lawn mowers. If London attempted something similar they would be ridiculed, but perhaps it's time to reclaim lawn mowing for the rightful home of the nicely-cornered suburban garden.

If it were an Olympic sport – are host nations not allowed demonstration events? – it would turn into an Australia v GB battle (although you would of course be foolish to write off the Germans), much as the cycling is set to be in a couple of years.

Copenhagen residents cannot have been pleased that when they host the track world championships all that anyone talks about is using it as a staging post for 2012, and a nice place to get pastries or visit the original Legoland.

It did provide a welcome blast of the irrepressible Hugh Porter, the BBC's sole second city accented employee. Porter loves his bicycling and comes from that line of two-wheel commentators who see silence as something to be filled as full as possible with any word you can think of. Eurosport's David Duffield is the doyen, but then he had the advantage of talking over the Tour de France which pedals round an entire country. Porter has an indoor track and events that come across as horribly complicated and confusing on television.

But, undeterred, Porter can talk the talk and talk the talk. When he appeared on screen after the team pursuit, an endurance event in every way, he was still panting.

The BBC did Copenhagen on the cheap. Milling around in the middle of the track, Jill Douglas had her Rough Guide in one hand and a microphone in the other. Douglas is one of a triumvirate of female commentators, with Clare Balding and Hazel Irvine, who deserve better from the Beeb. The obsession for bouncy young men must make them feel like asking at the local library for The Victorian Lady's Book of Poisoning (pocket edition).

Mark Beaumont felt like he was being poisoned one day into his attempt to cycle the length of the Rockies and Andes. Beaumont is vegetarian but Alaska turned out to be not that accommodating to non-meat eaters (never saw that one coming) and so he had to resort to eating burgers. To make things worse, as he sat chewing in a Palin-forsaken roadside eatery the owner asked to pray for him. As the man and his brother clutched his shoulder and bowed their heads, Beaumont gave the camera a worried glance. He was nothing if not redoubtable though. "I don't know what's round the next corner," he said when he set out on a road that would have made a Roman green with envy.

It was bears. Beaumont sat nervously on his bike and filmed them. Just him, a family of large bears and several thousand square miles of wilderness. "It's looking at me funny," he said. Here was his chance to solve one of nature's great questions. Bears – well, do they? They ambled off into the woods and we were left none the wiser.