Sport on TV: When the men in white coats finally came for Dickie Bird
Sunday 19 September 2010
Even though Big Brother has finally been kicked out of your house, it has spawned so many incestuous siblings that reality TV may soon be more believable than reality itself. But The Young Ones (BBC1, Tuesday to Thursday) at least had a purpose beyond simple voyeurism. Six former public figures approaching their dotage were brought together in a Seventies house to remind them of the way they were in their prime in 1975, and bring them out of the helplessness which has eroded their own sense of reality. The trouble is that some of them, like Dickie Bird, weren't all there in the first place.
He was the world's most famous umpire, principally because he was a "character" rather than really good at his job. He has always lived alone and his sister used to bring his dinner round every day. Though very popular on the field, he probably didn't get asked on too many nights out with the lads. "I used to be a bubbly character but I've lost all that," he says, welling up at Lord's after being brought back there to relive the 1975 World Cup final in his mind's eternally watery eye. "But I think it's come back."
Cricket was his life, as he admits: "When I crossed this [boundary] rope, I thought the world was mine." Yet it probably wasn't just Lord's that brings it all back but the company of his housemates too, especially the general hilarity that ensues every time Lionel Blair opens his mouth.
Though he doesn't seem the sort to ever get married, Blair is even more divorced from the real world than Dickie. According to the doctor who is running the experiment, Michael Morley, if you laugh for three minutes your heart rate rises to the point where you could have been rowing for the same amount of time. As Blair prances and twirls, Dickie guffaws so hard that he's in danger of turning into Steve Redgrave. "If I keep making the progress that I am, I shall be a new man," he says.
Then a group of carers come round so the doctors can see if any genuine progress has been made and, apart from Blair, they all revert to shuffling shadows again. Dickie even has someone to peel his banana for him. So he's soon back to being bananas again, like he always was.
If there was one place where Gavin Henson might not take his shirt off, you'd think it was the Arctic Circle. But there he was in the first episode of 71 Degrees North (ITV1, Tuesday), another celebrity "reality" triviality, emerging semi-naked from a freezing lake with the words "The tan didn't go off then". He had won the first challenge, cold-water swimming, and so became immune to being voted off by his fellow contestants. It must have been a strange feeling for him, not being able to be dropped.
In the harsh physical contests they have to undertake, he's bound to get picked by one team or another. But then he worries that his rivals for the overall title will vote him off. "I hope they like my personality," he gushes.
Life is so confusing at the moment for the boyo. Either everyone wants him or no one wants him. So will he come to terms with his real self on this programme? Or is he more likely to find his true calling while twirling around in skintight sequins on Strictly Come Dancing? Perhaps Lionel Blair isn't such a fool after all.
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