High on Heartbreak Hill with a happy ending

Sport on TV

It was a tough week for Tony Hancock fans: their regular dose of black and white humour was kicked out of the BBC schedules. By way of compensation, the replacement programme featured another bushy-eyebrowed Brit dogged by misfortune. But unlike most of Hancock's escapades, this programme had a happy ending. It was called Damon Hill: World Champion (BBC2).

The inevitable comparisons with his father, so tiresome when they are trotted out by commentators, were given a stamp of authority in that this time they were made by the uniquely qualified Bette Hill, widow of Graham and mother of Damon (a name she pronounced to rhyme with "Game on").

Bette declared: "I can see a lot of Graham's determination in Damon. Graham used to grind them into the ground, and that is what Damon has been doing, in the nicest possible way." A very British concept, that, the nice grinder. Bette, by the way, was a dead ringer for Dame Vera Lynn - in the nicest possible way.

George Harrison provided a character reference, to the effect that Damon is an all-round nice guy and "champion human being", which was borne out by some mawkishly staged sepia-toned footage of Hill wandering along a beach with his wife, Georgie. It called to mind a similar scene involving Neil and Glenys Kinnock, but the Hills avoided a soaking, mainly because Damon - in the nicest possible way - shoulder-charged his wife up the beach the moment he saw a wave coming.

Nigel Mansell, whose moustache has split in two and migrated to his eyebrows, supplied a grudging compliment. "The Williams car is by far the most competitive car out there at this time," he said. "But you still have to have a good pedaller out there pedalling it." Someone should tell him that the technology has moved on a little since his day.

Murray Walker was on hand to conduct an interview comprising the kind of grilling Kim Jong Il, the Dear Leader, might expect from North Korean TV. "You're world champion now," Murray cooed. "But you have been a superstar in the eyes of the public for quite a long time. What do you feel all this has cost you?"

"I don't think of it in terms of cost," Hill responded. "I think of it in terms of investment." He was talking personal development; his advisers are currently working out comparative yields between Krugerrands, diamonds, and gilt-edged government stock.

Murray persisted. "But can you go into the pub now and relax without being besieged?" Hill could have said: "Sure, if I buy the pub and sling everyone out," but to his credit he replied: "I might be besieged, but I'd enjoy it. I might even try it." So if you see a chap with advertisements all over him at the bar in your local, carrying a socking great cup, buy him a pint. Goodness knows, he deserves it.

Walker had earlier in the week called "Time" on the BBC's grand prix coverage, describing Hill's final triumph of the year and getting predictably carried away in the process. "I've got to stop, because I've got a lump in my throat," he exclaimed, as the Englishman swept across the line. "I really am, for once, at a loss for words." The real loss is the BBC's, for Murray will pop up again, larynx refreshed, in time for ITV's coverage next year.

Another commentator who is rarely stuck for material is Jonathan Pearce, whose multi-decibel radio broadcasts have won him several awards. They have also secured for him the more dubious honour of a regular Friday slot presenting Sports Talk on a new cable channel called Granada Talk TV.

Pearce described last week's show as "Super-Celebrity Sports Talk". Not so sure about the celebrity quota. Pearce introduced his star guest thus: "Footballer's wives have been in the news a lot recently, I'm afraid for all the wrong reasons. So it's a pleasure to welcome someone who is not in the news, the wife of Tottenham goalkeeper, Ian, that's Suzi Walker." Translation: "We couldn't get Sheryl."

So, not much of a celebrity, and not much sports talk either. Here's Suzi on soccer: "I hated football when I met Ian, didn't have a clue, still don't really. I go to the games, I watch, but I don't understand the game." Adjusting the conversation to a more manageable level, Pearce said: "The burning question really about Ian has to be, is it Ian who decides on his hairstyle, or is it you?" Just for the record, he wants to cut it, she doesn't.

You might imagine that this experiment with the giggling Mrs Walker might have taught Sports Talk a lesson. Far from it. They plan to recruit her as a reporter to talk to - who else? - other players' wives. It is not as if there is any shortage of women willing and able to talk about the game (see, for instance, Olivia Blair in our sister newspaper on Saturdays). But this is not Sports Talk's style. On 5 November, their advance listings promise, "TV presenter Lorraine Kelly" will discuss Dundee United. In the nicest possible way: who cares?

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