Hill treat blues as Clive is left in the pitlane

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The Independent Online
Clive James has used his powerful intellect to impressive effect. He has written epic poetry, novels and literary essays. He has become an accomplished television performer. He also invented the Sunday newspaper television column, for which service some of us will be eternally grateful. But he remains a man unfulfilled. What he wants above all, what he desires with every fibre of his chubby being, is to drive a Formula One racing car.

The erudite Antipodean has not actually come out and admitted it, but the wish pervades his documentaries about the sport, and influences his unashamed hero-worship of the drivers. Damon Hill meets Clive James (ITV) allowed him to get close to realising his ambition. In the Williams garage, he actually got into Hill's car, a process akin to getting toothpaste back into its tube.

"So," he said, wincing at the bottom-compression required, "I fit into a Formula One Williams." "Yup," Hill smirkingly observed. "Now all you have to do is drive one." James's eyes lit up. "When? When? When?" "Ask Frank," Hill replied, knowing the likely answer.

The documentary was intimate and revealing, and so it should have been, given that James was granted the kind of access that most journalists can only dream of. Hill came across as a thoroughly good bloke, but he is no linguist. Arriving to address an adoring crowd in Bulgaria, he asked his interpreter: "How do I say 'Pleased to be here'?" "Slobsky bobsky nobsky trobsky." "Forget it," Hill said. "Just say 'straveti'," the interpreter advised. "It just means 'hello'." "Straveti!" Hill said, and the crowd went bonkers. Turning to the camera, he murmured: "Gig over."

It was a lovely microcosm of the meaninglessness of international fame, and it gave Hill confidence in his ability with Eastern European languages. Given a motorcycle escort after the Hungarian Grand Prix, he wanted to thank the rider personally. So he strode up to him and delared: "Merci."

Mrs Merton (BBC2) on Friday night was a mixed bag presented by an old bag, if the lovely lady characterised by Caroline Ahearne will forgive us. The common topic was sex: Mrs M got down to fundamentals by discussing the functional aspects of homosexuality with Boy George, then instigated a lively discussion among her wrinkly audience on the pros and cons of naturism. Hushing the giggles, Mrs M demanded: "Put all thoughts of a penis behind you now, and welcome my next guest, the soccer nutcase Vinnie Jones!" And into this maelstrom of geriatric lust he strolled, grinning evilly: a shark to the slaughter.

Vinnie thought he was there to plug his acting career and chat show, and started off by bantering with the audience. "Vinnie, it's my show," Mrs M warned him sweetly, and if her guest had a little more television experience he would have heard the alarm bells ringing.

"Have you had any gay tendencies, Vinnie?" she gently enquired. "Only with Gazza," he replied. "You grabbed his goolies," Mrs M sternly insisted. "What was that all about?" "Well," Vinnie replied, quick as a script, "he was being a pain in the arse, so I thought I'd give him a pain in front of his arse." Oscar Wilde it was not - and that was Vinnie's finest moment.

The silver-haired inquisitor pressed home her attack, asking "Have you ever played a full game?" then "Do you think that Wimbledon enjoy playing with 10 men?" and "Did it all start as just a compulsion to chin everyone you met?" Vinnie responded gamely, but it was one-way traffic and nearly time to put in a call to the RSPSFPFB, the Royal Society for the Protection of Six-Foot-Plus Former Brickies.

"Is it your ambition to get sent off in a World Cup final?" was Mrs M's next question, and from somewhere Vinnie produced a remaining scrap of wit: "I play for Wales." Not good enough. "Oooh, yes, you're so Welsh," the Griller Granny responded. "Now, who's the nicest person you've ever punched?"

For a nasty moment it looked like Vinnie might say "You" and lay out his torturer with a right cross, but fortunately he changed tack and revealed that despite his carefully cultivated image as the Hard Man's Hard Man, at heart he is an old softie who loves his nan - although he might have meant naan, as a curry accompaniment.

Now he was gaining confidence again, and announced that Mrs Merton did not have a monopoly on the chat-show market. He, Vinnie, had one of his own. "Oooh," Mrs M said warmly. "Your own chat show. After you've punched them, what do you do?" Vinnie pressed on to remark that the toughest thing about the job was interviewing guests that he didn't like. "Well," Mrs Merton observed, "you can't have your nan on every week." Vinnie finally surrendered, and leaping on top of his hostess delivered what may have been a warm hug. Or a right chinning.

Incidentally, has anyone ever seen Vinnie's chat show? If so, could they kindly drop me a line telling me where to find it? I can't wait to watch it - especially if he has his nan on.

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