Howzat for emotion as Dickie gets Savaged

Sport on TV
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The Independent Online
"DICKIE BIRD in transvestite tryst". It's not a likely story, is it? Yet there he was on Thursday morning, chatting away happily with Lily Savage, the statuesque Liverpudlian cross-dresser who is the star interviewer for The Big Breakfast (Channel 4).

Dickie's initial appearance was brief and inauspicious. Having no doubt seen him on television in temporary custody of a bowler's sweater, one of the presenters asked him to hold his coat. Dickie cheerfully agreed, whereupon the rest of the cast and crew took him up on the offer and the celebrated umpire rapidly disappeared under a thick layer of cagoules, anoraks and sheepskin jackets.

But he soon emerged, blinking and smiling, and took his place on the sofa opposite Lily. Ms Savage, not a celebrated sports expert, had done her research. "What I want to know," she said, "is why cricketers wear long trousers in summer, when footballers wear shorts in winter?" It was a bit of a googly, but Dickie gave it the forward defensive prod. "I don't think it would look right," he pronounced, adding: "I'm a traditional man."

Lily, who is not a traditional man, questioned Dickie sensitively about his decision to hang up his light meter for the last time, and was moved nearly to tears by his evocation of what it will be like to walk through the Long Room at Lord's for the last time. Dickie, who is not averse to a televised blub himself, managed to control himself on this occasion.

Lily's interviews normally take place in the Big Breakfast bedroom, but it had been flooded and we were denied the sight of Dickie sharing the counterpane with the beehived interrogator. Probably just as well: "Bird In Bed With Big Blonde Beauty" may have proved an irresistible headline for one or two tabloid sports editors.

Charmed by Lily's astute questioning, Dickie revealed that his sister does all his washing, that he has "lived out of a suitcase" since he joined Yorkshire at the age of 19, and that he has a big chair - "an old people's chair" - ready for his retirement. On Thursday's lively showing, the chair is unlikely to get much use for a while.

Dickie also disclosed that he had never married, having been wedded to cricket. Soon afterwards, Lily suggested that they get together that evening and go out on the town. When he immediately assented, a disquieting thought occurred. Had Dickie's somewhat sheltered existence left him unprepared for . . . for certain scenarios? Was he aware that Lily is, in some essential respects, Not As Other Women? Or was he in for a rude awakening? We shall never know.

Anyway, Dickie promptly proved himself unperturbed by the charms of scantily clad females when he popped upstairs to assist in the programme's "Game For a Bath" segment. This involved a blonde in a swimsuit scooping bars of soap out of a bubble bath while viewers rang in to guess how many she would find: Dickie's task was to keep the score, which he did with aplomb, even though it was really a job for Bill Frindall. One caller said that her name was Katrina. With his eye on fine detail as ever, Dickie demanded: "'Ow do yer spell that?" With a K, Dickie, as in Kapil Dev.

The great umpire's skills were called for when he was asked to rule on whether or not the last piece of soap had not been grounded in its dish as the buzzer sounded. His eyesight is as sharp as ever: without calling for a video replay, he shook his head firmly, and up went the famous finger: "The umpire's decision is final," Dickie warned.

Then he was off outdoors to demonstrate some umpiring gestures. "Bad light, this," he shrewdly observed. It was snowing. Undeterred, Dickie went into his routine: belligerent finger for "out", wavy-handed sweep for "four", hands in the air wiggling fingers for "six", a slap of the thigh for "leg bye", and that odd "I'm a teapot" hand-on-to-the-shoulder sign for "one run short". He also, unbidden, demonstrated the vigorous hand-wringing gesture that means "By 'eck, it's cold out 'ere."

Mark Little, the tartan-suited presenter, saw the opportunity for a dance sequence, and soon the cast, crew and passers-by were joyfully joining in with his moves as an impromtu band struck up BBC-TV's Test match cricket theme, using spoons and soup-tins. The scene gave a whole new meaning to the phrase "doing Bird".

Other segments of the programme had a Scottish theme for Burns Night, and the farewell sequence featured the serving of a haggis on a silver dish to the accompaniment of bagpipes. The presenters took a wary nibble, but Dickie, with a cry of "Oooh, 'aggis" waded in with a spoon. When the time came to reply to Little's thanks for being on the programme, Dickie was on his seventh spoonful and quite unable to speak.

It was the only time in the course of the morning that he had been short of words. Indeed, as he had earlier confessed to Lily Savage, "I witter for England, y'know." Long may he continue to.