Matt Butler: Fetch me my cords, the TT bikers have taken the island
View From The Sofa: Isle of Man TT, ITV4
There's an old joke where Lord Nelson is standing boldly on Victory. He demands a telescope ("so I can see my enemy's eyes"), then a red jacket ("so the enemy cannot see my blood") – before the true horror of battle dawns on him. He then says, "Fetch me my brown corduroy trousers..."
In the Isle of Man TT a few pairs would not have gone astray – in the commentary box and for the spectators, as much as the riders. The race that is billed as one of the most dangerous in the world lived up to its reputation and ITV4's coverage more than did it justice.
The TT is an anachronism in motor sport. Apart from the inherent danger, it is held on the bumpy roads of an idyllic island, with sweeping views of the cold, grey sea. And a decent proportion of the riders – many from the North-west, with the odd Irishman or Antipodean thrown in – give the impression that they are merely middle-aged motorcycle enthusiasts who fancied a blatt around the land of the Manx at speeds that demand the aforementioned trousers.
The highlights coverage from ITV portrayed the peculiarities of the race – and the danger – brilliantly. From camera angles that made you duck each time a bike went past, to addressing Friday's crash, when Jonathan Howarth's bike bounced off the kerb ("near the burger van", according to Gary Thompson, the clerk of the course) and injured 10 spectators, the tone was right. It almost made you want to don the leathers, pack a tent and join the party next year – and it begged the question why the races aren't shown live.
Craig Doyle, the epitome of a pleasant frontman, hosted the shows. When surrounded by his TT cohorts – all ex-riders – he provided an island of normality in among the madness. On his own, the twee quotient would have been off the scale, but he provided welcome balance. It was unnerving to hear his voice flogging windows during the advert breaks, but hey, we all have to pay the mortgage.
During the races, the commentators, Steve Parrish and James Whitham, made their love of bikes plain. Every few minutes they remarked at how "beautiful" the engines sounded – to these untrained ears they resembled mosquitos, wasps or a squadron of Spitfires, depending on the cc-rating – and forgot themselves on more than one occasion with a "wheeee!" or "woohoo!" when a rider got airborne.
But even this pair of ex-riders did not focus relentlessly on the bikes. They allowed themselves an aside ("absolutely perfec' ") whenever a glimpse of the stunning scenery was caught on camera in the wilder sections of the course.
And during the week there was time for travelogue segments and brief interactions with fans clad in leather, looking like they took bourbon chasers with their real ale and had the entire Steppenwolf and Blue Cheer discographies on vinyl back at home. But for all the distractions from the races, the danger was never far away.
Take Wednesday's Supersport race, as we watched through Michael Dunlop's (left) on-board camera as he chased his fourth win of the week. Parrish gingerly said, as the Northern Irishman hurtled toward a hump in the road: "Do we want to ride with him?" Whitham replied, with a distinctly shaky voice: "We don't..." Dunlop did negotiate the hump without incident, but it was comforting to hear that the experts were also on the edge of their seats as the riders cheated death.
And nobody would have spoken ill of them had they demanded a pair of brown strides at the beginning of the week. Many viewers probably needed a pair by Tuesday.
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