Sailing squabbles and military manoeuvres

Sport on TV
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The Independent Online
The Spread of the video diary documentary is the natural outcome of Birtist policies at the BBC. All the corporation's producers and directors are off on management courses called "Stationery ordering: a proactive approach" and "Departmental downsizing: if it isn't hurting, it isn't working", so there is nobody left behind to make programmes. The solution: get the subjects to film themselves.

Actually - and this is not intended as a compliment to the DG, may his Armani suits succumb to mildew - the concept can work very well, and Olympic Diaries (BBC1) has been fascinatingly intimate. It is safe to assume that, for instance, Horizon would not have been able to snuggle up in bed with the rower Steve Redgrave, or film the eventer Karen Dixon in the bath.

None of the diarists was shy, but the prize for most forthcoming went to the yachtswoman Shirley Robertson, who was filmed undressing in a car park, towel-clad in a hotel room, and disagreeing frequently with her coach and boyfriend, Peter, who unlike most coaches insisted that his charge think about something other than her sport.

A typical exchange took place in their kitchen.

Peter: "I just wonder if you shouldn't refocus your motivation a little bit."

Shirley: "You think I'm missing things out?"

P: "Yes."

S: "Not to do with my sailing?"

P: "No."

S: "To do with you?"

P: "Yes . . . You are obsessed on training. There's nothing else. You devote no thought, no energy, no bugger-all to anything else."

S: "Just be nice to me. What I need is a bit of affection, not all this nagging."

P: "All right. Make me a cup of tea."

They squabbled in the car. They had a stand-up set-to at the airport. In fact, Shirley and Peter rowed more often than Redgrave rowed. Sails, masts, tillers and domestic strife - recognise the formula? Howard's Way is reborn.

But they remained devoted, even when Shirley was on the receiving end of unwanted attention from her fellow competitors, training (without Peter) in Portugal. "I keep picking up men," she told the camera in her hotel room. "But I'm not looking for men. I've got a boyfriend. I seem to be giving off some kind of sex scent. It's a bit alarming, isn't it?" She reached for her lipstick. To paraphrase the shanty: "All the sailors like a nice girl."

If the Shirl 'n' Pete Show was a soap opera, the oarsmen Redgrave and Matthew Pinsent were a classier act. Redgrave, the senior partner, seemed to have control of the camera most of the time, and used it to deliver Pinteresque monologues of which his thespian namesakes would have been proud.

Scene: a dormitory room at a training camp somewhere in Bulgaria. Redgrave glumly lobs soiled sweatgear into a bag. He speaks in an exhausted monotone. "Quite tired." Pause. "Bit pissed off." Pause. He packs a sock. "Don't know why really." Pause. "Just training camp blues." Pause. "Horrible time." Long pause. He folds a shirt. "Some days . . . you just wish you were at home." Much more of this and he'd be in a home.

Things were certainly no easier for Pinsent, who had to share a room with chirpy old Steve, and interject the odd "Yup", "Sure" or "Uh-huh" into his partner's ruminations on the correct way to defend their gold medal. Every now and then, Redgrave would have an idea for relieving the tedium. "Name," he demanded of Pinsent one interminable evening, "the world championship venues, starting last year and going backwards." Pinsent considered a moment. "Rowing world championships?" he asked. Redgrave's eyes flickered, just for a moment, then he nodded. What other kinds of world championship are there?

Dixon's lifestyle was pure Jilly Cooper. "How many women do you know," a dinner party guest demanded, "apart from the royal family, who have had a go with serving soldiers?" "Sticky Nicky," another reveller responded. "She had it with a soldier." "Sticky Nicky," the original questioner pronounced, "had the whole officers' mess of the Blues and Royals." Dixon whooped. She had, one recalled, trained under Captain Mark Phillips.

Annika Reeder, the Essex teenager self-described as "the little gymnast", was the most touching. Stressed out by her training, she had to endure the taunts of her classmates on her rare appearances at school. "I'm not Miss Brainy," she protested. "I'm not supposed to know everything."

Her Mum, a warm and smiley presence, watched Annika practise her routine, shorn of its tumbles, in the living-room. As the tiny figure adopted her final pose, legs straight up in the air, Mum giggled: "You look just like a fly that's just been sprayed." "Oh Mum," Annika sighed, "you say the nicest things to me." The family deserves a weekly slot. Reeders' Digest?