Sky's gruelling feast brings on indigestion
Sport on TV
Sunday 04 February 1996
Ronnie Corbett and Jon Bon Jovi, Ken Morley in a sequinned jacket, Soul II Soul and a bucketload of dry ice, "The Sun Sexiest Footballer", the "Star Bar", the Barmy Army . . . burp.
It wasn't really about sport at all: sport was the excuse for a glitzy, noisy, down-market variety show. But that is the Sky message: sport is entertainment. Russ Williams, the host, gave the game away when he congratulated Colin Montgomerie for the efforts of the Ryder Cup team: "Thanks Colin. Thrilling television." Never mind the golf.
Williams had two things to worry about: the audience, who were fuelled on Carling Black Label, unruly and occasionally abusive, led on by the eternally irritating Barmy Army; and his script, which was chock-a-block with asides of the "Birdies, eh? Phwoar!" species. Perhaps this was why he looked at the Autocue as if it might bite him.
Up in the Star Bar, Andy Gray was the chief celebrity interviewer, a task he appeared to relish not a bit. Andy didn't need a drink, he needed his Telestrator, and you had to feel sorry for the man: as a variety show host, he makes a pretty good match analyst.
Needless to say, the event was religiously dedicated to sports covered by Sky: no mention of Jonathan Edwards, say, or Damon Hill. Was the award for Unsung Heroes to be a consolation gong for those sporting unfortunates whose lot it is to entertain the dishless? No, it was for fishermen, ultra- endurance runners and wind-surfers: a nice touch, but hardly enough to render the event comprehensive.
Another key problem was the absence of many of the award-winners. For a satellite station, Sky seem to be oddly unaware of the availability of satellite link-ups for award ceremonies. So Ian Wright collected an award for Tony Yeboah (with commendable good grace), Henry Cooper, for some reason, pocketed one for Nick Faldo, and Prince Naseem Hamed, who had already collected two awards for himself, trousered Sky Sports Champion on behalf of Frank Bruno.
Sylvester Stallone had flown over to present the latter, the evening's top award, which made you wonder why they couldn't have got Big Frank an air ticket too. Whatever the explanation, the evening was more schlocky than Rocky, and a severe case of televisual indigestion had set in by the time Gerry Marsden arrived to serenade the audience with "You'll Never Walk Alone". With uncanny prescience, large chunks of the audience had anticipated Gerry's message and walked out, taking their mates with them.
Sly showed up again in Rocky II (BBC 1) looking younger and sounding dumber, and one half- expected Naz to pop up next to him at ringside, so chummy had they seemed on Sunday night. Perhaps, as they left the London Arena stage arm-in-arm, they were chatting about a film version of Naz's career, to star a surgically reduced Stallone, and to be titled - what else? - Cocky.
Stallone's performance was not the most manly of the week in a sports movie: that award goes to Vanessa Redgrave, for her extraordinary portrayal of the sex-change tennis star Renee Richards (formerly Richard Radley) in Second Serve (C4). There may have been elements of characterisation that lacked commitment - her backhand, for example - but she put every ounce of effort into the scene in which Richard comes round in hospital after the Big Snip. It brought tears to the eyes.
More macho behaviour on Eurosport, who took us to Rachau in Switzerland. In this neck of the woods, according to Off-Road, it is considered butch to ride a motorbike at full speed up a steep mountain, fall off it, and slide all the way back down to the bottom again, usually followed by what is left of the bike.
This doomed exercise in gravity-defiance goes down very well with the Swiss spectators, some of whom stand so close to the action that the descending riders and vehicles actually pass over their heads. The insanely macho stand at the point of no return (generally, it seemed, about 100 metres up the mountainside), where bike and rider part company and the subsequent trajectory of both is least predictable.
Picture the scene at a breakfast table in the Bernese Oberland: "It's a lovely day, liebling. When I have finished my muesli I shall go and stand on a mountainside until decapitated by a Ducati." Clearly, Sky does not have a monopoly on unsung heroes.
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