Sport On TV: And the lorryload of toxic waste award goes to...
For terrestrials like myself, the big fight may as well not be happening.
There has been little cause for the principal channels to flag the event this week - why should they? - so the floor was left clear, unfortunately, to a former amateur boxer turned alleged comedian. Lee Evans' Kings of the Ring, (Channel 4 Thursday) was a strange title (excepting so far as every boxer is a king of the ring, just for getting up there in the first place) for a tribute to the heroically failed British attempt on the world heavyweight title.
It was supposed to be funny. In the cause of this column, I've grimly viewed so many heroically failed attempts to integrate sport and humour that I've run out of similes. As funny as a death in the family? As funny as a head-on collision with an out of control juggernaut overflowing with toxic waste? As funny as Nick Hancock using a rude word? All of these and more.
Maybe it was just me. There were some bits less unfunny than others. "The earliest known title fight", "was at 4.30. in the morning when Bruno met Tyson," while Queensberry Rule No 13 is "the American always wins." There was no surviving film of the Bob Fitzsimmons fight in 1899 so there was a test card and the words "viewing on Sky only" (actually, that was quite funny).
This was about the best of the so-called humour. There was a running gag in which Evans played trainer Mickey Rough, preparing a fat bloke for a world title fight. He had a couple of decent lines: "When I fought Jerry Garcia in 1927...", "It's not the winning that's important, it's having your head taken apart", "Nobody knew how to use the ropes like me. Rope Boy, they called me."
The rough stuff was otherwise exactly that, the scenes with the fat bloke particularly execrable: in a Rocky take-off, for instance, we saw him in a meat market hitting a string of sausages. Shoot me somebody. Evans also appeared as a doctor, a spoof German for no good reason, reminiscence of Herr Flick in 'Allo, 'Allo as well as a bunch of other roles, non of them remotely amusing.
The script apart, the programme's fundamental problem was Evans, who comes across like Jerry Lewis on crack. He suffers all the worst excesses of Carrey Syndrome. Any potential for humour lost amid the ack-ack barrage of facial tics and physical jerks. Give him his tranks, you feel like saying. He has a simple formula: if something isn't funny, exaggerate it. If that's still not funny, exaggerate it some more.
End of story.
Still, the programme wasn't entirely devoid of merit, with some interesting historical bits. There was quite a nice theme about boxers and showbiz - Big Lovable Frank wasn't the first thespian pugilist. After Fitzsimmons lost to Gentleman Jim Corbett he trod the boards, while Gunner Moir, who lost to Tommy Burns in 1907, went on to star in a drama about the Marie Celeste.
The programmes principal pleasure, indeed its raison d'etre was the archive footage (which could have been more gainfully employed in a proper documentary of course). We could do without the titles inserted into the early silent stuff - "ding" etc - but later on, there was atmospheric film of Rocky Marciano punching, butting and forearm smashing his way to victory over Don Cockell, with Evans dubbing a funny voice over film of the hapless Brit signing the contract "just sign here - it's what we call a suicide note".
There was excellent stuff about the "game" Brian London, who was overwhelmed by Floyd Patterson, and, inevitably, much about the various challenges to Muhammad Ali.
The highlight of Kings of the Ring, was Ali v Richard Dunn in Munich. Ali confronted him in the hall in the run-up to the fight, his finger jabbing in Dunn's face. "You will never take my crown. You will never take my crown. No Briton will ever take my crown," he went on, ranting until he could rant no more while the Yorkshireman regarded him with a steady gaze, amused rather than bemused. When Ali was finally spent, Dunn looked around him. "This is a nice place," he murmured.
The star of the entire programme was the unknown American commentator in Munich. "I've never seen a man recover from so many right-handers outside of a movie," he said, as Ali's fists pound Dunn's face. My favourite line came as Dunn advances like a Tommy on the Somme, "like a man charging madly into a threshing machine."
If only the script for Kings of the Ring had one or two lines half as decent as that. Some may have said that as a boxer, Evans was a comedian, perhaps he should have stuck to punches rather than punch lines.
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