SPORT ON TV: Doctor Eubank a new recruit to ranks of fistic thinkers

JAKE LA MOTTA and Muhammad Ali wrote poetry; Nicky Piper's got A-levels, for God's sake. Now there's a new recruit to the ranks of fistic thinkers. In BBC2's history series Leviathan on Wednesday, Professor Christopher Eubank of the University of Hard Knocks In The South-East (the former Brighton Poly) travelled to Greece to explore the history of the marathon in the run-up to tomorrow's race in London.

It has to be said that though he cuts quite a figure of fun in his tweed and twill, and despite the odd distraction in his delivery (such as pronouncing "tyranny" to rhyme with "irony"), he actually comes across well. Wish You Were Here it wasn't, thank God.

The programme's thesis was that the marathon gave us our very idea of sport - it's "the endurance, the valour, the pain," says Eubank, "its connection with the warrior and the sportsman. As a doctor I know about these things." Only when I played the tape back did I realise he said "as a boxer...".

I was fascinated by some of the facts: all that stuff about Pheidippides running the 26 miles to Athens to announce a glorious victory over the Persians then dropping dead is highly improbable (at least, it didn't feature in the account of the battle by Herodotus, the English Patient bloke, who was apparently unlikely to miss out a juicy anecdote like that). Robert Browning is partly to blame, with his poem about the unfortunate messenger:

Bursting his veins, he died.

The bliss!

News did travel fast, though, and the battle became, according to one of the historians assisting Prof Eubank, an "instant legend". It was one of history's greatest bust-ups - East v West, tyranny v democracy, the underdog Greeks playing at home but outnumbered 3:1. It's because of Marathon that we have democracy today, and not whatever the Persians might have foisted on us. Mmm, we might all have been Iranians. Thanks, you lovely, lovely Greek lads - we all owe you a pint on the Other Side.

It's not known if bets were taken on the outcome of the battle, but it's safe to say that, if they'd been taken by John Batten, he would have scarpered with the dosh long before you could say: "Pheidippides, would you just pop back to the city and give them the good news?"

Batten's activities were exposed in Channel 5's consumer programme, Are You Being Cheated? (Tuesday) thanks to a video shot by one of his victims, at Epsom on Derby day last year. He should have lost pounds 40,000 when Benny The Dip beat the odds-on favourite, Entrepreneur. By the time the photo- finish had been sorted out, Batten, whose call sign on his permit was "Lucan", had vanished (by coincidence, Mick Wright, a detective who worked on the case, was also part of the team that hunted the disappearing peer).

"Somebody must know him," sighed David Davies, the punter with the video camera. "Shop him and we'll share the reward."

Batten sent a letter to the Racing Post written in capital letters (people who write in capital letters are invariably mad, though Batten appears to have all his wits about him). "Don't waste your time giving this to the police," he wrote. "There are no dabs on it." The best likeness was from a snap taken by a holidaying Malaysian couple, who wanted a picture of a "typical English bookie." On that evidence, all I can say is, have he and Kelvin Mackenzie ever been in the same room together?

They Think It's All Over is back for its seventh series, with the scatology intact, the formula untouched. David Gower's still the nob, Nick Hancock's still the superlad. Bizarrely, there was no mention of any promotional contracts Gary Lineker might have in his portfolio, or any reference to the size of his ears, so maybe things have moved on slightly.

Hancock is as unpleasant to his guests as ever, describing Clive Anderson in the intro as a "charmless bald tosser", for example, while Steve Davis "started out playing snooker at home. He still enjoys a game with his family, though these days he gets knocked out in the first round by his Aunt Doris."

The funniest lines were provided by Jo Brand, who also exhibited a sporting knowledge it's politically incorrect of me to be surprised by: "Kirk Stevens told me you can either snort coke or blow it up your arse," she said when Robbie Fowler's toot-sniffing goal celebration was up for discussion.

The funniest line was from Davis, during the photofit round. "Aren't they supposed to be three different people?" he enquired. "Well done, Steve, you've spotted it," Hancock butted in."They don't call me Steve for nothing," said Davis.

Perhaps you had to be there.

This week's Noel Gallagher Award for Originality goes to ITV's trailer on Wednesday night, straight after the FA Cup semi-final replay, for Manchester United's trip to Turin next week. It was dressed up as an Italian Job number, complete with clips and Michael Caine soundbites. They must have thought about that for at least half a nanosecond.

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