Sport on TV: Horse laughs and boom-boom time for gimmicks

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The Independent Online
Some people have suggested that the Sports Review of the Year (BBC1) is an anachronism now that the corporation has lost its grip on so much sports coverage. If they stuck to the stuff that they still show, the argument runs, the programme would be 10 minutes long, not two hours. Shadow of its former glory . . . irrelevant . . . isn't Des looking old? . . . and so on. Except it simply isn't true. Any show that can get Donovan Bailey to take part in a celebrity kickabout while Michael Johnson and Evander Holyfield watch from the studio audience is not without clout.

It could be that the BBC retains abroad the sort of reputation that it is struggling to keep at home. It is quite possible that Bailey and Johnson have never heard of Sky, while Holyfield must have been told that the Beeb was just a subsidiary of the satellite giant that had broadcast his victory to the paying millions. It was delightful to imagine Sky's executives gnashing their teeth as their champion failed to deliver even a simple plug for them.

The show was straightforward, the interviews for the most part the right side of cringing, and if they could only get their heads around the notion that the thing doesn't need gimmicks the BBC would still have an authoritative national sports round-up.

The best bits, as usual, were in the banter. Lynam v Venables is always an entertaining fixture, and this was a cracker. "So now it's Australia," Des mused. "And you've got the big one coming up - against Tahiti." Tel was on his mettle. "You coming?" he enquired, adding "you jealous swine". It is an alluring thought, Match of the Day from Papeete, with Lynam in a hammock and Alan Hansen and Ruud Gullit pontificating in grass skirts.

Nick Faldo was live by satellite from Florida, and we caught him halfway through a bizarre pink cocktail with a twist of lemon and a cherry on top, probably a Pargarita. He recalled the silence of the crowd as he bore down on Greg Norman at Augusta. "They just sat and watched," he said, "which was kind of eerie for a golf tournament." Just imagine, no berks yelling "Inna hole!" They should make it compulsory.

Steve Rider cut off Dickie Bird in full flow - well, somebody had to - while Sue Barker, the main offender in the sycophancy stakes, fawned all over Frankie Dettori. Frankie's birthday cake, brought on by Willie Carson and Walter Swinburn, was a nice touch, although making it in the shape of a horse's head will have stirred uneasy memories of The Godfather in film fans' minds. Des dissipated any tension. "I thought Walter and Willie were going to be in the cake," he quipped.

Steve Redgrave was wheeled on in a scull, with Matthew Pinsent supplying, not for the first time, one suspects, the motive power. When Redgrave said after his latest Olympic triumph, "If anyone sees me in a boat they have my permission to shoot me," he should have added "as long as they are using a camera rather than a gun".

Barker met her match in the Paralympic judo gold medallist Simon Jackson, who is qualified to banter, as well as batter, for Britain. "You look very nice this evening, Sue," he commented as she simpered away happily. "But don't take that as a compliment. I'm visually impaired." Best line of the night.

There was something very odd about the rugby coverage, and it wasn't just Mickey Skinner's Butlins Redcoat outfit. It was all canine and vulpine, from Rob Wainwright's England-hating pooch to John Davies's tractor-riding boxer, to - and what the hell was this all about? - Basil Brush the Scottish rugby pundit. Perhaps his "Boom! Boom!" was intended as a subtle comment on the state of players' wage packets.

Then it was time for Des to introduce the evening's biggest gimmick. "Where would we be each year without our fun item?" he asked, clearly thinking "A lot better off." He went on: "The TV critics like this bit especially." Thanks for the plug, Des, but it won't work - the celebrity penalty shoot-out was agonisingly awful, its sole redeeming feature being a chance to clock Jimmy Hill looking like a prat in his referee's kit.

There has been a great deal of outrage at Damon Hill's award of Sports Personality of the Year. Actually, it was an admirable compromise. Hill has more personality than Steve Redgrave, who is too busy training to develop one, while Frankie Dettori has far too much of one.

Mary Maugham should be a contender next year. She is the striker with the Argyll Bombers, a female five-a-side football team from Stockton-on- Tees, the subject of Still Kicking (Channel 4). They are not particularly quick around the park, which is understandable, given that their average age is 82, but they can still give the ref a run around. "All they want to do today is make war," a harassed official lamented. Mary, 88, a dab hand with a V-sign, was unrepentant. "Our last referee only had one eye," she cackled. "We played on his blind side."

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