Sport on TV: It's not all over yet for the good ship Coleman

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The Independent Online
Sporting quizzes come and go, some sinking without trace (remember, with a shudder, Sporting Triangles and Quizbowl?), others zooming to instant infamy and mega-ratings on a tide of profanity and sexism (They Think It's All Over). But through it all one stately vessel plugs along, rusted a little at the waterline but kept afloat by viewing figures that have never dipped far below eight million since A Question of Sport (BBC1) first hove into view 26 years ago.

David Coleman is still the man in charge, and is still doing his bit for the British knitwear industry by bravely giving their more avant-garde prototypes a public airing. Last week he looked like he had barely survived an explosion in a stained-glass window factory.

But if Coleman has failed to acquire an adequate sense of sartorial propriety, he has at least gained two charming team captains. Out have gone the bristlingly overcompetitive Ian Botham and dear bemused old Bill Beaumont, and in their place we have Ally McCoist of Rangers and the snooker player John Parrott.

The pair are good news. Parrott is jovial in a professional-Scouser sort of way, and McCoist is a television natural, relaxed and funny, blokily beguiling to male viewers and (I am reliably informed) devastatingly attractive to the rest of the audience.

Should he lose the knack of knocking them in at Ibrox, a career of punditry and presentation seems assured. The swine.

It may just have been a lucky week, but the guests were a lovely bunch as well. Martin Offiah was amusingly baffled about which code of rugby he is supposed to be playing ("Home or away, Martin?" "Home, please, David - wherever that is..."). Dean Saunders of Aston Villa joshed matily with his fellow Welshman, the hurdler Colin Jackson, and Michelle Smith, the multiply-medalled Irish swimmer, was a revelation: big hair, big smile, big heart.

There was a nod to the influence of Nick Hancock's upstarts in video clips that revealed two things about the team captains: (1) The youthful Parrott bore a striking resemblance to Cilla Black; (2) McCoist does a useless Mr Spock impression. He's one Scottie who wouldn't have a chance of being beamed up.

Coleman's interviewing technique is still heavily influenced by that of Cliff Morgan on Radio 4. He gave Smith a ruthless grilling which can be paraphrased as follows: "So, Michelle, you're the greatest Irish athlete of all time and you pluckily cleared your name of false drugs rumours cooked up by jealous Americans. How does it feel?"

Hancock's aforementioned crew put up a more than usually dismal performance. You can assemble a replica of the script using only the following words: "Penis", "Shag", "Arse", and "Knob", and your effort will probably be funnier than theirs. They Think It's All Over? We think it's all over- rated.

Much funnier was Top Gear Motor Sport (BBC2), in which, we are delighted to report, front-man Tiff Needell has loosened up his presentation style. Unfortunately he has also loosened up his driving style, and was last seen revolving a Renault into a Hampshire bush at a great rate of knots. Tiff gets behind the wheel again next week: can't wait.

Even better was the segment on motorcycle trialling, in which men attempt to ride their machines up cliffs, over boulders, along streams, etc, without putting a foot on the ground. This involves a hands-on knowledge of the law of gravity, and when the lads over-reach themselves the results can be pretty spectacular. If it is bad to let your foot touch the ground, it is worse to have your whole body touch the ground, especially if it then proceeds down a mountainside at 40mph, closely pursued by several hundred kilogrammes of Japanese technology.

The reporter was Steve Berry, who sounds so much like the DJ Andy Kershaw that you expected him to break off from in-depth discussion of sprockets and tappets to cue in a burst of Haitian salsa.

Berry related the tale of Dougie Lampkin, a young Yorkshire lad who according to his granite-jawed trainer and dad, Martin, is "more or less practising every day". Dougie entered the last event of the year, in Belgium, needing to win it to claim the world title in his first year of competition.

Lampkin, under his father's stony gaze, was in fine form when he committed the triallist's cardinal sin, and fell down a cliff. Surely his title bid was over? No. Lampkins are tough. "I'm hard," his dad said. "'E's got to get back on the bike."

Sure enough Dougie, who judging by his expression is not over-used to getting his own way about the house, hopped aboard and set about the boulders again. "I'll have a crack at it," he said, grittily. He wasn't far wrong - in fact it was a broken hand - but Dad had a quiet word and Dougie decided to ride the final day. "Do you think you'll get to the end of the day?" Berry asked. Dougie gave a tight little grin. "I'll 'ave to," he said. He did. Good lad. Tha' can sleep indoors tonight.

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