Sport on TV: Norman at pains to conquer his first hurdles
Sunday 10 January 1999
Who says that Auntie is out of touch with what the ordinary viewer wants? In fact, she should award a minor gong to whoever came up with the idea of giving Hale and Pace the gig on Jobs For The Boys (BBC1), because it works on so many levels. Gareth and Norman are earning a slice of our licence fees, but not, as a rule, occupying any airtime. Last Wednesday's 50-minute excursion into the world of sports commentating apparently took all of five months to compile, which can hardly be called a crash course.
On top of that, there is an outside chance that one of their new callings will tempt them away for good, while this latest programme also gave a few of the BBC's more under-used employees an extra outing, now that Sky has bought up most of the proper sport. And who knows, if Hale and Pace run into enough real pros like Peter Alliss and Murray Walker, a little of that old-fashioned talent for timing and delivery just might rub off.
Well, you can always hope, and as it happens, neither man embarrassed himself when the time came to put their abilities to the test in a live broadcast from Aintree last November. But it was a long and treacherous road.
Fully two months after their first, risible attempt at a race commentary - "a blind baboon could have done better", John McCririck said, and he should know - the boys had the good sense to charge a couple of morning suits to expenses and head off to Royal Ascot on Ladies' Day. By now, the learning curve should have risen beyond the basics, but Gareth had a question for Willie Carson. "What does this term 'going' mean, and is it important?"
Fortunately, Gareth proved so hopeless at the commentary lark that when the time came, he was sent off to join Richard Pitman for some paddock-watching instead. It was left to his straight man - and they don't come any straighter - to call them home in the handicap hurdle, and by now there was no doubt at all about the state of the going, in Norman's undergarments at least. It was soft, with heavy patches.
Five minutes later, when it was all over, he seemed close to a breakdown, and that was after a thoroughly decent stab at one of the most demanding occupations going. If the essential message was that the BBC's full-time commentators are worth every penny, the point was well made.
But you were also left to wonder about some of the senior production staff who let them loose on a proper commentary in the first place. At one stage, two of the biggest cheeses appeared side-by-side, both of them with the word "executive" in their job title, and men who really should know what looks good when you point a camera at it. One was wearing a houndstooth jacket, and the other was dressed like a 1970s airline steward. And these guys get to spend our money.
Still, if you are going to be sartorially inelegant, you might as well do it in the same week that the Embassy World Darts Championship (BBC2) is on, and simply blend into the background in the Lakeside Country Club at Frimley Green.
Let's face it, nothing goes nose-to-nose with your fashion sense quite like the sight of Bobby George slumped in a pundit's chair with enough gold hanging around his neck to give him irreversible curvature of the spine. Perhaps that's why he doesn't say very much - merely keeping his head upright is difficult enough, without being forced to move his lips too. Then again, there could be another explanation.
Dougie Donnelly has been the BBC's Mr Darts 'n' Bowls for years, but this time around he is conspicuously absent, with Ray Stubbs moving into the Lakeside Country Club as anchorman.
Rumour has it that on the eve on the championship, either the fags, the lager or the five-hour sunbed sessions finally dispatched Bobby to the Great Oche in the Sky. Worse still, when they tried to get him out of his chair, gravity intervened. The only solution was to leave him where he was, and get Donnelly to work him from behind.
As long as he keeps its nice and simple - "Yeah, great arrers" and "Nah, it's not 'appenin' for 'im", that sort of thing - no one will notice the difference. Stranger things have happened at sea. Just try not to think about where Dougie must have his hands.
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