Sport on TV: Soap, drama and the whine of the aching mariner

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Sailing on television has taken a long time to get up to date. The Onedin Line was strictly old technology: square-riggers, side-whiskers and syrupy string accompaniments. Howard's Way was contemporary but in plot terms was more concerned with hanky-panky on the Hamble than the latest developments in spinnaker technology. But with coverage of The Whitbread (BBC2) we come bang up to date, although in fairness to the other shows mentioned it should be noted that so far the sex interest is minimal, unless you have a thing for Gore-Tex windcheaters.

Steve Rider is at the helm for the weekly Friday-night slots, and he seems to have his sea-legs already after just two shows. The same cannot be said of his yachty co-stars, who suffer from a tell-tale syndrome of televisual novices: they don't know what to do with their hands.

Those used to lugging on halyards, swarming up rigging and (on less disciplined vessels) pulling on reefers, are used to having something to do with their fingers. So standing in a high-tech studio, discussing wind-patterns, they can't keep the unruly digits still and as a result seem twitchy and ill-at-ease.

Mind you, the graphics and the music are enough to unsettle anyone. Each segment of the programme is prefaced by scrolling screeds of coloured type and what sounds like an operatic soprano being hit on the head by a boogie-box playing hip-hop.

All very distracting, and the same might be said of the puzzling "comedy" strand that some bright spark has seen fit to commission for the series. The scenario here is that one Tom Binns wishes to take part in the race, but hasn't a clue how to go about it. So he blunders around for a few minutes trying to freeze-dry curries using a refrigerator and a hair-dryer, and pestering real-life Whitbread skippers with lame questions. It's the sort of stuff that would not look out of place on the average Hale and Pace show: what it is doing here is anyone's guess. Viewers who tuned in hoping to see as much seaborne action as possible in the half-hour slot will be hoping that Binns has sunk without trace before next Friday.

Vignettes transmitted by satellite from the competing craft were much more entertaining. A dispatch from Innovation Kvaerner (such catchy names these yachts have) revealed that they were delighted with their progress but disappointed to have left behind all their soap, shampoo and razors. And there we all were thinking that ocean racing was a sport for real men, when in fact the helmsman and the navigator evidently spend the long watches discussing the relative merits of Wash 'n' Go and Salon Selectives, while in the bilges those off-duty banter of Bic disposables and Gillette twin-blades.

We should have known that something was up when a suspiciously namby- pamby note crept into a monologue by Chris Dickson, the Kiwi skipper of Toshiba who was previously thought to be as rugged as Rockall. According to Dickson, one of the attributes a would-be Whitbread winner must have is "an artistic eye for sail shapes". No time for washing and shaving on Dickson's boat: the crew are all too busy doing water-colours of the jib.

Back on dry land, The Rugby Club (BBC2) got off to a cracking start, with the collision between Bath rugby club and the 20th century proving as painful as a headlong smash between opposing No 8 forwards. Hearteningly, the 20th century came off worst in the opening exchanges, the smart-suited managers making twerps of themselves while the redundant old guard supped pints of bitter and looked relieved.

Stephen Hands, Bath's marketing whiz, was on sparkling form as he examined the club's woefully old-fashioned badge with image consultants who looked as if they had reluctantly interrupted an afternoon's shopping at the Bath branch of Versace l'Uomo. Hands produced an example of the old design, which featured the words "Bath Football Club" and the year 1865. "The two major things that hit me from this," Hands confidently asserted, "are Bath Football Club and 1865." Stick him in the scrum.

The Fix (BBC1) was a first-rate drama concerning match-fixing in football. Not a hastily concocted response to recent events, but a lovingly authentic period piece based on the fall from fame of the Everton wing-half Tony Kay in 1965. Michael Elphick, as a grizzled hack, Colin Welland, as the bung-happy Everton manager, and Steve Coogan as the investigative reporter Mike Gabbert, were all outstanding, and Jason Isaacs played Kay with the right mixture of insouciance and pathos. Those who missed it should bombard the Beeb with requests for an early repeat.

Something that will be repeated ad infinitum, if you will pardon the pun, is Tim Henman's latest puff for Adidas. Never mind: recent results make it unintentionally risible. "No Englishman will ever win a Grand Slam" is the message dramatically engraved in stone before Henman, trying hard to look tough, appears in deep shadow and the voice-over growls: "One Englishman begs to differ." Damn right he does, as Greg Rusedski might put it.

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