Sport on TV: Why Will's world was not so ideal for Holmes
Sunday 22 February 1998
He can be forgiven for feeling a little frustrated, but even so, he must have been pretty desperate for a fresh, high-profile slot in the evening schedules to have anything to do with The Sports Show (ITV).
The same goes for Will Carling, Holmes's loyal lieutenant in a mish-mash of a format which never quite worked out what it wanted to be (a failing which is probably crime number one in the management manuals which Carling plugged at every available opportunity). It was not a straight chat show, because the audience got involved, but then again, neither was it a serious debate, because the audience, at least as far as Eamonn and Will were concerned, stretched to no more than five people.
Holmes did not even go through the accepted charade of inviting anyone with an opinion to stick up their hand. The running order was pre- ordained, and the camera was always on the next contributor from the crowd before he (and yes, it was almost exclusively a he) had even opened his mouth.
Nor was this much of a random cross-section of the sporting public. Three hours earlier, a bespectacled fanzine editor had shared his thoughts on Ruud Gullit's sacking with Sky News. Now here he was again, spouting away from the midst of the crowd as if he had just been hauled in off the street. The heavy-handed stage- management made it all the more entertaining when one man - a Chelsea fan with a Brian Sewell accent - refused to shut up when required. The lippy nutter is a constant bane of audience participation shows, but this, unusually, must have been a lippy nutter of their own choosing.
This is not to say that The Sports Show did not have its moments, like the unusual lighting arrangement which made Graham Poll's hair look purple, and Kevin Connelly, an impressionist whose voices were brilliant even if his material was not. Best of all, though, was the occasional glimpse into the low-budget broadcasting niche that is ... Will's World, Will's World! (EX-CELLENT!).
In Will's World, apparently, the England cricket team would have refrained from celebrating their Test victory in Trinidad, lest it give the Windies the notion that one success was all they were after. "They should," Will told us, "be cuter in handling the media." And this from the man who once trotted up to a smart west London gym without noticing the long lenses pointing at him from every available piece of vegetation.
What would have been rather cuter on ITV's part would have been to include a few more women - the line-up for this week, incidentally, is three more blokes, including one of the absolute Uber-Blokes, Neil Morrissey. It was not just ITV, though, which devoted an hour or two to boys playing amongst themselves. Auntie was at it too with The Mission (BBC1), a two- part documentary which followed the assortment of madcaps, mechanics and weirdoes in the Nevada desert with the ultimate performance car, attempting to break both the land speed record and the sound barrier. (And yes, before anyone points it out, they did let a few girls join their gang, but one was the driver's special friend.)
Some may argue that a programme about dragster racing gone mad expands the definition of "Sport on TV" to breaking point, but the producer of last year's BBC Sports Review felt it acceptable to drag Richard Noble and his car into the studio, so perhaps it just squeezes in under the wire. That said, The Mission could just as easily have popped up at four in the morning on BBC 2, as part of an Open University degree course in Psychology. Module One: Freud For Beginners.
To their credit, Noble's team did next to nothing to hide what this was all about. Not only was their car the biggest metal sausage you have ever seen, they had also seen fit to christen it Thrust. Big Andy, the driver, would clamber inside the huge throbbing torpedo while back at base, Noble vicariously slapped his manhood on the table and invited everyone to examine its acceleration.
And there was even an accommodating American on the other side of the desert who was prepared to do just that, as the backer and driver from a rival bid to break the sound barrier on land turned up to give Richard's whatsit the once-over.
In the end, the plucky Brits saw off the Yanks and burst through the barrier, and this at least was fascinating stuff. The waves of force building up at the front of the car, clearly picked out by the desert sand, and the sonic boom were worth waiting for. And after this one, final, apocalyptic blast, Thrust was permanently consigned to the garage - which takes us on to Module Two: Intermediate Freud.
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