Sue's sunny set and the Zenman movement
Sport on TV
Sunday 07 July 1996
Successive players interviewed on Today at Wimbledon (BBC1) were asked what they thought of the young Brit. All were impressed by "the way he handles himself", not a reference to frequent groin adjustment but player- speak for "the way he gives interviews without saying anything".
This is a difficult skill to acquire - players often find the urge to say something spontaneous irresistible - but Henman has clearly been coached by an expert.
The key to his technique is a mantra, not unlike the Buddhist chant of "om". Whenever he is asked a question, Henman goes "Ahm", and then falls silent for a moment while he filters his next remark for any traces of emotion. Just to ensure that nothing controversial gets through, his second sentence always begins: "Having said that ..." The result: perfect opacity - Zenman.
To inject a little pace into the proceedings on Tuesday night, the BBC followed their soporific Henman interview with a trailer for the match with Todd Martin. This consisted of highlights of the Oxford man's performances intercut with images from the new Tom Cruise film, Mission: Impossible. Nice one, BBC.
It brought a smile to Sue Barker's face, but that has never been difficult to achieve - if she got any sunnier they'd have to flash a dark-glasses warning up on the screen whenever she appeared. Barker chuckled her way through the championships in her jolly all-chums- together way, and on the whole did a pretty competent job, with the odd forgiveable blip, like mixing up Ann Jones and Jo Durie.
Her wardrobe was less forgiveable. Perhaps it is a reaction to years of compulsory white clothing, but Barker now seems to be addicted to unorthodox outfits. It is hard to pick the worst offenders, but the shortlist would have to include Tuesday's pink check jacket, which made her look like she had become entangled in a net on her way up to the box, Thursday's light blue number with green and yellow blotches (victim of paintball assault?), and Friday's leafy pink suit, which gave the impression that the creeper on the outside studio wall was mounting a Triffid-style takeover attempt on the studio.
Since the BBC have a monopoly of Wimbledon coverage in Britain Barker and Co are unopposed, but John McEnroe has apparently been doing wonders for NBC, and popped up on the BBC to ask them if they had misplaced their footage of Hero Henman's assault on a ball-girl last year. Surely he couldn't be serious?
McEnroe's regular NBC sparring partner, Bud Collins, is too exotic to be missed, as Sky News fortunately realised, signing him up to contribute reports to their Sportsline. Those of you who have made Bud's acquaintance through his occasional contributions to these pages will not be surprised to learn that his sartorial style has much in common with his prose style: vivid and very colourful, he makes Sue Barker look like a shrinking violet.
When Pete Sampras was two sets down to Richard Krajicek, Collins appeared on screen in a candy striped jumper over a floral shirt, hopping from foot to foot and chanting. "I'm doing my Massachusetts Naragansett Indian Rain Dance," he explained, without breaking step. "Come on rain! Come on rain! I've got to get Pete Sampras outta here. Come on rain! I'm terribly chauvinistic."
This last point was somewhat unnecessary, since although Collins had been very nice about Henman, comparing him fancifully with Roger Moore, he had also pointedly noted that Henman was "the first Brit in the quarter- finals since 1610 - I looked it up in the records".
Rain delays also provided grist to his hyperactive mill. "The covers are on and off so often here it's like a hot-pillow hotel," he said. The fact that Arantxa Sanchez Vicario had played on on Court No 1 while others had retreated inevitably prompted: "There was no rain on that plain for the woman from Spain." By Thursday, when Collins, sporting floral trousers, had predicted that Goran Ivanisevic's friendly priest would be defrocked if he failed to steer his man to the title, Sky had sent a minder out to usher him away when his time was up. There's no telling what Darling Bud will say.
Friday's edition of The Olympic Game (BBC1) got off to a bad start when Kriss Akabusi failed to fall down the stairs that led to his seat. Who knows, he may well have gone on to make a distinguished contribution to the quiz. But when he hopped off that last step it was switch-off time.
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