Sultans of swing tower into view

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The Independent Online
Pluckiest Brit of the week? Forget Sapsford, Milligan and Henman. Step aside, Viollet, Wood and Smith. The stars who embodied the nation's highest hopes were Geoff Oliver and Andy Smith, who spent the week 236ft above the grounds of the All England Club, manning the BBC's towering camera crane.

"It can swing about a bit up there," Smith reported during a break at ground level. "It's allowed to move about 5ft either side of centre, that's a movement of 10ft, before the swing alarm goes off. And that is a noise you don't want to hear. That's the time to head for the ground."

Smith and Oliver earn no extra money for their skyscraping exploits, which demand not just a head for heights but also a sound knowledge of London geography. "On Wednesday evening I had to find Wembley on the skyline 10 miles away so we could link with the other tower crane there." He is also charged with knowing where the Wimbledon big-shots are staying during the championships. "If I can spot the champion leaving home on the way to play in the final, that's a good shot to get."

Meteorology comes into the job specification as well. "We help out the championship organisers by letting them know what sort of weather is on the way. You can see a shower coming from five or six miles off, and the early warning is very useful."

Andy and Geoff work alternate shifts of two or four hours, wearing a full body harness attached to a short cord - no bungee jumping above SW19. But the most important rule concerns behaviour on the ground. As Smith noted: "Not too much fluid on your breaks."

The things you can buy at Wimbledon these days. Never mind strawberries and cream (pounds 1.80 for eight, since you ask, add an extra quid for frozen yogurt), check out the merchandise in the smart boutique under the new Number One Court. Here, a gold bracelet will set you back pounds 537, the kind of money that only players carry around with them. But there are other retailers selling more modest items. A padlock to secure your jewellery can be yours for pounds 2.10 at the newsagent, which also offers Men Only. Unwary punters may take this for the official guide to the ATP Tour, but a quick glance at the cover lines ("Bulging with babes" etc) will disabuse them. Whatever would the Duchess think?

While we're on the topic of the cranially threatened, where have all the net-cord judges gone? Hitherto a direct hit on one of these brave figures has been a guarantee of an easy laugh for the crowd, right up there on the gag-meter with intrusive pigeons, umpires with foreign accents and players handing their rackets to ball-boys. But now the decisive digit brigade have been banished, replaced by technology. What had become of them? Are they to be found in a Wimbledon suburb, block-booked into the Sunnyview Retirement Home for the Sensitively Fingered? Or are they stacked, Terracotta Army-style, 10 deep in a hut behind a hot dog stand, ready to be wheeled out when gremlins strike the bleeper? Sadly, the explanation is rather more prosaic. All the net-cord judges were fully qualified to be linesmen, so with one fewer job to do on court, all the Wimbledon officials now get extra time off. Far from feeling misty-eyed, they are actually rather chuffed.

The e-mail facility nestling next to the giant screen in Aorangi Park is not just a gimmick. Players' wives find it especially useful, and last Thursday Bridget Thorne, spouse of the American doubles specialist Kenny, was able to zap word of hubbie's progress back to the family in the States. "Kenny's match is TBA," she typed, using initials for To Be Announced. Later in the evening she would have been able to re-send the same message, after Thorne and his partner Jack Waite were Totally Blasted Away by Petchey and Sapsford.

The "Taste of Wimbledon" is officially (and unfortunately) Diet Coke, but the marketing team behind another soft drink can feel smug. "Tango" is the call-sign for Wimbledon security guards: try shinning over the wall on Church Road or infiltrating the Royal Box, and you'll know when you've been tangoed.

Thank goodness our national hero's ancestor was a male who kept female chickens. Things might have been the other way round, but "Advantage Cockwoman" somehow doesn't have the right ring to it.

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