It's a duff job being behind the camera
Friday 01 July 2005
Davies, who is responsible for pictures sent to 167 countries, also exercises downright headmasterly powers over his team of 28 commentators. On the first morning of the Championships, he gathered them together and told them that he wanted less talk and more silence than in recent years. He imposed a golden rule, that at least one point per game should pass without commentary. "They don't want to hear as much from you as you think they do," he said. There was, one has to assume, some suppressed spluttering. The late Dan Maskell, meanwhile, who sometimes let entire games pass without bothering the microphone, must have been chuckling in his celestial headphones.
But that is not to say that Davies undervalues the importance of the commentator. Far from it. Next week he will sit down to review the performances of this year's batch, and those who have disappointed him will either not have their contracts renewed or can expect to spend next year's tournament in the Siberia of the outside courts.
John McEnroe will not be among the exiles. At the end of each day, one of Davies' first jobs is to decide how he will utilise the great man the following day. This is made trickier in the second week when McEnroe is also contracted to the American network NBC, which has first claim on him. On Wednesday evening, NBC's people told Davies that they wanted McEnroe for the women's semi-final scheduled second, between Maria Sharapova and Venus Williams. Davies duly assigned him to the first, between Lindsay Davenport and Amélie Mauresmo. However, McEnroe was due on court himself at noon, in the Over-45s men's doubles. So Davies spoke to the championship referee Alan Mills, and asked him to move McEnroe's match to a later slot.
As it turned out, of course, persistent drizzle yesterday wrecked everyone's schedule and the two semi-finals began simultaneously around 5.30pm.
But the BBC still had airtime to fill, and Davies – who arrives at the All-England Club at 7.30am and does not leave until 11pm – had a different set of problems to resolve, further complicated by an early-morning phone call from his children's nanny, saying she could not take them to Tumbletots because there was a leak that needed seeing to.
As for the Tumbletots-style tantrums from certain players, Davies it is who must make the decision whether or not to broadcast a prolonged outburst.
Another golden rule is that the BBC must always apologise if the "F"-word, or anything blasphemous, is uttered on air during afternoon or early-evening coverage. But as he said, "those outbursts also reflect the depth of despair a player might be feeling. And if a player is disqualified while we're sitting on a wide-angle [shot], we haven't captured the story."
Ironically, one particular story involving inappropriate language arose in his own back yard, when Pat Cash suggested that Lleyton Hewitt's girlfriend might be "up the duff" (pregnant). She was, as it happens, but accuracy did not temper Davies's disapproval. And it had not abated yesterday. Indeed, Davies was surprisingly waspish about the Australian, pointing out that "1987 [the year of Cash's victory here] gets ever further away. And he can rest on that achievement for only so long before being judged purely on his work as a broadcaster."
Ouch! Davies was similarly candid on the subject of his team of female commentators. "It is a little weak," he said. "Among the men we have natural characters who've come through and shone. Mac gets better and better, and Jimmy Connors has been a revelation. As for the women, we're pleased to have Tracey Austin, and Sam Smith is doing an excellent job. But we need more strength. Lindsay Davenport keeps saying she will retire, so maybe she'll be interested. Pete Sampras might come into the mix, too. But you can't just get them for their names, they must be good communicators."
On Sunday, Davies's own powers of communication will be put to the test, as he swaps his executive producer's hat for the director's chair. He will be directing his 12th men's final, with a record 18 Centre Court cameras at his disposal. After that, and next week's Wimbledon post-mortem, he will move to St Andrews, where he will also be executive producing the BBC's Open Championship golf output, and doubtless hoping that nobody suggests Mrs Tiger Woods might be up the duff.
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