Jack Pitt-Brooke: At Queen's, a quaintly English affair doesn't quite go to plan
View From The Sofa: Aegon Championships at Queen's, BBC1
Monday 13 June 2011
Is anything more English than Queen's? It's more English, certainly, than Wimbledon, given the way its prestige invariably exceeds its quality. At times, the tennis is excellent, at times it is not, but that is incidental. The point of Queen's is the location, the history, the cachet. It's a bit like Lord's without the Test matches.
The effect is only enhanced by it coinciding with the weekend of trooping the colour. In terms of their stage management and pageantry, and the version of Englishness they represent, the pair are a natural complement to one another on June's second weekend. The only issue is over which one London's middle class should attend – and which should be on BBC 1.
The tennis was preferred on Saturday, although the best action at Horse Guards Parade had already taken place by the time the first semi-final started. Still, Sue Barker, John Inverdale and Andrew Castle had their own platform from which they could project Englishness with just as much conviction as the Household Cavalry.
They did so with a predictable tour through national obsessions. First, the requisite montage of the food preparation at Queen's – remember, it is a lifestyle occasion more than anything else – with Sue intoning over the top that there would be "big servings and a popular slice of American pie". And after food, comes, well, the inevitable. Before the first semi-final started, Inverdale was in the pavilion waiting to interview the players before they took to the court. Andy Roddick had to go to what Sue Barker called "the Boys' Room", leaving Inverdale stranded on air. Where but at the Queen's Club, on Her Majesty's official birthday, on BBC 1, would a reporter be waiting outside the Gents to interview a sportsman, and be informing us of exactly that?
"These things take as long as they take," Inverdale reminded us. Exploiting the empty time to buttress the event's middle-class credentials further, not that it was needed, he pointed to the photographs of historical non-tennis events hosted at Queen's, specifically an old Varsity rugby match. When Roddick finally descended, he was not the only relieved man. "It was just a brief visit," John reported.
The first semi-final came next, the clashing Andys commentated upon, with an appropriate upgrade in formality, by the two Andrews, Castle and Cotter. Their Murray enthusiasm was deserved, and Castle's suggestion that the game looked "like a Murray sort of match" was vindicated by Murray's 6-3, 6-1 win.
Poor performance was not the extent of Andy Roddick's failings, though. He made a concession to style unlike anything seen at Queen's before, and was castigated by Castle for it. Rather than topping off his trainers with woollen socks crawling up his shin, he wore ones that stopped at his ankles. Given the importance of uniforms, and uniformity, at Queen's, this would not do.
Castle, who stands for nothing if not the consistency of socks worn by competitors at tennis tournaments in W14, was unimpressed. Roddick was "showing more ankle than we're used to this week," he bemoaned, "with his little short socks on." He sounded like an Englishman complaining about oversexed GIs in 1944, with the same jealousy of their free spirits cloaked in propriety. The encapsulation of Englishness, and nowhere better for it than at Queen's, on BBC 1, on Her Majesty's official birthday.
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