Robin Scott-Elliot: Waiting for Garth – a masterpiece of profound futility

View From The Sofa: Africa Cup of Nations BBC3/Australian Open BBC1
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The Independent Online

It may just be a sign of ageing - haven't policemen got shorter? - but, the grizzled Gary Lineker aside, male sports presenters on the BBC seem to be getting younger and younger, and bouncier for that matter.

Young Dan Walker gambols happily around the Football Focus set every Saturday, but rarely can you confine Jake "the even younger" Humphrey to the studio these days. He is more often to be found trotting around the paddocks of Formula One, where, according to Des Lynam, the éminence grise (or ageing rapper for the younger reader) of British broadcasting, he does a very fine job.

Winter though sees Humphrey herded indoors and back onto the Match of the Day sofa. He is the youngest man to have sat in the seat where an arched eyebrow, a nod and a wink has become a pivotal part of communication with the faithful.

Humphrey though eschews the Lynam approach, one that Lineker has faithfully followed only with the addition of some savoury snack food. He has been on duty for the Africa Cup of Nations and has maintained his enthusiasm throughout despite having Garth Crooks, a man who was made for filibustering, seated opposite. Garth may be a wise man, but he is not one who ever appears bothered about the march of time.

The coverage of the semi-final between Egypt and Algeria opened with a question directed at Garth. Off he set. Round the houses, and any other building he could find using his hands for emphasis in the manner of a stage school actor auditioning for their first part – waiting for Garth to stop talking.

"You think, what's going on here," he opined at one point and it was impossible to disagree. He finished with an emphatic nod, a visual full stop that was followed by a moment's silence. Had he really finished? What day was it? Why are goalposts round, as the broadcasting icon Tony Gubba once pondered on air?

Garth and everyone else involved assured us that this was going to be a "spicy" affair (insert cheap John Terry gag here) and they were spot on. "Bitter rivals," said commentator Steve Wilson to leave nobody in doubt what to expect.

Alongside him was Mark Bright, who is usually of the say-what-you-see school of summarisers. Except that his skill failed him when it mattered most. When a dire game took a turn for the better after the Algerian keeper launched himself at the referee in the fallout from Egypt's first goal, the cameras remained steadfastly focussed on the Egyptian celebrations, ignoring his attempts to headbutt the poor official. "You can't see this," yelled Wilson. "Dear oh dear oh dear," said Bright. And all this on BBC3, the channel for young people where they have 60 second news bulletins. When it came to linking into these Humphrey put on his most serious presenter face.

Andy Murray received the serious treatment over on the grown-up channels. Because this was serious a moody montage was capped by a quote from Churchill (the war leader not the dog from the insurance ads, although any youngster who likes F1 Humphers could probably do with a decent quote).

The problem was that from the rousing words of one of the nation's great orators it was straight to the studio and Tim Henman wearing a sensible sweater. But at least Sue Barker was there; Sue who has won more Grand Slams than Henman anyway. When it comes to broadcasting as well, Barker's been there and done that, and probably bought a T-shirt back for her young colleagues.