The torture of clumsy Clive and devilish David

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The Independent Online
IT COST ITV pounds 1m a year to tempt Des Lynam away from the BBC, but they got their money's-worth for this season at least in one swift hit on Wednesday night. "We're told that the kick-off has been delayed 10 minutes or so," Des said at 7.45. "We will do our very best to keep you entertained in the meantime."

At times of acute nervous tension like that, you can only be grateful for St Desmond of the Easy Patter. Just imagine, if your stomach will allow, what it would have been like to spend those 10 minutes being entertained by Bob Wilson or, worse, Clive Tyldesley. Even so, when Des finally handed over to Clive with the teams already waiting in the tunnel, he still managed to ruin the evening before a ball had been kicked in warm-up, let alone anger.

The torrent of blather which frothed its way into Tyldesley's microphone in the five minutes 'twixt tunnel and kick-off would have been a thing of wonder, had it not also been an instrument of torture. And the most excruciating thing was that as Clive delivered one utterly banal line after another, he seemed to think he was Richard Dimbleby doing a Coronation.

Ponder, for instance, this one example from the dozens of possible exhibits for the prosecution. "All that talk," Tyldesley said, "of Robert the Bruce and William Wallace that embroidered the build-up to the first game is probably more appropriate to the corner that they've backed themselves into now." Embroidered. You could picture him sitting in the commentary box as he said it, thinking, "Mmmm, good word."

Yet this was as nothing compared to the moment when Alan Shearer prepared to introduce his team to Martin Peters. "Alan Shearer," Tyldesley intoned, "England's Captain Beefheart."

Captain Beefheart? Captain Beefheart? What, as in the legendary Californian blues-rocker who recorded such seminal albums as Trout Mask Replica and Lick My Decals Off, Baby and has spent the last 20 years living in a trailer in the Mojave desert and painting abstracts?

Yes, apparently Tyldesley was referring to that Captain Beefheart, and for this, there can be but two explanations. Either Clive's imagination is a good deal more warped that anyone had ever previously suspected, or he did not have the first, faintest idea what he was talking about. Ladbrokes make option two a shade of odds-on.

Thankfully, the match itself started soon afterwards - and the less said about that the better. More entertaining by far was Thursday's Back To The Floor (BBC2) in which David Ford, the chief executive of Gardner Merchant, Britain's biggest caterers, spent a week working as a mere trainee catering manager at Royal Ascot, possibly his company's most significant - and profitable - nosh-and-booze hospitality beano of the year.

Back To The Floor is a clever and well-worked idea, though it is often hard to believe that the downgraded executive's fellow workers are unaware that he or she is not merely the boss, but the absolute, utter, God-help- us-all Uberboss. The major giveaway is that they rarely get chinned, despite their manifest failings as colleagues.

And if anyone has ever deserved a biff, it was Ford, who was a difficult man to warm to. Antipathy was carefully stoked up in the first five minutes, when it was revealed that he is a former personnel man who struggles to barbecue a sausage without burning it. "When we have a dinner party," his wife said, "I'm working for two days. David swans in after his game of golf."

And he certainly found it difficult trying to keep the pounds 300-a-head punters happy in Ascot's main pavilion. "If I was doing this on a regular basis, I would be biting my tongue all the way through," he said, as yet another drunk in a morning suit demanded more fizz.

Dirty tablecloths, a shortage of Krug, not enough sarnies or milk jugs for the afternoon tea, Ford faced all these problems and more. And when - or rather if - he finally got a lunch break, all he had to look forward to was a seat on the floor of a box-room, and a standard-issue lunch pack. One day, the main morsel was a roll "filled" with a smear of coronation chicken. As one of the waitresses observed, though, it looked more like "a baby's first shit".

Ford duly mucked in and tucked in, as the cameras demanded, and even broke into the occasional smile. At the end of the week, he told his fellow executives what a revealing exercise it had been. The quality of staff lunches, we were assured, would be looked into. As would the stock level of Krug.

And then, of course, there were hours and conditions for his army of casual workers, helping to turn over pounds 1.5m-worth of business in Ascot week alone. They get pounds 31 a day for around nine hours, plus overtime at pounds 3.10 an hour. During Ascot week, many had 12 hours' sleep in four days. "We had to sign something," one said, "saying that we knew it was against the law, but we agreed to it."

As it happens, the credits rolled, and pay was the one thing that Ford still hadn't quite got around to addressing. Funny that.