Saturday 2 July 2011
Brian Viner: Wimbledon becomes the Sundance Festival as the BBC falls victim to celebrity obsession
The Last Word
It might be my imagination, but this year's guests in the Royal Box at Wimbledon seem to have been more recognisably illustrious than ever before.
We're used to seeing those knights of the airwaves Wogan, Brucie and Parky, of course, and there's always a 21-gun salute, or whatever might be the collective noun, of rear-admirals and air vice-marshals, but with due respect to all of them, Diana Ross, Robert Redford, Sachin Tendulkar and Jack Nicklaus represent a boost in the celebrity wattage. In fact, there has been so much wattage that it has fair dazzled those responsible for the BBC TV coverage, at least if the endless close-ups are anything to go by.
Now, don't get me wrong. I got a thrill the other day from seeing two of my childhood heroes, the Golden Bear and the Sundance Kid, in the same camera shot, and if only Bob Latchford had been seated a bit further along the row, I might have been inhabited entirely by my schoolboy self, and deserted my grown-up post in the media centre in favour of loitering outside the entrance to the Royal Box with a ballpoint pen and a scrappy piece of paper.
Instead, I contented myself with the TV close-ups, and have delighted throughout the championships in the endlessly inventive, if sometimes hilariously contrived, ways in which the commentators weave sudden shots of this or that celebrity into their analysis of the tennis. Nobody is better at it than Mark Petchey. I can't remember the match, but I'm pretty sure it was Petchey who took an abrupt close-up of Redford perfectly in his stride during a nailbiting women's match, with the casual observation that he, Redford, had also experienced a few tight situations in his time. That's impressively deft improvisation, the commentary-box equivalent of Roger Federer hitting a winner through his legs. One second we were in the middle of a tennis match, the next we were holed up in Bolivia with Butch and Sundance.
All the same, the BBC are guilty of taking their eye off the ball, literally, by flitting so often to the crowd. After all, no matter how many Oscars or Emmys or major golf championships you've won, or even whose coach or mother or girlfriend you are, on Centre Court you're still part of the crowd. Yet the amount of camera time consumed by Andy Murray's girlfriend Kim Sears alone probably adds up to a set between a couple of unknowns on an outside court. If you throw in all the shots of Pippa Middleton, that's another set. But then the BBC cameramen have always had their lenses turned, if not actually misted, by female pulchritude. Maybe Lucy Henman ever so slightly regrets that no longer, for two weeks every summer, is hers one of the best-known faces in Britain.
All this might seem trivial, but it underlines a valid and serious serious point, and here it is: the BBC long ago became complacent in its football coverage, and was only shaken out of it by the fresher, more innovative approach of Sky. With no other broadcaster offering an alternative take on Wimbledon, maybe complacency has set in again. Maybe, fewer shots of Pippa Middleton smiling behind her designer sunglasses, or Sir Cliff Richard napping behind his, or, though it pains me to say it, Jack Nicklaus concentrating through his, might afford some time for the kind of graphics-assisted analysis that Channel 4 introduced to cricket, and that Sky do so well.
I'm always reluctant to join in the national sport of knocking the BBC, and there is much about their Wimbledon coverage that is irreproachable, including Sue Barker, the very definition of professionalism. But they should never overlook the main reason most of us tune in to Wimbledon. It is to watch tennis.
My son's 75-year wait for a champion
My 16-year-old son Joe attended Wimbledon on Thursday, and I was able to show him round the media centre, where the staircase is adorned by huge and striking photographs of former champions. He paused by the picture of Pete Sampras, and declared himself surprised that Sampras was so recent. "I thought he was, like, from the 1930s or something," he said. I felt about 108 years old.
Fourth man enters story of three Os in an England shirt
Last week I posed a little teaser: which three former England footballers have surnames containing three Os? Emails rained in with the right answer – Peter Osgood, Tony Woodcock and Ian Storey-Moore – although the correspondent who ventured Trevor Brooking and Bobby Moore was guilty of what I always warn my children about at this exam-taking time of year, not reading the question properly.
Still, if it's any consolation to him, the exam-setter goofed too. You can always be sure that at least one Independent reader will get the better of you, so hats off to Dr Tom Balfour (and our very own Sue Montgomery, of the racing pages), who referred me to Pelham von Donop, who played inside-left for the Royal Engineers in the 1874 FA Cup final, and was capped twice for England, in 1873 and 1875. He was also godfather to P G Wodehouse, hence the great man's first name, Pelham.
So there we are: in the long list of men who have played football for England, there are four with three Os in their surnames, not three. I like to think of readers finishing this column just a little more equipped with conversation stoppers than they were when they started it.
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