David Hepworth: Commentary through a veil of tears

When John Inverdale allowed his bottom lip to wobble, it was slightly disturbing


The BBC is clearly having a good Olympics. In this it is helped by the fact that Team GB is having a great Olympics. So keen is the BBC to ride the success of Team GB and the ratings gold that follows that it has sometimes not so much blurred the distinction between supportive coverage and outright cheerleading as acted as if it believes such distinctions belong to the world of Alvar Liddell and sweet rationing.

Ever since Alan Green enjoined us all to "stand up" for Steve Redgrave in 2000, commentators have been trying to go down in history just as Kenneth Wolstenholme did when he drily observed that there appeared to be some people on the pitch who thought it was all over. Back in those days passion was not what you went looking for in a sports pundit or commentator. Nowadays it's more important than knowledge.

Like X Factor judges, we like our pundits best when they display simpatico. This reached picturesque heights on Saturday when Steve Redgrave, the BBC's undeniably expert summariser, was seen lifting Mark Hunter out of his boat after his heroics alongside Zac Purchase had won an apparently disappointing silver medal. If anyone was doing this you would have thought it should be his coach or his mum.

Since social media abhors a vacuum, you can be sure that we eventually get to hear and see everything that wasn't on the screen the first time round. Once upon a time shots such as those of BBC summarisers Colin Jackson, Denise Lewis and Michael Johnson roaring on Mo Farah might have been caught by a stray camera. These days they are as planned as any other part of the production.

When John Inverdale allowed even his stiff upper lip to wobble while interviewing Purchase and Hunter it was slightly disturbing. Soon it was all over the internet as a "great Olympic moment". On Friday, Clare Balding had to go on Twitter to apologise for suggesting that Rebecca Adlington's bronze constituted "failure", and to make it clear she was on her side.

But passion is what TV craves. This Olympics has provided the two things the medium dreams of: triumphs and tears. For the first it has to thank the hard work of hundreds of athletes and coaches. The latter it can get for itself simply by pointing a camera at someone who got to a white line either fractionally early or late and posing that eternally redundant question, "How does it feel?"

A TV executive once told me TV was all about "moments of disclosure on the face". Sport is the richest source of such pictures. The temptation to put itself in these pictures is one TV appears to have surrendered to.

David Hepworth is a writer and broadcaster

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