I fear the Greeks baring breasts

The week on television
Click to follow
The Independent Online
It was a week of mixed fortunes for British commentators out in Athens for World Athletics (BBC1 and BBC2, all week).

"The thing for John is to hold that position," said Brendan Foster of our man in the 1,500 metres final, and within nanoseconds he had been overtaken by all those runners who weren't already in front of him. He finished ninth. Still, in times of trial, it's important to think positive, and there's no doubt that the world championships have provided a useful learning curve for our commentary squad. In their armoury they now have more ways of saying "And he'll be really disappointed with that performance" than any other box in the world. And when it comes to building up the viewers' hopes of national victory, they can henceforth be confident of a place on the rostrum at the very least. This week, they had to make do with a silver (to go with all the others): the gold was a shoe-in for their Greek hosts.

Though perhaps the most inappropriate city in Europe to hold a track and field meet in August, Athens was a lovely place for the well fanned fan to zap into in an armchair, what with its rim of ancient hills that the camera glimpsed above the lip of the stadium every time it followed the swirling parabola of the javelin's trajectory. How evocative, you mused, socratically. How Hellenic: these witnesses to sporting deeds of yore have been around almost as long as David Coleman. There's none of that in your air-conditioned Stockholm and your utilitarian Stuttgart, where the small screen struggles to convey a sense of place, to pass on the character of the crowd. No problem in Athens, the crowd being stuffed with bubbling, squeaking Greeks. A week long anthropological study of their collective behaviour yielded the unavoidable conclusion that they have lost their marbles as well as their Marbles.

Aware that the Greekness of the atmosphere would be a feature of the championships, Stuart Storey had spent the winter rifling through his attic for mythological references. "And the Greek gods are not shining down on him just at this stage," he said after one local javelin-chucker had impaled the turf not much behind his own toes. Note that use of the word "stage", a quiet but authoritative allusion to the fact that we were guests at the birthplace of tragedy. And, indeed, comedy. The Greek high jumper looked actually like one of the Greek gods who happened not to be shining on the Greek javelin-thrower. Coleman seemed to think his name was Panegyric Topless. After every jump he took his top off, fulfilling the prophecy in his name. But the most prophetic name belonged to a Bermudan sprinter. He was called Troy, whom you half expected to be undone by a wooden horse.

Masterchef (BBC1, Sun) sprinted to the tape at the end of its current series with a half an eye on the events in Athens. Barry's honey and ginger sauce reminded Lord Gowrie of "ancient Greek cooking", though quite how he'd know what ancient Greek cooking tastes like is anyone's guess. David Coleman, having been around the block, could probably have filled him in.

Game of War (C4, Sun) was also down in that neck of the woods, re-running the Battle of Balaklava. This new series, which basically recreates famous military encounters as a board game, is possibly the most synthetic hybrid ever inflicted on an innocent viewing public. Only on Channel 4. Each side was commanded by a flesh-and-blood British general talking stiffly out of the side of his mouth. Knowing the luck our chaps have been suffering this week, you'd have put money on both of them losing. For some reason Angela Rippon is a presenter, rather than Peter Snow, for whom the business of moving plastic artillery around a scale model of a battlefield is second nature. If he'd only patented his act on Newsnight, he could probably sue for plagiarism.

But hey, television is an inbred medium these days. Take the huge video screen in the stadium back to Athens. "In this day and age," explained Storey, "you can watch yourself win while winning." Par for the post-modern course, you'd think, but it's actually creepier than that. In the 1500- metre final (in which our boy "was ninth, by the way"), the Algerian runner Morceli was overtaken on the line because he was watching his own image rather than his back. "He was watching himself finish third," said Storey. "And he finished fourth." You couldn't come up with a more cautionary tale of the damaging effects of too much television.

Comments