Whisper it not in the Crucible ... you're snookered

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I sense that television has changed in the past few days. My viewing has taken on a new flavour. Some unseen change has overtaken the programming. In some indefinable way, TV has undergone a tremendous shift, and I can't quite pin it down. Can you help?

Yes. The snooker is over.

Snooker?

The circus has moved on. The cleaning ladies have moved into the Crucible at Sheffield and are even now taking away the sponsors' stands and the old crisp packets and are trying to get the chalk marks out of the carpet. No longer are young men with good old British names like Davis and Bond and White and Hicks bent over the green baize table or sitting nervously in the interview room, looking like suspects brought in off the street on charges of wilfully dropping a frame or missing a pink ...

What are you talking about?

I'm sorry. It has got to me, too. But I'm in the recovery stage now.

From what?

The snooker. It has been proven that the coverage of snooker during a world championship is so intense that even people who have no intention of watching any, indeed even people who have no idea that it is on, end up watching two or three hours a day.

How is it possible to watch snooker accidentally?

Easily. You switch on a programme you want, you watch it, it ends, a voice says: "And now we're going over to the Crucible", and before you can get to the controls you find yourself watching Bond against Hicks, and you just go on watching.

Why?

Well, to begin with it is out of sheer curiosity, to try to guess which one is Hicks and which one is Bond. Then you start noticing odd things, like that it is the only game on TV where you can't see the players, only what they're doing. Then you start hearing loud shouts and cheers at a time when Bond or Hicks is doing no more than staring down his cue, and you wonder if the crowd is telepathic and knows he is going to get the shot, and then you realise that there is another game going on the other side of the wall with a completely different crowd, and then you start supporting Bond against Hicks or maybe Hicks against Bond, and by that time you are lost, and then you start wondering why the commentators are whispering ...

Ah! I wondered that myself.

And what conclusion did you come to?

Well, at first I thought it must be because they were so close to the action and didn't want to disturb the players, but then it occurred to me that they never let commentators that close, and it must be because they are in a room upstairs somewhere but they want to give the impression that they are within whispering distance of the players.

Yes. That's probably it.

What I couldn't understand was why all the players had nicknames like the Rocket and the Tornado and the Hurricane and so on. I have never seen such slow movers in all my life. Nobody moved as fast as a push-chair, let alone a rocket.

You have to remember that snooker is one of the slowest games in the world, very sedate and methodical, so in order to get a reputation as a fast mover, you don't actually have to move fast, just move a little faster than the rest. This means that if you walk purposefully between shots, instead of ambling, you will become known as the Typhoon within six months.

I still can't understand why I got hooked on the snooker.

Well, there is an interesting moment in Harpo Marx's autobiography where he relates the story of a visit to Moscow in the Thirties, during which he decided to go to a play in Russian. It was a very slow play, he said; just two people on stage, just sitting, hardly talking and hardly doing anything, yet the audience was hanging on every word. Harpo said he was there for over half an hour before he realised he was not actually in a theatre at all, but at a chess tournament.

What has that got to do with anything?

If chess can become theatre, how much more so snooker?

But we are free of snooker now, aren't we?

Only for the time being. This fifth television channel will probably be given to a snooker consortium. Rupert Murdoch will probably create a non-stop snooker super league. They'll use lottery money to preserve Hendry's greatest breaks ... It's only a matter of time before they discover a way of spreading snooker on the Internet.

You're joking, surely?

Am I? I hope so.

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