Sport on TV: Race to keep up with Bernie Ecclestone’s money trail beats F1 for drama


Andrew Tong
Saturday 03 May 2014 18:42 BST
F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone
F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone (Getty Images)

It came as no great surprise to learn that Bernie Ecclestone used to be a second-hand car dealer. Would you buy the multi-billion dollar broadcasting rights to Formula One off this man? Nor is a surprise, as he goes on trial in Germany for alleged bribery and says he avoided paying $2bn in tax, that he was up before the courts for fraud in those early days. The judge back in 1971 described him as “altogether extraordinary”, which is one of the nicer things said about him in Panorama’s Bernie Ecclestone: Lies, Bribes and Formula One (BBC1, Monday).

What does come as a shock is that he was ever young. That ridiculous mop of white, Warhol-esque hair seems to have been sitting on his head forever. Next they will be telling us that he used to be six foot tall. And by the way, what is it about incredibly rich men that they seem to think absurd hairstyles are somehow all right – look at Donald Trump, Peter Stringfellow, Ken Dodd... Is it that no one ever has the guts to tell them how silly they look? Well now you know, Bernie. Incidentally, like Mr Warhol he has specialised in making a fortune out of endlessly repetitive entertainment. Ever think you’re being taken for a ride?

Like another well-known and very powerful character with long white hair, the little big man seems to have been around forever. And like God – and the third member of the untouchable trinity, Fifa president Sepp Blatter – it’s often hard to believe in him. A judge in London recently said of Ecclestone: “I’m afraid I find it impossible to regard him as a reliable or truthful witness.”

There is one strange bit of footage in the Panorama that shows Ecclestone trying to get through a revolving door. He keeps going in and getting spat back out again. You can’t really believe that a man of his business acumen cannot negotiate a simple piece of equipment like that. It’s a good piece of slapstick, almost as if he was trying to distract the attention of the hordes of reporters following him. Like his beloved F1, Ecclestone is going round and round in circles, perhaps in the belief that it’s hard to make mud stick to a moving target.

Like Andrew Jennings’s pursuits of Blatter, this is one of those BBC programmes that involves journalists shouting at powerful men from afar and being roundly ignored. It’s like ranting at the football from the distance of your sofa, and it constitutes a decent spectator sport in its own right. Some might say it’s more interesting than F1 – and probably more noisy. But this is about chequered pasts, not flags.

Warren United (ITV4, Tuesday) have only played twice and they are looking like relegation fodder already. The new animated comedy about a football-crazy father and his long-suffering family doesn’t raise many laughs and is altogether too tame given its 10pm time slot.

Surely there is plenty of potential for humour in a game that is rapidly becoming a complete joke anyway? It’s not like the writers aren’t aware of the fact that football is fertile territory for comedy: the foreign owners of Brainsford United, the Luxor brothers, strut on to the pitch before kick-off to milk the applause of the crowd while muttering under their breath: “This had better work or we’re moving into pro-celebrity basketball.”

But unlike The Simpsons or the more edgy Family Guy, which can appeal to young audiences and adults alike through the sheer quality of the writing, Warren United is in danger of reaching out to neither.

Episode two was all about a family putting on face paint in the club colours which wouldn’t wash off, and that was it. No amount of masking could disguise the thin material. The money men need to get a new manager in, and fast.

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