FOOTBALL TALKING HEADS ROLL
Mickey Blue Eyes
Late word reaches your correspondent of the employment demise of the main ITV football presenter, Adrian Chiles, apparently soon to be replaced by a high-octave bank clerk named Mark Pougatch. I am unsurprised and undismayed. After all, ITV sports presentation has been a tureen of warm spit for as long as I can remember, no false hysteria left unspooned. Chiles is probably best out of it. Pougatch - nicknamed Poogash by our youngest family member - is much nearer the ITV norm.
Actually, I like Chiles' understated avuncular on-screen personality, which I think a welcome counterpoint to the sheer bullshit of usual football presentation and commentary. At least he looks and sounds human. But both he and Des Lynam suffered the same fate after transferring from the BBC; both learned the sad lesson that success in commercial TV requires absolute submission to the lowest common denominator. It has been that way since at birth in 1955 ITV Sport introduced us to a pratfall named Gerry Loftus; they also experimented with Danny Blanchflower until it dawned on the Suits that his commentary voice had all the attraction of a fingernail scouring a blackboard. There have been many other examples, from the cockney imbecility of Jimmy Hill to the suburban vacuity of Brian Moore to the please-help-me-out shtick of hapless Matt Smith and the dull modular Manc bias of Clive Tyldesley. However, all of them pale into insignificance when compared to one Dicky Davies, an odd marionette even by ITV standards: he was famous for a centre white streak in his hair, which drew the query from one local pub patron, "Has that soft cunt finished that fuckn ceilin' yet?" No wonder neutrals fled from the game in droves.
To be fair not all ITV commentators have been a disaster like on-air racist Ron Atkinson. For instance long ago Gerald Sinstadt was more than acceptable when on Manchester-based Granada TV. Sadly, he was shipped out in 1980 after he fronted a World In Action special titled The Man Who Bought United, a documentary that exposed the (mis)doings of Manchester United owner Louis Edwards. A month after the programme went out Edwards died and Gerald was banished to the south coast, a fall guy. At about which point ITV Sport switched from regional broadcast of matches to national broadcasts fronted by Moore and the kind of absurd hype you can find only in Gillingham and soap advertisements. The logical conclusion was a commentary duo of Clive Tyldesley and one Andy Townsend, the latter sacked along with Chiles.
Over the years, the irony is the worst example of all was not from ITV but from decidedly-weird David Coleman at BBC Sports, an organisation that to this day suffers from the stick inserted in its arse by "Lord" Reith in the 1930s. Coleman was bad in football, but you had to hear his athletics commentary to suffer the brunt of a male harridan in full screaming pursuit of......what? Wherever you looked, there was Coleman, his arm draped around the winner of whatever glory was at hand, triumph and fame by association, everything badly chauvinist in sports, an appalling fellow. Ever since, ITV have stirred their format Petri dish looking for a new strain to combat Colemanitis. Some of the mutations have been so bad Mary Shelley might have learned a lesson or two from them. These days they are virtually beyond parody. Long ago the Monty Python crew made a brief attempt to show the absurdity of it but even they surrendered after just a few sketches failed to surpass the reality.
It was all reminiscent of the even-longer-ago glorious American music satirist Spike Jones, who said he gave up taking the piss out of popular music when its perpetrators started taking themselves seriously; what he would make of current peasant troubadours at Glastonbury scarcely bears thinking about. (The other day I ended up on the floor kicking my heels when one of them said "My biggest musical influence was Lonnie Donegan." Oh my aching sides.)
But if from its inception ITV Sport was frenzy incarnate, what of the other BBC inmates of the asylum? Those of a certain age will remember the smug bucolic commentaries of Kenneth Wolstenholme and bristling moustache and RAF tie of Coleman's mentor, Peter Dimmock of Sportsview. Wolstenholme became a derisory figure in the mid 1960s after a pre-match videotaped visit to nearby analfield, when, as the camera panned around the empty ground (then an appalling slum of a place), he intoned, "Here we are at the famous ground where tonight's game will be played and the fabulous....." and so on and so forth, the usual claptrap. The shot eventually came to rest on him standing en duet with their manager, who promptly said, "You commentators don't half talk some shite don't you." Of course none of that ever got into the ether, though Wolstenholme revenged himself later with the kind of churlish match commentary which made him notorious. Hell hath no fury like a tenth rate "personality" scorned, ITV or BBC.
Furthermore, all aspiring BBC TV presenters are obliged to attend a specialist finishing school where they acquire the Reith Breath Jump, a performance technique designed to impart control and seriousness, but which also removes any trace of natural charisma through their anal canal. Only a tiny minority manage to retain their humanity; the men who graduate end up sounding like, well, like Gary Lineker or Steve Interesting Davies; the women sound like graduates from the Hyacinth Bucket School of Elocution and the Katy Jordan College of Deportment. All of them seem to have a lemon wedged somewhere in the lower intestine.
Now, none of this is meant to underestimate the difficulties of football TV presentation and commentary. After all, it must take all of two weeks to pass the training course and indoctrination process. This problem is common to most TV presenters of anything. Too many of the current crop are more intent on making themselves a "character" at the expense of their subject, the reigning supreme footy charlie of which is follicly-challenged Mark Clemmit of the BBC Football League Show, a distinctly peculiar individual who has great difficulty keeping his eyes open and his head straight. Which is why, quite rightly, your averagely intelligent fan figures he or she is just as capable.
The truth is of course we fans can never be satisfied with the free-loading media gang. This is fair enough; if someone promotes him or herself as a public figure then they are bound to be on the end of very public criticism. That is the price they must pay. I am sure, for instance, there will be those who do not like Adrian Chiles for some obscure reason or other. So what? For another instance, I stopped watching Match of the Day when they employed the ineffable moron Alan Green as a low level commentator. For yet another, I do not have a Sky TV subscription and never will because it is owned and profited from by the disgusting ultrarightist Rupert Murdoch.
In the end, if you dislike one of them to the point of aversion....turn him off. It is that easy.
And, anyway, it relieves us from brooding about our present parlous position.......