TV Review – London Olympics 2012

The Flags Are Going Mad

(This review brought to you by me not watching anything else all week)

Our plucky boys and girls have been putting in a hell of a performance, struggling to hold themselves together as records are broken and medals are won. Yes, the lads and lasses doing the arduous task of presenting and commentating on the Olympics (BBC Anytime) have really been digging within themselves to pull out that little bit extra. After all, everyone knows we British do it better sitting down. Preferably on a comfy sofa with a nice backdrop.

First, the presenters. Look, there’s the huge fee-justifying Gary Lineker-bot, emotionless and metal grey with a dark hole somewhere behind his eyes screaming, “I know about football and – at a pinch – golf. Who is Keirin Cycling?” There’s bland Matt Baker, blandly treating every sport like a particularly bland item on The One Show. There’s John Inverdale, wearing collars as big as Harry Hill and huddling up beside the rowing lake with Steve Redgrave, trying to make sense of everything (“was that above expectations?”). There’s Jake Humphrey multi-tasking all over the shop; interviewing the surly Mark Cavendish in the velodrome one minute or bantering with the brazenly brummie Sue Smith (she of the Sydney Opera House haircut) at the women’s football the next.

There’s more women presenting this year, reflecting the fact that they’re far better at it. Hazel Irvine is her usual reassuring self, although she may have been flagging in recent days: “If you’ve not been watching the Olympics in the last 24 hours, you may have been on the moon for all I know.” Nobody’s been on the moon recently, Hazel, although I haven’t checked. New girl Mishal Husain is very professional, all stiff hand gestures like a Thunderbirds character. Her best attribute is that she’s not at all matey, like an anti-matter Adrian Chiles. Gabby Logan oversees the evening highlights show and is endearingly enthusiastic about sticking cut outs of winners’ faces onto their respective medals.

The BBC’s true star, Clare Balding, rightly hasn’t set bottom on the studio sofas, preferring to do the real work out in the mobile broadcast units. She seemed a little out of her comfort zone beside the pool – she clearly doesn’t like the smell of chlorine, much preferring eau de horseshit. She got her wish once the plug was let out of the swimming pool and showed her worth by somehow making Dressage interesting. It didn’t hurt that the British team pranced to victory.

Then there’s the commentators. Thanks to the Olympics and the Tour de France, I think I’ve listened to Chris Boardman more this summer than I’ve listened to my mother over a whole lifetime. Even when he’s not commentating on the action, as in the middle section of the Triathlon, his name is written on the competitors’ bikes. He even finds time for pithy put downs, such as when the French complained that the all-conquering British were using ‘secret wheels’. “They’re the same wheels we used in Athens. The main thing about them is that they’re round.”

Athletics are in good hands with the reassuringly Geordie presence of Brendan Foster and Steve Cram (“The Japanese athlete is pretty slur out of the blocks”). The Equestrian commentators are naturally very plummy, with a nice contrast between Judith Harper’s hushed detail (“she had a short one in there”) and Michael Tucker’s braying (“This is Gold abite to happen!”). Similar chalk and cheese commentary is provided in the women’s boxing, supplied by Ron McIntosh (basso profundo) and Lucy O’Connor (soprano falsetto).

The worst commentator was the breathless Gary ‘herbert’ Herbert, AKA the cox who bawled his eyes out long before it became fashionable when winning an Olympic medal for, er, sitting down. The years have not tamed his emotions and his shamelessly biased screeching in the rowing (“the flags are going mad!”) as a British boat took a two inch lead was an embarrassment to the nation.

To be fair, all commentators struggled with the work of the true villain of the Olympics: Stella McCartney. It was her unshowy designs for the athletes’ uniforms (memorably described by Bradley Wiggins as ‘a bit Lucy in the Sky’) that meant most of the commentators hadn’t a clue who the British athletes were in any given race. “There’s the British competitor, or is it the Russian?” became the catchphrase of the Games.

Then there’s the worst of the lot, the pitchside, trackside, poolside, graveside ‘reporters’ who have clearly done something foul and depraved in their younger days and are now being punished by some divine force by having to ask a million variations on the question, “how do you feel?” to a clearly puffed and mostly pissed-off athlete. Why the athletes don’t immediately respond with a million variations of “piss off, not now,” is one of the Olympics’ biggest mysteries.

Some like the attention (Bolt), others are far too polite (all the British female cyclists except Pendleton), the rest just breathe heavily, put their hands on their hips and go through the motions. Some have clearly been coached to say absolutely nothing of interest. Trackside’s Phil Jones was constantly putting his arm around athletes (who tended to give him a bit of a look when he did) and asking, “how good is life for you right now?”, “how was that for you?” or, on one disturbing occasion, “give me your reaction. Give me your reaction now.” To be fair, he got a great interview out of Phillips Iduwo, pulling apart his veil of secrecy after failing to qualify in the triple jump. “Thanks Phil,” said Iduwo, glad to get everything off his chest.

One also suspects that a lot of the ‘piss off’ interviews happen off-screen. The robotic Brownlee brothers, having won gold and bronze in the Triathlon, notably didn’t appear to wheeze through an interview after their triumph. Instead they sent their domestique to do the same thing he’d been doing during the race – shielding them from the wind. Turns out one of the Brownlee-bots had short-circuited, and was being whisked away in a wheelchair.

When gold medalist Alistair finally turned up to be asked, “how do you feel?” he looked quite chipper considering he’d just swam, cycled and run more than you or I have ever done. “Bit of an anti-climax at the moment because Johnny’s just collapsed!” Yes, that exclamation mark belongs there. He even laughed. Siblings. “He’s fine!” waving it away like a playground chinese burn, as his bro threw up underneath a grandstand.

Worst of the ‘reporters’ was undoubtedly Rob Walker, the man who normally introduces the players at the World Snooker Championship, and is credited, if that’s the right word, with the phrase, “let’s get the boys on the baize.” What on earth he was doing in Weymouth, offering colour commentary on the sailing, is a matter between his agent and some no-doubt recently fired executive at the BBC. Perhaps he was the only person willing to venture so far out of the capital, although they could have asked Princess Anne since she was everywhere.

Bear in mind, this is the sailing we’re talking about, yet Walker, sitting in a boat (‘seaside’, if you will), was misguidedly offered by cooler and more knowledgeable folks to give his opinion. “When Ben Ainslie has a head to head, he’s a dangerous man. Look behind you, and Ben Ainslie is starting to hunt you down.”

Ainslie has been through all this four times before and is known as a frosty customer (interviewed by Lineker the next day, Ainslie shut him up instantly by testily replying to a question about whether he would do Rio 2016, “are you still going to be doing Match of the Day in 2016?”). So when Ainslee won by the narrowest of margins, Walker leapt from his boat on to Ainslie’s, wrapped his arms round his neck and bellowed in his ear, “You are the Olympic champion! Not just that, YOU ARE THE GREATEST!”

“Yeah,” said Ainslie, unusually rattled. “Thanks.”

No more was seen of Walker after this display, as the BBC quickly shuttled him back to the Crucible. Oddly, they actually had another reporter, Shirley Robertson, out in the field and she was quickly sailed out into the bay to cover all future interviews. She proved knowledgeable and not inclined to go ‘Full Herbert’ – she would have been perfectly acceptable from the start but some idiot somewhere felt they couldn’t have a woman commentating on a man’s sport.

The theme of the London Olympics, as laid out in the Opening Ceremony, has been a stand against totalitarianism and rigid structures imposed from above. This Olympics has seen more equality between the sexes regarding events performed – the cycling and track and field events are now wholly equal and the first-time outing for the women’s boxing was as good as the men’s. Even Saudi Arabia finally gave in and let its women perform. The BBC’s coverage has reflected this and the women have risen to the occasion. But, unlike the rest of the world, we knew this already, thanks to Clare, Hazel, Gabby and the rest.


About klausjoynson
I'm a writer, editor, musician, DJ and cartoonist. Contact me at: klausjoynson(at) or follow me on Twitter: @KlausJoynson

One Response to TV Review – London Olympics 2012

  1. Sam says:

    Balding remarked during the showjumping, that some in the crowd might never have seen “A horse in the flesh before”.

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