The curse of the commentator

I’ve just been watching a little of the Djokovic-Stepanek match at Wimbledon.  John MacEnroe has just informed me that Djokovic “has literally fallen to his knees”.  Part of me delights at the first correct use of the word literally I’ve ever heard during sports commentary; we are normally bombarded with all sorts of erroneous literals such as “he’s literally got ice in his veins” or “he’s literally sweating blood out there”.  On further reflection I was more irritated; why do I need a commentator to inform me what is obvious from the screen.  I can see that Djokovic had fallen to his knees (literally), why did I need someone to tell me?  

I often think that a good test of a commentator is that if they were a friend sitting next to you on the sofa, would you find their input useful as a clear enhancer of the match experience or would you consider them to be an irritating statto, endlessly pointing out the bleeding obvious?  I know which category most commentators fall into nowadays, but do play the game, either by asking a friend to remain silent whilst the sound is turned up or to listen to what your friend has to say with the sound turned down.

It wasn’t always like this.  Dan Maskell was like your Grandad asleep in the sofa, awakening just in time for a quickly fired off “I say” at a winning shot before going back to his slumbers.  Whispering Ted Lowe might have spent 90% of his snooker commentary career in the pub for all we knew, so rare were his pearls of wisdom.  But pearls they were, and just like a couple that actually get on, the long silences weren’t embarrassing.  They were happy to let the play speak for itself.

Radio commentary is always going to be about making the listener feel as though they were there, but TV commentary is harder.  The pictures speak for themselves and the commentator is there to provide knowledge and atmosphere.  I’ve had to turn off Wimbledon now (or at least turn the sound down) due to the morass of utter crap that was being forced into my ears.  I now know that Stepanek divides his time between Prague and Florida, the name of the third best Serbian tennis player, the name of the girlfriend of Djokovic and the names of the most famous newscasters on American TV.  It’s just listening to two grown men talk boring pub chat.  Literally.

Football commentary is similarly afflicted, with the retirement of Barry Davies and the impending 100th birthday of John Motson.  We’re now subjected to the Danny Baker-esque Robot Wars-style commentary of Jonathan Pearce on the beeb and the Prince Phillip of the commentary world Peter Drury on ITV.

Where’s Sid Waddell when you need him?

Patriot games

I wasn’t in the country for the jubilee weekend.  I wasn’t trying to make a point, it’s just that’s when half-term landed.

I didn’t really have any opinion at all on the jubilee, either on a superficial weekend party level or on a more fundamental monarchistic level.  We have a monarchy; it’s a bit archaic; most people don’t think about it from day to day; it’s one of Britain’s USPs; the arguments are well rehearsed and well known.  But I did feel like the odd one out, albeit from a distance.  TV, Facebook and Twitter seemed to unearth no end of people with very strong opinions on the jubilee.  It was impossible to be in the middle, or as I felt I was – far away watching the whole thing from a distance.  ‘So proud to be British’ seemed to be one recurring statement, whilst those on the other side of the fence screamed ‘tax dodging scum’ at the Queen through a variety of mocked-up Facebook photos.  Two bubbles had been set up, but this was no Venn diagram and the bubbles had no point of intersection.

So let’s take the first set of people, the ‘patriots’ for want of a better word.  A patriot is defined as one who loves, supports, and defends his or her country and its interests with devotion.  Was that what the people who lined the Mall were doing?  Of course not, but they had turned up in the rain to wish happy birthday to the Queen, which at least falls under the heading of supporting one’s country, even if one isn’t tied into defending it or even necessarily loving it.  I wonder how many of the Queen’s favourite singers appeared?  I know the Queen mother had a penchant for George Formby, but she’s dead and in 2012 we were treated to a slightly odd selection.  They’d clearly gone for longevity over popularity, with Paul McCartney, Cliff, Madness and Rolf Harris benefitting simply from existing for over three decades in the nation’s consciousness.  Quite how people were able to feel proud to be British watching Kylie, Rolf and Stevie Wonder was uncertain, though maybe it had something to do with the fact that the NHS has managed to keep Rolf alive past the age of 100.  I don’t know anyone who listens to Paul McCartney post-1970, Cliff or Rolf Harris ever (and certainly not for pleasure) and I don’t know anyone that finds Lenny Henry funny.  It didn’t stop the patriots though.  Even though it probably wasn’t what the Queen wanted, or what they wanted and mostly wasn’t British, the tweets about how proud they kept being sent out, before dissolving slowly into the twitt-ether to be replaced by other similar messages.  None of it felt like a celebration of British-ness, British history, British music or British culture.  We’re far too worried about accusations of jingoism, racism, empirism and many other isms beside.  So it ended up being a play-it-safe, MOR rock concert with inoffensive acts plucked randomly from the last 50 years of show-business.  If this is what makes you proud to be British, great.  

It was nice to see thousands of people line the Mall on Monday night, though it was inevitable that it would be business as usual on Tuesday.  And so it seemed; much of the jubilee spirit seemed to have evaporated as the main new story moved from how ‘humbled’ the Queen felt to how some jubilee workers were forced to sleep rough under a bridge.  Seems like we’re fine when listening to Sir Paul, but when the music stops, we’re a little less proud to be British.

It was nice to see that the effort and conviction visible in the anarchism of those that opposed the jubilee was just as MOR as the music at the jubilee itself.  The re-release of the Sex Pistols ‘God save the Queen’ proved that things really do get less shocking with age (35 years in this case) and it seemed to have an effect more akin to basic nostalgia than to stir the nation’s disaffected youth.  The inevitable FB campaign to get the song to number 1 seems like a very tired idea now and even butter-advertiser extraordinaire Jonny Rotten thought the idea was feeble.  Sharing the odd photo on FB of the Queen as a tax-dodger felt like a rather timid way of railing against the monarchy.  It’s one thing to adopt a lazy air of resignation when Lenny Henry is on stage, but it’s even more pathetic to do so when you think you’re being anti-establishment.