Television: Scream. Shout. Stop Being So Middle-Class! ; Wimbledon 2002 BBC1, BBC2 Secret History: Magic at War Channel 4 Cutting Edge: Love Channel 4

By Sweet, Matthew | The Independent (London, England), June 3, 2002 | Go to article overview
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Television: Scream. Shout. Stop Being So Middle-Class! ; Wimbledon 2002 BBC1, BBC2 Secret History: Magic at War Channel 4 Cutting Edge: Love Channel 4


Sweet, Matthew, The Independent (London, England)


Wimbledon fortnight - those 14 days in June when everyone suddenly remembers that tennis exists - brings into play a number of time-honoured British television traditions. Those aerial shots of SW19, in which you can almost see Brian May and Anita Dobson's house. The banishment of Blue Peter to BBC2, while the main channel broadcasts hours of the bop-pop- bop of catgut on hairy green rubber. The fatuous sexism that breaks out among the male commentators, when Sue Barker isn't around to rap their knuckles.

Two ace examples from the first day of play. Johns McEnroe and Inverdale were slouching in the studio, contemplating the seeding board. Despite the frantic computer graphics now favoured by sports broadcasts, this prop is comfortably archaic - an easel-mounted piece of white cardboard, studded with fridge magnets bearing the names of the players. It's the kind of hand-operated graphic that reminds you of ancient editions of Ask the Family, in which Robert Robinson instructed the invisible Mycroft to "reveal the legend".

Looking crossly at this board, McEnroe voiced an objection: it only listed the first 15 male and female seeds - where were all the others? Inverdale waved his arm at the space between the legs of the easel, explaining that if they had included all 32 seeded players, nobody would have heard of the names of the women appearing lower down.

Later that same day, John Lloyd and Bill Threlfall were commentating on Tim Henman's first match of the tournament. They noted that Henman's mother was a member of the Wimbledon Tennis Club. Her husband, however, was "only a temporary member". A ghastly silence followed. "Bit embarrassing for the father," said Threlfall, darkly. I suspect that depends on whether he agrees with his son that women tennis players who want financial equality with their male counterparts are just being greedy.

Thanks to the unusually good weather, other traditional rituals of the BBC's coverage - pondering the minutiae of pigeon activity, gazing upon halfwits in Union Jack boaters, conducting desperate interviews with visiting celebrities - were interrupted by a great deal of tennis. And if tennis is a sport - some would argue that it's just an extension of being middle- class, like owning an Alessi toaster - the BBC coverage demonstrates that it is an impeccably polite, if socially fossilised one. The corporation's sound mixers have no need of those diffusion effects which they employ at football matches to prevent viewers from hearing the racist chanting and bellowed obscenities. Serves are not accompanied by the well- crafted vileness that attends goal kicks. Indeed, all a tennis crowd seems capable of calling out is "Come on Tim!" or for the sake of variety, the slightly more formal "Come on Henman!"

You can sense what a tiresomely well-behaved lot they are from the self- important round of applause which follows every announcement reminding spectators to turn off their mobile phones. Still, it was fun to hear their shock when one of the game's biggest stars tumbled from the tournament on the second day. The crowd, Lloyd and Threlfall blithered in disbelief, but the TV close-ups revealed the cause of the disaster. The player in question had depilated the luxuriant hair that formerly sprouted from the bridge of his nose. It was Sampras Agonistes, and only visible to the audience at home.

Another giant faltered last week. Secret History, easily the best history documentary strand on television, produced a worryingly garbled entry well below its usual standard. The subject of Magic at War was a plum: Jasper Maskelyne, a stage magician from a great Victorian family of illusionists and android-makers, who, in the 1940s, was recruited by the British Army.

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Television: Scream. Shout. Stop Being So Middle-Class! ; Wimbledon 2002 BBC1, BBC2 Secret History: Magic at War Channel 4 Cutting Edge: Love Channel 4
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