Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Podgy, Breathless and Ready for a Heart Attack: Roger Black's Show about Children's Fitness Is Shaming

Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Podgy, Breathless and Ready for a Heart Attack: Roger Black's Show about Children's Fitness Is Shaming

Article excerpt

Listeners to Radio 4 live in fear of celebrity presenters and reality-show-style gimmicks. Thus, many of them will have trembled on hearing of Roger Black's Olympic Challenge (11am, 26-28 February), in which the Atlanta 400m silver medallist joined staff at a London comprehensive in an effort to get the students fitter and more active, using 2012 as an incentive.

However, appearances can be deceptive. Thanks to my responsibilities to this column, I stuck with the series and I'm glad I did. Well, sort of. I can't say it was exactly a pleasure. I'm still seething; and when I'm not seething, I'm ashamed; and when I'm not ashamed, I'm depressed. In the days since it finished, I have twice considered sending a CD of it to Richard Caborn, Tessa Jowell and Alan Johnson, all of whom are up to their necks in the disgrace it exposed. But what would be the point? In 1997, Labour came to power pledging that no more school playing fields would be sold off. Since then, another 2,500 have been lost. Promises, promises.

By the end of the term that Black spent at Hurlingham and Chelsea School, his year eight group was more motivated, better able to run around and, thanks to the extra exercise, more attentive in other classes. But it was impossible to take heart from this, because most schools do not have a Roger Black or a BBC production crew on their case, and even this school would reap the benefits for just one term.

Black is a breezy, optimistic kind of a bloke, but he was clearly stunned by what he found at Hurlingham and Chelsea, a fairly typical inner-city school: no grass at all; peeling paint in a sports hall only 20m long with ceilings too low for games such as badminton; and a core curriculum to which PE had only recently been reinstated. He duly tested the students' fitness: some could not (or would not) sprint from one end of the gym to the other. …

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