Magazine article The Spectator

Spectator Sport A Grand Tradition of Boat Race Swearing

Magazine article The Spectator

Spectator Sport A Grand Tradition of Boat Race Swearing

Article excerpt

Armando Iannucci's The Thick of It listed an unusual character in the credits, a swearing consultant. And no wonder, for he must have been one of the busiest people on set. Lively on-screen swearing has been largely absent recently - until mid-afternoon on Easter Sunday, that is. Commentators Andrew Cotter and Dan Topolski were amiably rhubarbing away on the radio about this year's Boat Race being a masterpiece of unbelievable tension (though anyone could see, even on the radio, that only a torpedo attack would prevent an Oxford victory) when Oxford's diminutive cox, the Colombian Oskar Zorrilla, made his pitch for immortality.

A shrieked order, 'Don't fucking sit', came crystal clear over the airwaves. Cotter and Topolski battled on as if nothing had happened. Then, with the same adjective, 'Be tenacious' and 'That's the stuff'. And finally, not surprisingly I guess, there was 'Fuck yeah!' as Zorrilla steered his boat over the winning line.

I had always thought the cox simply had to steer, and shout 'in-out' at the right time. Not a bit of it. An acquaintance at Cambridge was the Light Blues cox for three years. On an old tape of the race (they always record the cox's advice), the closing exhortation featured the F word four times. A few years back, television picked up a cox saying, 'It's time to fucking attack them.' My colleague Patrick Kidd observed at the time, 'Viewers were shocked. Fancy someone with all that education using a split infinitive.' The best-loved of all Boat Race eye-raisers came in the 1950s, I think, when John Snagge said:

'Isn't that nice, the wife of the Cambridge president is kissing the cox of the Oxford crew.'

For many people the Boat Race might register about as much as a selling plate on a rainy September night on the dirt at Wolverhampton.

But more fool them: this was red in tooth and claw and blue in language and, in truth, captivating. …

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