Voices from the Past

By Hoggart, Simon | The Spectator, June 24, 2000 | Go to article overview

Voices from the Past


Hoggart, Simon, The Spectator


This week I went to the annual tug-of-- war between the Lords and the Commons, won for the 13th time in a row by the peers. The commentator was David Coleman. His first appearance, wearing a sort of straw pork-pie hat, was charming enough. But the voice! What an intense mood of nostalgia it evoked, of flickering black-and-white cup finals, of impenetrable and interminable show-jumping, of 1,500-- metre races on Tyneside, with Britain's finest being watched in the rain by a crowd of, ooh, dozens.

Commentators then didn't feel the need to be informative, enlightening or even interesting. `Ooh, that is truly magnificent!' Alan Weekes would say of some gymnast, and you realised that knowing anything about gymnastics was very low on the BBC's list of priorities. And not much has changed. As Mr Coleman described the obvious (`Lords doing well . . . oh, the Commons are fighting back . . . it's a close one!'), Melvyn Bragg told me that the high spot of his Euro 2000 viewing had come at the end of the England v. Germany match. Ron Atkinson had clearly felt that a remark of thunderous historic gravitas was required for this occasion. Finally he found it. `We've beat the Germans! Them three words says it all!'

The match commentator on the BBC was John Motson, to whom I find it hard to listen now that it's dawned on me that his is precisely the voice of Alan Partridge adopted by Steve Coogan, though Partridge's wide-eyed astonishment at the most trivial occurrence is slightly more engaging than Motty's determination to describe and put on the record every single thing that happens in front of our eyes. `Ooh, nice run by Scholes there! . . . Shearer did well to get back in position!' Outside, Charleroi was being demolished brick by brick. Inside the stadium, in the closed world which Motty inhabits, he finally noticed some of the excitement. `The fans are making quite an occasion of it,' he mused, perhaps 20 minutes after Alan Partridge would have spotted the same thing. At the end, he too had a historic announcement: `Thirty years of hurt, well, it's certainly put an Elastoplast over the wound.'

Motty's own published work reveals how hard he prepares for a match. He cannot only recognise but pronounce all those puzzling foreign names with their umlauts, cedillas, ~ signs and their absence of vowels. But these days it's not enough any more. I just have a feeling that the new ITV Match Of The Day won't be snapping Motty up. …

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