WEB EXCLUSIVE: ‘How can we ever get back to normality?’ – Couch Potato considers the question

Mayor of London Boris Johnson.  Photo credit:  Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire
Mayor of London Boris Johnson. Photo credit: Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire
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Our Sunday web columnist takes a wry look at the week’s TV.

And so the curtain falls on an incredible summer of sport, with one question hanging in the air like Boris Johnson on a zip wire: “How can we ever get back to normality?”

With a crashing thud, a groan, death by Coldplay at the Paralympics Closing Ceremony, and a timely reminder from the major broadcasters, the following afternoon, of everything that’s decidedly average about this country – live TV coverage of a major national event.

Normal business, alas, resumed as London 2012: Our Greatest Team Parade, a 21-flatbed-lorry salute to Team GB and Paralympics GB, wound its way through the capital on Monday.

It featured more than 700 athletes with 185 medals between them who’d exhibited remarkable acts of human endeavour, sheer grit and endurance, by withstanding all three songs by the Pet Shop Boys, outside Buckingham Palace.

But if it’s stamina you’re after, I think I can top even that, having watched this spectacle, from start to finish, three times – on BBC1, Channel 4 and a Sky1/Sky News simulcast.

Twelve hours of my life I’ll never get back.

The tone was set with C4’s Jon Snow announcing: “The sardinisation of the crowds in London has begun,” and went downhill from there.

“This is amazing scenes.” They certainly is, Jon. It certainly are.

Before the day was out, he managed to say: “Christopher Wren would eat his heart out to see this,” and, during the flypast over The Mall: “There’s AWAC, which is a sort of plane,” before handing over Colemanballs duties to Ade Adepitan: “There’s Greg Rutherford, long john champion.”

But that’s live television for you. It makes time-filling buffoons out of even the best TV presenters.

Clare Balding showing viewers the mobile number of a Tom Daley fan in the crowd, written on a placard in the hope the diver would phone her, wasn’t the wisest thing she’s ever done.

And it wasn’t getting any better in Channel 4’s commentary box, where Krishnan Guru-Murthy gave this unrehearsed introduction: “Joining me is three-time Paralympian Giles Long. You know what this is like, Giles.”

“Well, actually I don’t.”

A head-scratching performance from Krishnan whose low point was suggesting: “This is a parade the Romans would be proud of.”

I thought I’d heard it all. But I’d forgotten Hazel Irvine was chuntering away over on BBC1: “Two golds, a silver and a bronze for Ellie Simmonds. One of each colour.”

“Beth Tweddle says she’s going to try wing-walking, abseiling, snowboarding and skydiving now that she doesn’t have to risk life and limb.”

I’d be lying, however, if I said Hazel always assuming the audience shared her level of knowledge wasn’t a constant source of humour: “There’s Goldie Sayers who, as you know, just before the javelin final tweaked something in her forearm.”

As well we all know, Hazel. It’s all we’ve talked about since August.

The athletes themselves weren’t immune, with boxer Anthony Joshua telling John Inverdale: “My future plans will come in the future.”

Nothing was as pointless, though, as “ceremonial commentator” Alastair Bruce, wheeled out once more by Sky News.

He’s got an acute case of verbal diarrhoea that saw him outline the etymology of the word “float”, explain why the parade was behind schedule (“When the procession moves through so much goodwill it slows down”) and provide this succinct analysis:

“To watch this whole story conclude here at Buckingham Palace underneath the Queen Victoria Memorial, and above that Queen Victoria Memorial, that golden statue, which is of victory, and I think it has been a great victory and a great many of those athletes who have been victorious in their own way, but remembering too those who took part, it has been a victory for the United Kingdom to deliver this.”

London 2012. Distant ruddy memory, isn’t it?


Dodgiest-sounding TV question of the week, from Duncan Bannatyne to Clay O’Shea, the inventor of fitness product Abs Pak, on Dragons’ Den: “Apart from the fact that you strap it on and you have got it on all the time, what is the advantage of that against using a rolled-up towel?”

A rolled-up towel doesn’t come with an Ann Summers 12-month guarantee?


This week’s Couch Potato Spudulike awards go to:

Andy Murray making me stay up past 2am on a school night with his astonishing five-set US Open final victory over Novak Djokovic.

Shaun The Sheep, on CBBC (don’t laugh, it’s genius).

Chris O’Dowd’s Sky1 comedy Moone Boy.

Henry Wood’s Fantasia on British Sea Songs, the only bit worth watching on Last Night of the Proms, being included for the first time since 2007.

“Logistics Queen” Hilary Devey stealing the show on a surprisingly enjoyable return of Dragons’ Den.

The undisguised dejection in Sky News’ Adam Boulton’s voice when Chelmsford’s town crier asked him at London 2012: Our Greatest Team Parade if he could give a cry of oyez: “Yeah, alright, go on then.”

And ITV4’s World of Sport: 1970s, with Ned Boulting, a scamper down memory lane of the decade fashion forgot, through the eyes of ITV Sport, which reminded us what the network was airing on Saturday afternoons in the years before it abandoned armchair sports fans for Airwolf.

Highlights included: Reg Gutteridge interviewing Muhammad Ali through the ropes as the boxer sat in his corner mid-fight at the end of the 10th round; the long-forgotten annual pro-am darts tournament, with Hervé Villechaize (Nick Nack, from The Man With The Golden Gun) valiantly attempting to reach the board from the oche; and a programme called The Indoor League, hosted by Fred Trueman, which paved the way for darts on telly but also featured more obscure pub games and this wonderful piece of commentary: “The drama! The stark-naked drama of table skittles!”

They don’t make them like they used to.


New name required for Channel 4’s The Audience, in which members of the public allow 50 people to follow them around for a week and hand them control over life-changing decisions.

Fifty Ways To Lose Your Viewers.


The Thick Of It is the funniest programme on television.

And now we’ve established that, I’m afraid I’m going to have to pull at the threads of this glorious political sitcom, which made its return on BBC2 last Saturday.

You see, its strengths have always been Armando Iannucci’s brilliant assembly of writers, the acting, the faithful observations, and, crucially, the merciless treatment of politicians on all sides of the fence.

But, mirroring real events, there has been a change in government for series four and we now have a coalition in power, with a couple of alarming outcomes – episode one bordered on clumsy, and it didn’t feature fearsome spin doctor Malcolm Tucker, who now finds his party in opposition.

So, too many new characters were tangling with each other to assume Tucker’s mantle (they should really leave the swearing to him) and his chalk-and-cheese counterpart, Stewart Pearson, becoming too emotionally attached to policy at the fictional Department of Social Affairs and Citizenship didn’t wash with me.

There were, however, positive signs that we can bury all this bad news, particularly in the shape of DoSAC minister Peter Mannion, played superbly by Roger Allam, who’s a terrific character you can sympathise with – battle-scarred and cynical yet helpless and believable – and his exchanges with Pearson are cracking.

Mannion: “I don’t understand the Networked Nation and the Silicon Playground.”

“Peter, the Networked Nation is about harnessing the interconnectivity of everyone in society. It’s a new way of thinking, innovation, self-investment, revenue flux, growth, ergo a healthy network. What’s so complicated about that?”

“All the words you just said.”

Best of all is what happened in last night’s episode.

Peter Capaldi’s Tucker was back and, without any real power, he’s even more devious than usual.

If you didn’t see it, please do on the BBC iPlayer. You don’t have to have caught the first episode to enjoy it. In fact you don’t have to have watched The Thick Of It ever.

“Quiet Bat People”. That’s all I’m saying.

Watch and weep with laughter.


This week’s Couch Potato Spuduhate awards go to:

Every one of Coldplay’s 16-song playlist at the Paralympics Closing Ceremony.

Watchdog wasting everyone’s time investigating the size of Quality Street tins.

Evan Davis’s guide-for-idiots narration on Dragons’ Den.

BBC1’s on-screen caption during London 2012: Our Greatest Team appearing as: “Athlete’s parade.” (Which one?)

And, with the Paralympics providing so many tales of courage and genuine “journeys”, X Factor completely misreading the public mood by rolling out a 34-year-old bloke with a dead-granddad sob story and Celebrity MasterChef following suit with ex-footballer Danny Mills’ deceased grandmother.

It’s a million per cent “no”, from everyone.