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Sullivan strikes

Cameron Carter reviews the month's best and worst TV

There are many different levels of interview, ranging in difficulty from the longish ones carried out at Camp X-Ray to the up-tempo drivel exchanged between Fearne Cotton and cornered celebrities. From a programme billed on the BBC website as bringing us “fresh and incisive journalism that gets under the skin of sport”, we might reasonably expect something halfway between. Unfortunately, Inside Sport (BBC1) was invited into the home of Birmingham City’s multi-millionaire co-owner, David Sullivan, and immediately went Hello! magazine on our arse.

Tony Livesey, previously an employee of Sullivan at the Daily Sport and now really slumming it at The Daily Mail, may have left his house that morning as a fresh and incisive journalist, but by the time he reached Sullivan Mansion he was a cub scout being shown round the richest man in the village’s house. On the verandah, above an unobtrusive soundtrack of classical strings, Livesey incisively murmured that his host was a very private man. In the custom-made bowling-alley, he trenchantly heeded Sullivan’s highest ever bowling score (266 incidentally, with nine straight strikes). In the games room, he penetratingly remarked on Sullivan’s boxing prowess while the late middle-aged sex-shop magnate brawled with a flaccid punchbag.

Sullivan apparently underwent a much more difficult interview when police routinely questioned him about financial irregularities at his club. “You felt you’d been psychologically raped”, he told Livesey, the latter nodding sensitively in the hope he might be invited back sometime for a sleepover. The real horror of Sullivan’s situation became apparent when he showed us his cabaret lounge and named the most memorable singer to perform there: Rick Astley. Sullivan and his best mates of that evening eating braised haunch of venison while Astley shuffles about singing “Together Forever” is not an image that endears one to this life. Perhaps Livesey’s approach was the correct one, it is surely more humane to be gentle with people as frail as this.

Jonathan Pearce gave us a punditry masterclass on April 12’s Football Focus when asked how he felt the title race was shaping up. Taking a deep breath, he embarked on an unstoppable analytical dribble: “Liverpool have Torres in fantastic form but don’t have enough match-winners elsewhere, Chelsea are picking up points but lack the adventurousness away from home that could make the difference, Arsenal play terrific football but their squad isn’t quite there yet,” and so on, without notes or pause. I’m paraphrasing from memory to some extent, but that was the general gist of it.

Of course no one gave him any credit for this almost incontinent articulacy back in the studio. “Thanks, JP” may be what Maniche Bhasin considers an adequate response to this sort of flair but silver trumpets and a drum parade would have been more appropriate. Lawrenson and Shearer have to be mopped down off-camera after the most fleeting “It’s the team with the momentum that will stay up”, and yet here was Jonathan Pearce in the field, being called ‘JP’ all over the place by the Sofa Boys, summarising the year in less than half a minute.

It is possible that the Italian reputation for style and seduction is overplayed by Northern Europeans who spend a lot of time eating with their partners in total silence in child-friendly carveries, but Football Italiano (C5) gives a glimpse of how truly deserved that reputation is. Laura Esposto, the regular co-presenter, was giving out run-of-the-mill team news before the Udinese-Roma game when she happened to mention Francesco Totti. She didn’t simply say “Francesco Totti”, though. She lifted her chin to deliver a ‘Francesco’ which his own mother would have been proud of, then produced the first part of the surname, paused while her lips toyed with the possibility of the next syllable, before hungrily dropping onto it, dark eyes flashing.

If she had been eating honey with her hands the moment couldn’t have been more charged. Compare that with what we have in this country – Simon Brotherton devouringly name-checking “Nyron Nosworthy”, for example – and it is clear that the British media is missing a trick.

From WSC 256 June 2008

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