Cameron Carter puts forward his vote for most likeable man on TV, as the BBC look to become even more relaxed

January is a cruel month. To try to avoid noticing it, most of us choose to stay inside and watch a lot of television until the skies lighten. Yet, knowing our habits and fully aware that this month officially contains the most depressing day of the year, BBC1 scheduled Surviving Disaster – The Munich Air Crash on January 10, while Five drizzles John Barnes’ Football Night at us every time we make it through to Friday.

Surviving Disaster intercut dramatised scenes with contemporary footage to tell the story of the air crash that destroyed Matt Busby’s first great side. Going very heavy on Dramatic Irony, various players tell wives they’ll be back in three days, or ask girlfriends to meet them off the plane on Friday, and Matt Busby is asked to “bring them back in one piece”. Bearing in mind these were the pioneering days of European competition – and further bearing in mind United’s plane to Bilbao had been forced to land in a field the previous year – we can be sure these kind of exchanges took place before Munich.

However, cramming them all into three minutes of pre-flight dialogue and then scoring a bit of turbulence on the way to Belgrade with hysterical strings could be seen as overcooking the thing. When the United players enter their dressing room bantering in cheery but austere Fifties style, things steer dangerously close to an episode of Heartbeat, the jaw muscles preparing to clock off as we instinctively realise we don’t have to think anymore. Then the actors running up the tunnel in bright red suddenly change into the real men in black and white running on to the pitch and the impact is immediate and painful. Surviving Disaster could have dwelt on the team’s exploits before the crash and the rebuilding afterwards, but it only ever claimed to be a disaster reconstruction and, like all of its kind, succeeded by prodding the big sore point – the human fear that events in our universe are totally arbitrary and we are unregulated and unwatched.

Speaking of “unwatched”, I videotaped John Barnes’ Football Night, but for some reason it didn’t record. I definitely pressed the button and the red circle came on. I believe the machine rejected it.

On a more positive note, I’d like to put forward Adrian Chiles as the most likeable person on television. In fact, with Peter Glaze dead and Sweep not doing so much TV work these days, there are surprisingly few contenders. Not only does Chiles get on very well with the more likeable panellists (Gordon Strachan, for example), Chiles is looked down upon on account of his lack of match experience by the less likeable ones (namely, school bully Hansen), a sure sign of the man’s greatness. His curiosity – in itself, a trait unique in a football anchor – is aimed at players’ and officials’ human sides, leading him away from the traditional type of question (“Is it too early to talk about this game being a six-pointer, Lawro?”) that fill one with an unmasterable ennui on a weekly basis. When Chiles does run out of inspiration and comes out with a cliche, he has the decency to acknowledge the fact and deliver the thing in a bumbling fashion. This is the likeability of the man.

Ian Wright continues in his efforts, along with Lawro and Alan Hansen, to make the BBC’s football panel the most relaxed in the land. At the Burton Albion FA Cup replay, Hansen gave his customary impersonation of a man waiting for a cab to take him to his proper job. Wright, meanwhile, reacted to Gary Lineker’s first question by leaving it to Hansen and turning 90 degrees in his swivel chair to gaze out of the window. He repeated this behaviour several times, straining for the view below him when perhaps he might have been at least listening to Alan’s answer if the question didn’t interest him personally. Of course, Ian was the kind of child who wouldn’t sit still on long car journeys and only coloured in one half of the clown’s hair before wandering off to stare at a burst water main, but he’s on television now in something approaching formal wear. He must surely learn to sit still for the ten minutes or so he has to be on camera. You can run around outside later, Ian, when boring old Lineker’s pissed off to a Japanese restaurant.

My favourite sentence of the month appeared on the same transmission. Gary Lineker, introducing a report on the aftermath of Albion’s draw with Man Utd, said: “Garth Crooks enjoyed the euphoria.” This is a fantastic word grouping. I have tried several times to visualise Garth Crooks enjoying the euphoria but I cannot do it. What Garth Crooks enjoys simply doesn’t exist in nature.

From WSC 229 March 2006. What was happening this month

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