Programme error

You've got to laugh. Well, probably not. Cameron Carter reviews the World Cup shows that did for comedy

After the initial frenzy of World Cup-related programming in May, terrestrial television apologetically dropped everything except coverage and highlights once the tournament began. The one exception was Rio Ferdinand’s World Cup Wind-ups, notable only for the host’s immoderate laughter at “stunts” such as David Beckham being made slightly late by a bogus chauffeur, and the fact that Ferdinand resembled the female saxophonist from The Muppet Show in his heightened state of elation.

With no Johnny Vaughan or Baddiel & Skinner this time, those who hunger for quirky, offbeat and screwball coverage of the World Cup were forced to stray out on to the vast and featureless plains of digital TV. To BBC3, for instance, for World Cup Outtakes, whose format was simple: well worn footage interrupted by blindingly literal interpretations from a series of young males we had to assume were stand-up comedians and a batch of young females who were almost certainly kids’ TV presenters. Wayne Hemmingway is in there somewhere, too. If you ignored the talking heads, though, some of the memories were rewarding. Such as the sight of Peru goalkeeper Ramón Quiroga rugby-tackling Grzegorz Lato to the ground in the Pole’s own half, approximately 20 seconds before Lato, counter-attacking from a corner, was expecting to be one‑on‑one with the lunatic.

Similarly, one has to enjoy Harald Schumacher’s rationalisation of his infamous challenge on Patrick Battiston, claiming he was going for the ball and had to jump in a certain way to make sure he landed safely, made in the knowledge that video footage of the incident would be shown to accompany his words.

Other high points included David Coleman hissingly incandescent when introducing highlights of the Chile v Italy “Battle of Santiago” in 1962 and I finally found out why games in the 1974 World Cup were stopped for one minute right in the middle of the action – it was for the recently deceased Argentine dictator Juan Perón (nobody bothers to explain this to you when you’re eight). But there aren’t enough of these to warrant as many hours as BBC3 had scheduled for this programme and the studio contributors chuckling as they stumblingly described what you’d just watched, or sniggering at old players’ haircuts, was a negligible contribution to the continuing evolution of man.

World Cup Goals Galore (BBC3) was just a little better for the disembodied presence of Sean Lock. Although by the sound of Lock’s voice he was slumped in a favourite armchair unable to reach his last can of Tennants, he showed the Outtakes people the way forward by simply making up his own jokes. While he was also guilty of devoting a section to funny haircuts, Lock’s description of Roberto Baggio’s short-at-sides, heavy-on-top plus ponytail – “He’s got the lot, like he won a trolley dash at Toni & Guy’s” – is approximately 40 times better than saying: “What was he thinking of?”

And then we come to ITV4’s World Cuppa. The website states that this “interactive series is on a mission to provide viewers with witty post-match footie talk”. Yes, it says “footie”. It goes on – “World Cuppa will have Brazilian flair”, “an exciting mix of top celebrity guests”, with “Christian O’Connell controlling the boisterous studio audience”. Christian O’Connell describing something as “witty” is much the same as Neil and Christine Hamilton telling you Prince Buster has a good beat. If by “Brazilian flair” they mean viewers’ clips of themselves singing bad home-made England songs, badly, then, yes, it has Brazilian flair.

Steven Bunce, who is apparently controversial, mounted a podium in preparation for a 30-second rant about a World Cup issue. Brilliantly, guest presenter Matt Smith then asked him to summarise the content of his speech by way of introduction, a process that took nearly as long as the rant. “An exciting mix of celebrity guests” on Smith’s show meant Ralf Little, Lee Trundle and Goldie Lookin’ Chain. The atmosphere before the last of these came on was suggestive of the first half-hour of an office team-building drink on alcohol-free lager.

As for the “boisterous audience” that Christian controls, they did provide tension, but only right at the end. It was unclear whether 12 people so physically weak that they could be herded inside to watch this drivel would carry on clapping over the whole 30 seconds of the credits. That faltering applause was the bravest performance I witnessed in this World Cup.

From WSC 234 August 2006. What was happening this month