thu 21/08/2014

BBC Sports Personality of the Year, BBC One | TV reviews, news & interviews

BBC Sports Personality of the Year, BBC One

Victory lap for a sporting summer falls somewhere between a rock concert, the Oscars and an arena chat show

Wiggo rounds bend en route to #SPOTY '12

Splendid summer, cataclysmic autumn. In the last six months, the BBC has tested to the limits the meaning of the phrase “good in parts”. The people at the top of the Corporation – and by March there’ll be a fourth rump in the DG’s hot seat within seven months – will have been looking forward to this seasonal beanfeast with more than usual avidity. There being no journalistic scoops to botch, no skeletons in the cupboard, no Panorama waiting in the wings – and for once no pictures to buy in from Sky - here was a chance for the BBC to cut a few shapes.

And this year, for reasons which need no rehearsing even on an arts website, they decided to go extremely large for BBC Sports Personality of the Year. Or #SPOTY as it’s known to tweeters. The tone the BBC accordingly opted for was unapologetic, elongated bombast. Rather than host the event in one of its regular in-the-round venues, they chose to trade up to the modest confines of the ExCel, a jumbo East London conference centre reachable by (among other modes of transport) cable car. The artistic direction fell somewhere between a rock concert, the Oscars and an arena chat show with full orchestra. After double Olympic ceremony soloist Emeli Sandé played the show in, last year’s #SPOTY winner Mark Cavendish, flanked by a uniformed guard of honour, carried in the award as if delivering the cup of the holy grail. Various other trophies hung around the place like best supporting bling. If they wanted to get to the stage, some guests had to cover longer distances than they ever did to win a gold. Half of them in high heels.

By the end of SPOTY 2012, half the audience will have needed defibrillating

In a run-of-the-mill year this bloated carnival of instant nostalgia doesn’t have all that much to shout about. The default setting is to nod to the nags, the darts, the chaps who gamely finished second. And there’s always a truckload of footie. But if you blinked at any point in this three-hour extravaganza, you’d have missed the bits about the trillionaires in look-at-me dayglo bootees funded by foreign gas/oil. The biggest cheer of the night for a footballer was reserved for the one who had survived an on-pitch heart attack, joined onstage by the medics who saved his life.

By the end of SPOTY 2012, half of us will have needed defibrillating. The rush of adrenalin and sugar surged to life-threatening levels with each reheated memory of more and better news. To lend a bit of gravitas, and give Eddie Butler’s plangent larynx half the evening off, there was money about to spend on posh actors. Thus in the film inserts, the voices of Phil Daniels, Bill Nighy and Tom Wilkinson could be heard intoning the barely digestible slabs of prose-poesie that they gussy up in-house for these occasions. Being a sir, Kenneth Branagh reported on the rowing with a gold-embossed script by Virgil, while Idris Elba appeared live at the ExCel to sort of semi-rap to Elbow’s “First Steps”.

But in the end, this was an evening of gruelling good cheer in which, give or take the odd cameo, everyone endlessly said thank you to everyone else, including in one final montage after the credits, the British public. Even a moddishly dressed Wiggo (tonight, Matthew, I am going to be Paul Weller) was initially tongue-tied by the sheer overweening scale of it all. “I’ll say it if you won’t,” Sue Barker told him when he wouldn't suggest that he is indeed the greatest. Later, when they drew the raffle numbers, he was somewhat predictably holding the winner’s ticket. Another one. Next year normal service resumes.

Follow Jasper Rees on Twitter

If you blinked at any point in this three-hour extravaganza, you’d have missed the bits about the trillionaires in look-at-me dayglo bootees

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