sat 23/06/2018

The Olympic Games, BBC | reviews, news & interviews

The Olympic Games, BBC

The Olympic Games, BBC

The 17 days in which the national broadcaster recovered from the cataclysm of the Diamond Jubilee

'I've lost my voice,' said Steve Cram. Didn't we all?

“It was almost undescribable but I’ll give it a go.” Anyone from the group of athletes we have come to know as Team GB might have given voice to the thought, but the words happened to belong to Ed McKeever, one of the less charismatic of the freshly medalled guests to take his place on Gary Lineker’s sofa. Lineker, offering nightly sessions as some sort of entry-level shrink to the nation, spent the Olympic Games asking people to describe how they feel. It was a thankless gig, but someone had to keep popping the question. “Unbelievable, Gary,” they'd all say. “It’s difficult to put it into words.”

In fact you do kind of know how it feels. Those absorbed by the BBC’s coverage for the past 17 days have also been moved to a place where language doesn’t really do the job. Shouting and screaming, yes, plus sobbing, wailing, weeping. Everybody was at it (and proud of it). The whole thing has been like watching the shattering climax of Hamlet or Tristan und Isolde or Carousel, all day and every day, only there were no plot medics and story mechanics manipulating and tweaking the script. This drama was being made up in front of your eyes. And until the stay in the magical Athenian wood abruptly came to a halt, there was no bereavement. Unbelievable, Gary.

The stock of superlatives – because, let’s face it, there are only so many to go round - ran dry long before last night’s Closing Ceremony, a raucous, rambling carnival of weirdo street theatre and high-end stadium pop that, unlike the Games themselves, outstayed its welcome. In the mean time, the task of the national broadcaster was somehow to find the words, and keep on finding them, for the vast majority who in defiance of the naysaying commentariat yearned for this colossally freighted extravaganza to take wing. An astounding 1.2 million people may have attended the athletics. That left up to 60 million or so who needed to be taken there by the BBC. These may have been the first Twitter Olympics, the first app Olympics and the first iPad Olympics, but they remained for most the same old sofa Olympics. Only this time you could curate your own coverage via the red button or, if unhappy with the main channels' patriotic pursuit of British narratives, watch the entire Graeco-Roman wrestling tourney on the BBC’s many-splendoured Olympic website. Should that be your wish.

Like every competitor, even You Know Who, the BBC will have had its own pre-performance nerves. The test event, featuring 1,000 vessels on the capital’s waterway, was an unedifying horlicks in which ignorant presenters gushed vacuously and, basically, belly-flopped. If the Diamond Jubilee had been an Olympic qualifier, the dread letters DNQ would have appeared against the BBC’s first-round attempt. Definitely No Quality. The high-ups at the BBC will now know exactly how Andy Murray felt upon returning in triumph to the scene of an immolation.

How did this happen? The basic difference between sport and pageantry is it’s much easier to come by people who know what they’re talking about in one of the above. Matt Baker (pictured above right), the Geordie presenter of The One Show who made few new friends at the Diamond Jubilee, acquired a fresh stack of them as a passionate and knowledgeable commentator on gymnastics. Who the hell knew? Of course it makes sense that former sports stars convert into unflappable live-to-camera presenters: among the newer intake joining Lineker and Sue Barker, the likes of yachtswoman Shirley Robertson and triple jumper Jonathan Edwards already know all about grace under pressure. The surprise was quite how many pundits turned out to be highly articulate analysts: the camp-as-Christmas Ocker swim champ Ian Thorpe, the hollering his’n’hers track’n’field pair of Denise Lewis (pictured above left) and Colin Jackson, Amir Khan with his jabby Bolton ringside vowels.

Except maybe it’s no sort of surprise at all. Every time any of Team GB’s competitors found themselves in front of a BBC microphone, you simply purred with pleasure. It wasn’t necessarily what they said; unfailingly, it was how they said it. They seemed all to have graduated cum laude from charm school. Whatever their background, schooling, ethnicity or indeed sport, they discussed technique and tactics, victory and defeat with a disarming lack of self-importance. This must be what happens when you compete for love not money.

Meanwhile, back in the studio, the BBC’s regulars played blinder after blinder. First among them was Clare Balding, who is fast becoming sports broadcasting’s David Attenborough, an authority with a remarkable knack for communicating knowledge and passion to a vast audience. Over on Radio 5Live, Mark Pougatch, surrounded by a gobby army of former athletes, brilliantly brought the pictures to you in words. Indeed the only presenter who regularly struck a false note was Rob Walker, a Tiggerish presence at the regatta in Weymouth who seemed to have mislaid his Ritalin.

The BBC can make its contribution to London 2012’s legacy by keeping all these sports on our screens

Commentary often clambered up to the high plateaux once occupied by Richie Benaud and Bill McLaren, Murray Walker and Sid Waddell (the darts maestro who died this weekend). The old lags in particular had a great Games: Hugh Porter (pictured above with Chris Boardman) at the velodrome found a way of making each thrilling British win sound fresh as a daisy, while Mitch Fenner at the North Greenwich Arena fell on the first British men's gymnastics success in a century as if quenching a parched throat at a Saharan oasis. No one adorned the coverage quite like Cram. “I’ve lost my voice,” he croaked after his and 80,000 other larynxes had helped shove Mo Farah over the line for a second Saturday running.

The BBC found its voice again as a national broadcaster. Sure, it helped that there was so much good news to report, and that they know how to do sport. It's just a shame they don't get to do more of it. That’s not a plea for more football, which on the eve of a new season has never looked more like a busted flush. The BBC can make its contribution to London 2012’s legacy by keeping all these sports – the taekwondo and the keirin, the handball and the double sculling – on our screens, rather than cryogenically refrigerate them for another four years.

The other thing television can do is handle the legacy of these new heroes and heroines with sensitivity. After a fortnight in which viewers could have voted in a new one every day, there is going to be an almighty face-off at the end of the year for BBC Sports Personality of the Year. In the mean time, it would be horribly depressing if Jessica Ennis’s next primetime gig was chewing on arthropods in the Australian jungle. She’s better than that. And after all that spectacle brought to us by the BBC, so it would appear are we.

'Beautiful!' Steve Cram and Denise Lewis can't sit still for Mo Farah's last lap

It would be horribly depressing if Jessica Ennis’s next primetime gig was chewing on arthropods in the jungle

Share this article

Comments

I'm writing as a result of the error that crept in originally describing Amir Khan's vowels as 'Yorkshire'. A silly error, understandable with the pressure to publish quickly, and of no lasting consequence. I am more concerned that the writer felt it necessary to refer to Amir's accent at all. He has a very distinctive regional accent, and yet, it is very different from some other people from the same town (eg Peter Kay). The Olympics showcased a wide range of British accents, from different class, cultural & educational backgrounds, so why single out the presenter from the most working-class sport? If you only know people who did elocution lessons at private school, a 'regional' working-class accent probably does sound strange. But if you have wider experience of people, you know that RP is the oddity, even if not necessarily on the (non-Sports) BBC. I presume the intention wasn't to be snobbish, but I wonder whether the writer would have been so comfortable making reference to the fact that Amir Khan's accent is audibly influenced by his Pakistani-British background.

Well said. Even as a season ticket holder at a Premier League football club, I couldn't be looking forward less to a new season of petulant, overpaid poseurs swearing and cheating their way through matches and dominating sports coverage. The Olympics - and the competitors taking part in it - have been a massive breath of fresh air and the BBC have done a fantastic job on TV, on the radio and especially online to not only cover every aspect but really take the event to the people. The consensus among people I know is that the Games were far better than we could have imagined they were going to be. Clearly, Team GB's performance did a lot to help this but the BBC's coverage played a major part in the success of the whole event.

Wonderful !! - Wonderful !!- Wonderful !! - Superb coverage by the BBC in all areas of Media - thank-you so much. With regard legacy debate - it begins with changing the existing culture in Schools regarding P.E. - where Goverment Curculium Culture is more driven to ticking Boxes on "How To.." then actualy doing P.E. My Son came Home in tears - they had changed into there P.E. Kit and was lectured for 1/2 an hour on "How-To" Spirint. The P.E Teacher ticked His box - and the lesson ended without any actually doing any running. The Following day the same - except within the hour of P.E. they each sprinted once - only. One and a half hours stood in P.E. Kit lectured on the finer points of Sprinting - with a single run at the end of it - might tick Goverment Boxes - but doesnot enthuse. We can do better than ticking Boxes - we can actually DO Sport. Secondly - all Sports Centres should provide 2 hrs a day - free for kids to try sports. Councils can off set loss of income - through substantial Council Tax rebates - at community level and corporate level. That would be the genesis of a true legacy - for our Kids. ..

And then they had to go and spoil it all with that atrocious closing ceremony. Danny B's opener had been weird and wonderful - this was just messy and dull. The cameras didn't know where to look, for once.

Yes, but.....it would be unreasonable to expect the Beeb to be impartial about a sporting event such as the Olympics held on home soil but contrast the gush and gibber of Colin Jackson and Denise Lewis with the sober, informed and incisive contribution from Michael Johnson I'd prefer more of the latter's articulate insight and less bluster and nonsense from the former.

I agree with the general consensus that the BBC's coverage was superb. If one wants to be picky, I feel Gary Lineker is way too bland as an anchorman, but top marks to three pairs of commentators in particular - Gary Herbert and Dan Topolski at the rowing, Hugh Porter and Chris Boardman at the cycling, and Andy Jameson and Adrian Moorhouse at the swimming - for their contributions to the proceedings. And perhaps I could add to that roll of honour, 5live's Bob Ballard (swimming), Simon Brotherton (cycling) and Mike Costello (athletics) for some truly magnificent commentaries, when absence of pictures demanded a mastery of words, which they provided with seeming effortlessness.. So thank you, beeb. For all your faults, that was pretty darn good, not least because we weren't plagued by the irritation of banal ad breaks every 10 minutes. If ITV had had the job, my television set would have had a brick through its screen by the end of day 1.

Add comment

Subscribe to theartsdesk.com

Thank you for continuing to read our work on theartsdesk.com. For unlimited access to every article in its entirety, including our archive of more than 10,000 pieces, we're asking for £3.95 per month or £30 per year. We feel it's a very good deal, and hope you do too.

To take an annual subscription now simply click here.

And if you're looking for that extra gift for a friend or family member, why not treat them to a theartsdesk.com gift subscription?

newsletter

Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters