Johnny And Al On Laurie And A QoS

A Question of Sport is very much a milk pudding of a show - comforting but ultimately makes you sleepy. On the other hand, the Laurie Cunningham doc was excellent...

Last Updated: 07/03/13 at 16:56

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A Question Of Sport is something of a television institution, having started in 1968 long before television was actually invented. It was initially a programme about garish V-necked knitwear and later helped millions realise which haircuts were currently highly unfashionable. For a couple of years it was even part of Emlyn Hughes' care in the community scheme.

This week, it reached its 1,000th episode, despite the fact that no-one can be found who has watched it since 1989. To celebrate its longevity, the teams this week comprised previous captains. Obviously, this thrilled us as we can't get enough of John Parrott's wit, in the same way we can't get enough of inserting a red hot poker up our own fundament. Willie Carson seemed to have morphed into an old lady but Bill Beaumont, who put 14 long years in at this TV coalface, appeared to have aged just ten years in the last 40. This is the advantage of looking 55 years old when you are just 20.

As befitting any institution, it has changed very little. There are no concessions to the modern world. It's not had an 8 Out Of 10 Cats makeover and invited on oddly tanned people from The Only Way Is Essex. Nobody calls anybody else a c*nt.

Even some of the rounds remain exactly the same as they were 40 years ago. The Mystery Guest was always our fave as a kid. This week it was David Ginola in a book shop and Sam Torrance playing snooker to a soundtrack of The Nashville Teens' 1964 version of J.D. Loudermilk's classic Tobacco Road. We hadn't a clue who either of the sportsmen was, but then we never did, and anyway we prefer Spooky Tooth's version of Tobacco Road.

Like all shows which feature sports people, there was much unnecessary touching of arms and slapping on legs and backs. Why are they so tactile with each other? The humour, as it always was, could be strictly defined as 'banter'. In this universe of funny, being bald is hilarious, as are old photos of a panellist looking somewhat different to how they do now. In Ally McCoist's case this meant being dressed as an extra from an Ultravox video. All of which was fun if hardly compulsive viewing. Indeed, such shows seem to be a lot of fun to take part in but much less so to watch. Everyone has a good time, you can see that, but it's very much a milk pudding of a show; comforting but ultimately makes you a bit sleepy.

Perhaps the best round is the final one which they call Sprint Finish but is actually just charades, the oldest of parlour games. Sadly, it ended just before Matt Dawson (now incredibly in his ninth year as a team captain) had to 'perform' Pippa Funnell.

The old clips of ex-presenters Davids Vine and Coleman made us feel very old. However, we were cheered immensely by old pictures of Ian Botham sporting the quintessential highlights-and-mullet hair of the mid 80s when cricket briefly became the new rock 'n' roll before turning out to be an AOR power ballad.

QOS could easily run for another 1000 episodes. It's light and fluffy and just about passes as entertainment. It harms no one and nothing and in an era where cruelty of one sort or another passes as entertainment, perhaps this is a good thing.

From the ridiculous, then, to the sublime: a brilliant documentary called First Among Equals - The Laurie Cunningham Story. The thoroughly unpleasant side of 1970s football got a thorough airing with the tales of National Front at the games, ball-bearings thrown on the pitch and all the rest of the disgusting indignities heaped upon Laurie and his black contemporaries. It's impossible to watch without feeling anger and shame, and a relief that those days are gone - although, as John Barnes (one of a who's who raft of contributors) points out, racism in football is still alive and well, if more covert.

Equal and opposite to that, though, is the joyous footage of the young Cunningham, for whom the expression 'poetry in motion' might have been invented. There are some terrific contributions from people you might expect - Batson, Regis, Sir Les etc etc, And equally from some that you wouldn't - his first Leyton Orient manager, a woman he used to go dancing with, and Peter Reid, who compares Laurie to Ronaldinho and chips in with a brilliantly bizarre anecdote about garlic king prawns that is worth the price of admission on its own.

The love he inspired in his colleagues and younger black players is plain to see, often painfully so, making his desperately sad end at just 33 all the harder to bear. This is a superb TV programme. Check it out.

John Nicholson and Alan Tyers

Read Johnny's book, 'The Meat Fix' here

Alan's football and cricket books are all in one place here

Follow Alan on Twitter here

or Johnny here.

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