World Cup TV Review: The Fancy Business

The'samba samba happy happy urchins and the jiggly smiling ladies because: futbal!' narrative has dominated British TV at this World Cup. A bit more imagination needed...

Last Updated: 11/07/14 at 08:22 Post Comment

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Christ The Redeemer statue:

Christ The Redeemer statue:

The weekly grind of the Premier League and Champions League is a breathless ride, and with so much football to cram in, the Match of the Day and ITV bods don't have much time to flex their creative muscles. The World Cup is different; with football on every day for the first round and still plenty to go around in the knock-out stages, there's a lot more opportunity for features, mini-documentaries and extended chat. So how well have the two British broadcasters delivered the dressing and side orders around the meat of the actual football?

Both have stationed themselves on Rio beach, with the BBC making particular virtue of the naturally stunning backdrop. You might not think that a TV studio's design or location is exactly a thrill-a-minute topic, but the BBC's enemies are legion, and their choice to spend a reported million squid on fancy Cape Town digs in 2010 attracted howls of rage from all the usual quarters. Both broadcasters this time, perhaps capturing the austere spirit of the age, have gone for modest yet neatly designed spaces with no obvious licence-fee-payer-enraging flourishes.

ITV has conducted much of its punditry on a decking area outside - the sort of decking that Alan Titchmarsh and Charlie Dimmock used to instruct people to make in the late 90s, which now lies moss-strewn and rat-infested on a million housing estates. The al fresco chat has been done with what you have to call limited success. Or what you have to call "Oh Jesus no, not Gordon Strachan and Glenn Hoddle in shorts". They have deployed Wrighty as a sort of vox pop/hyperactive man about town (man about beach?) to basically shout happily at bemused foreigners. Kenneth Clark's Civilisation it ain't, but you know, he's having a good time and it's harmless fun. Especially on mute.

The Beeb, not having an obvious Wrighty counterpart (unless you count Robbie Savage's occasional clownings) have done less of the engaging with the great unwashed, and this is probably to their advantage. They have produced documentaries featuring David Beckham travelling the Amazon, giving viewers the chance to enjoy the memorable exchange with Victoria expressing serious concern that David's hair might go frizzy in the humidity. Sir Becks: "I'll just wear a hat, innit." Sterling work from the Liz Taylor and Richard Burton de nos jours.

There have been the inevitable interviews with the old greats such as Pele and Carlos Alberto, who seemed like a wonderful sort, and lots of superb slow-motion replay montages set to music, which we assume you can learn how to do at university now, so ubiquitous have they become. We especially enjoyed the compilation of Mirsoslav Klose's World Cup goals.

The BBC also commissioned Rio On Rio, because, well, when life gives you lemons, sometimes you just gotta make lemonade. We look forward to Alan Shearer in the outback with some woolly animals and Lee Dixon in an electrical retailer. We have thoroughly enjoyed Rio in this tournament and his work on all aspects has not had the cringey 'Alan and Alan explain Apartheid to schoolchildren vibe' so this is definitely progress.

As the weeks have rolled on, Rio seems to have become more confident and have realised that well-expressed personal experience is genuinely interesting, whereas just listing nouns is not.

The post Brazil v Germany misery from Alan Hansen was a low point for us. Brazilian football may have lapsed into a coma but no-one died. The misery over the football was at odds with the day-to-day real miseries of many of the Brazilian people. Let's get upset at that, not at Fred.

Tim Vickery has been given some long overdue mainstream exposure because South American football is his speciality. Getting someone in who knows loads about the subject matter and doesn't speak English as though he's just had a stroke turns out to be a wise move. So why doesn't it happen as the default?

When it came to the actual presentation of the football on the pitch, the cameras on wires zooming around above the pitch along with vivid colours have made this look more like a computer game World Cup. There have been plenty of blimp-based shots of stadiums and far too many of Crist O'Redentor, knocked up as he was by Irish builders, there up on the hill. If we were living in a slum under Christ's permanent gaze we'd have to wonder why he was allowing this to happen and, was there a chance of just a bit more food, please?

One other concern - and we acknowledge that our domestic broadcasters have no control - has been the directors' ceaseless search for good-looking women in the crowd, as though on one long perving mission. It is wearisome and outmoded. Football is not purely for the entertainment of men who need some sort of sexual stimulation every three minutes. Is it not possible for us to have an hour and a half's break from the objectification of women? At times it is as if we're being told women at football are only there to entertain male fantasies and that they are not people at all, but mere fancies upon which to feast our lecherous male eyes. It's football 2014, not Miss World 1970. Time to grow up and show some respect.

The massive 11 billion elephant in the slum this tournament has of course been The One Great Lie: that hosting the World Cup would somehow empower, advance, improve or otherwise embiggen Brazil. This has been shown to be the most terrific load of horsesh*t imaginable. In four days, FIFA will wordlessly zip up its relax-fit crimpoline slacks and slither out, taking all that lovely money with them and leaving Brazil wiping up the cum and tears and starring sadly at the space on the bedside table where the promised crumpled tenners should have been tossed.

One should always be careful of referring to a sporting defeat as a disaster, but Brazil going out at the semis in that fashion is surely one time to use that term justifiably. Even before the tournament, it felt that the'samba samba happy happy urchins and the jiggly smiling ladies because: futbal!' narrative was desperately thin, but broadcasters and media worldwide ate it up with a big old spoon. The BBC, to its credit and largely due to having Vickery, managed to give some sense of perspective, but ITV, from opening credits onwards, has pretty much drunk the Samba Kool Aid. Even the peasantry stoning the TV studio was glossed over as little more than a bit of Latin exuberance whereas if it was Liverpool fans, say, we feel judgement would have been somewhat harsher.

Clearly televising football for a huge audience is not necessarily the time for social studies, and if you've bought a product it's not unreasonable to sell it on with a gloss and a flourish, but there is serious, grim reporting to be done on the 'how, why and what the f*** now?' of this World Cup - and the Olympics too - and there hasn't been much in the coverage to suggest that the major broadcasters have the appetite. Fair enough like, it's only football, but in this case, you only have to look at the deranged tearful face of David Luiz to know that, actually, it quite profoundly wasn't.

John Nicholson and Alan Tyers

Check out John's new series of crime novels about life, death, sex and UEFA Cup football.

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Having a go at religion really isn't as cool and edgy as you'd like to think. Why don't you just stick to the football?
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