TV WATCH Review of the month on screen
The price of London accommodation and the infamously exorbitant cost for fledgling comics to put a show on at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival means stand-up comedy has entered the same rarefied phase music endured with Mumford And Sons’ ilk a decade ago. Interchangeable Home Counties posh boys such as Ivo Graham, Rhys James and Ed Gamble are comedy’s new dominant mainstream voices. Nowhere was this troubling level of privilege better exemplified than a recent Mock The Week (BBC2, November 8), when James made a searingly original observation on the differing eloquence of footballers and rugby players. Sportsmen from a predominantly middle-class upbringing speak in a more relaxed manner than their working-class counterparts, whose every comment is endlessly scrutinised. Ahahaha!
James’ fatuousness was neatly skewered in passing on an excellent history of the England team ahead of their 1,000th game, the 7-0 hammering of Montenegro. Gareth Southgate told England’s Grand (ITV, November 12) how he had urged players to stop treating the media as the enemy; cut to Harry Maguire explaining he now understands better why the press criticise players after a defeat. It was one of many clear-headed moments in a film happy to go beyond the obvious footage for a change: Paul Gascoigne’s Italia 90 tears were only shown briefly in the background, as part of a discussion on the unfortunate way his mental health problems were handled.
An unusually well-balanced mix of current and former players, journalists and historians allowed England’s Grand to feature the appropriate voice each time. Hagiography was avoided – Gascoigne’s extra-time miss in the Euro 96 semi-final against Germany was given an interesting perspective from Ian Wright,
still visibly upset 23 years later, convinced he’d have scored it if only he’d been on as substitute. “I can’t let that go,” frowned Wright. “That was a big mistake by Terry Venables.”
The documentary started by telling the story of CW Alcock, the inventor of international football, which is not generally the way football programmes on any channel begin. Rather than the usual dumbed-down football show tropes of, say, Jack Whitehall and Paddy McGuinness trying to recreate Iceland fans’ Viking thunderclap, David Goldblatt reasoned
England’s Euro 2016 exit was symbolic of how the country was torn apart by the Brexit referendum two days earlier. It was far from the only political moment in England’s Grand, with Jonathan Wilson making explicit the contrast between Southgate’s measured comments about the country he manages and Boris Johnson’s behaviour on the world stage.
Leon Mann carried on the social context, pointing out that Wembley isn’t such a bad base for England’s team after all, as it’s in one of the country’s most diverse neighbourhoods. This was immediately after vintage footage of Wembley’s first stadium manager reciting the various methods fans had tried to get in without paying. Tantalising archive interviews with Walter Winterbottom, Billy Wright and an erachangeover meeting between Brian Clough and Alf Ramsey helped ensure almost everything after the Second World War was given proper status. Freed from having to pacify Roy Keane, Lee Dixon was very funny recalling his role in San Marino’s eight-second goal in 1993.
There were occasional lapses: Glenn Hoddle’s debatable role as the archetypal misunderstood maverick was given more screen time than Stanley Matthews and Bobby Moore combined. Generally, though, England’s Grand was as informative on the main ITV channel as previous ITV4 football documentaries like Keane and Vieira: Best of Enemies.
Hoddle wasn’t interviewed in England’s Grand, but he was there in his regular punditry role for the Montenegro thrashing (ITV, November 14). Harrumphing away, like a colleague about to tell you why the council’s new parking restrictions are actually what the town centre needs, Hoddle’s ability to make football seem a chore highlights the strange contrast between the excellence of ITV’s football documentary team and the dispiriting nature of actually watching the sport on the channel.
Mind you, such was the joyful atmosphere of England ensuring European Championship qualification that, half an hour in, came a moment to typify the still-unexpected delights of watching Southgate’s England team: after Marcus Rashford made it 4-0, Hoddle actually made a passable joke: “Geoff Hurst would fancy his chances against this lot, if he’d brought his boots.” OK, it’s hardly Kevin Bridges or Victoria Wood at their finest, but it’d be enough to make Mock The Week’s current bookers take notice. And if Glenn Hoddle is making viewers smile, ITV really has had a good month.
NUMBERS GAME The figures behind the facts
13 77, 76 8
77, 76 8
The number of times VAR overruled correct decisions in the two weeks preceding the
November international break.
The successive league titles, one short of a European record, won by BATE Borisov in Belarus, ended by Dinamo Brest in November.
The record crowd that saw England’s women play Germany at Wembley on November 9, over 30,000 higher than their previous record.