Monday, 26 March 2018

Watching the Boat Race on the BBC was like being being lectured by some aged, earnest, humourless left-wing aunt

I rarely watch the Oxford-Cambridge boat race, but my wife had it on when we sat down to a late lunch on Saturday, so I thought I might as well. After about quarter of an hour of the race build-up (races build-up, I should say, because the real thing is preceded by a female version) I decided I might as well not, because it was pissing me off quite severely. First, there was some guff about getting state schools involved in rowing (why?), then an interview where a black co-presenter interviewed two black kids, then a female interviewer interviewed some female rowers about how great it was that more women were rowing and what a battle it had been to get women's rowing established in the face of male... whatever, plus some tosh about how the boat race should be used to get the public more interested in rowing...

Why does everything have to be about something else these days? Why does the coverage of a boat race between elite teams of rowers representing two elite universities have to be turned into an endless finger-wagging lecture about inclusivity and "outreach"? Why can't it just be about people with little or no interest in competitive rowing - or any intention of ever taking it up - enjoying the spectacle of hard-working athletes whooshing along some of the loveliest stretches of the Thames on elegant planks, while feeling that they're somehow part of a delightfully inexplicable tradition? Why can't we just take pleasure in the improbable ongoing popularity of a pointless annual contest that belongs to the pre-war era when working class and lower middle class children eagerly devoured novels and comics about the goings-on at the sort of wildly privileged private boarding schools they and their children would never attend?

There was a concerted attempt to justify the enormous cost of the 2012 London Olympics by trying to convince tax and rate-payers that the event would result in a spectacular upsurge in public participation in sport. Despite the enormous success of the games in terms of British medals and public excitement and a general feelgood factor (most welcome, as the country had recently suffered through 13 years of the Blair/Brown Terror), there was absolutely no resulting increase in the public's appetite for becoming involved in  sport. Good! Because the Olympics had absolutely nothing to do with "inspiring the next generation" - one of the things that made it such an enjoyable spectacle was the fact that it served no utilitarian purpose whatsoever: to claim it did would be like pretending that we fight wars and go into space in order to accelerate the pace of scientific invention.

In a  time when what the nation mainly seems to share is tragedies - terrorist attacks, the Hillsborough Disaster,  major train crashes, tower block fires, etc. - it's a relief that there are still a handful of sporting events (the Olympics, the Grand National, the Boat Race, the Ashes) which are - more or less - shared national events. I wish our political masters and the BBC would stop trying to use them to further their own social and political agendas.


  1. The style of the BBC's Boat Race coverage was recommended by Cambridge Analytica following intensive academic research.

    Next year, Oxford Analytica.

  2. Or Aussie Analytica, which is employed by the Australian senior leadership team to scan social media for data on the least detectable cheating methodologies.

    Great post, Mr Gronmark. The enduring legacy of the Olympics can be seen in the faces of West Ham football supporters as they moan and whinge that the stadium given away to their club is too far from their favourite whelk and eel pie stall.

  3. What the country really needs is more Clare Balding on the box. If I don't see her at least twice a week I get withdrawal symptoms. She was everywhere at the Winter Olympics, we've had a bit of a break and now she's popped up intoning knowledgeably about the boat race. No doubt she'll be back at Wimbledon this summer. She goes Rambling on Radio 4 and cycling around Blighty on BBC4.
    I can't honestly see why she hasn't already replaced our old pal Gary Lineker on Match of the Day. And then there's the snooker, Gardeners' World, Question Time...

    1. You missed out Crufts for C4. When the BBC eventually get round to doing yet another remake of Kenneth Clark's "Civilisation", I fully expect it to be presented by Ms Balding.

  4. Before Desperate Dan takes over at the BBC she will have to eliminate the Eskimo Dwarf, Andy Pandy over on "Antiques" and The Glasgie Bomb-shell with the basso voice. Big task. And then she will have to deconstruct the great comedy barony which is infested by deeply unfunny and shouty people. And then Hollywood can make a film called "Chins" with a threatening music track.