‘Shh! Cricket!’ my grandfather Ken Delingpole used to say whenever the cricket came on the wireless.
‘Shh! Cricket!’ my grandfather Ken Delingpole used to say whenever the cricket came on the wireless. It was a family joke, indicative of just how boring Delingpoles all found the world’s most boring game.
But then my father bred with a Price and the Prices are the exact opposite — county squash and tennis players, decent golfers, sporting nuts. As a result I’ve spent my whole life being torn apart by contradictory genes: crap at throwing, hitting, kicking and catching, but always well up for a game of tennis, footie, badders, squash, ping-pong, rounders…; very sniffy about people who talk sport all the time but — in secret — totally glued to the TV whenever a golf Major is on, or Chelsea are playing.
It’s the same with cricket. Though it’s about the one game I hate playing (horrid hard ball; your team getting cross when you don’t catch the horrid, hard ball as it plummets terrifyingly from really high; being bowled out before you’ve had a chance to settle in; the hay fever; never being asked to bowl), I’m still quite jealous of those tedious spods in stripey-banded panamas who know everything there is to know about W.G. Grace and Harold Larwood and Jack Hobbs and Bodyline.
So I was grateful for Empire of Cricket (BBC2, Sunday) for filling in a few gaps. It helped me make up my mind about Bodyline: that Jardine may have been a gent but he was also a cad, and I don’t think it was cricket beating the Australians by aiming at their heads. It taught me useful stuff about styles of cricket, like the off-drive being considered a proper gent’s stroke because it looks elegant, whereas hitting it the other way is generally thought oiky and underhand and wrong. And so on.
But the programme tried to cram far too much into too short a space of time. It felt rushed and, in places, sketchy. Why couldn’t the BBC have given it more room? It’s not as though a documentary series entailing the odd talking head and lots of stock footage is going to cost a great deal, per hour, to make.
The BBC is abrim with well-meaning ideas that don’t quite work. Among them were half the programmes it commissioned to celebrate its Poetry Season. OK, so Simon Schama did a pretty decent job on John Donne — except why, in God’s name, did we have to endure the spectacle of Fiona Shaw reciting ‘Batter my heart’ in the course of a sweaty jog along the beach? — but Simon Armitage on Gawain and The Green Knight (BBC4, Thursday) was a bit of a dud.
I feared the worst when, within the first 30 seconds, he tossed out the suggestion that it was Britain’s first eco-poem (What? You mean because it’s got the word ‘green’ in it, Si?) but the programme’s main problem was that, even though it had recruited a professional poet to talk about a poem, the poem barely got a look in.
No, it didn’t help my understanding of the poem to visit Tintagel Castle to watch two men in armour bash each other; nor to visit a Yorkshire working man’s club and discover that some of the dialect words in ‘Gawain’ were a bit northern. Popularising a medieval poem by an anonymous author is a tough gig and I’m not sure exactly how I would have done it. But I would definitely have included more of the verse, read in the original language, perhaps with me as Sir Gawain, a spray-painted Brian Blessed as the green knight, and either Liv Tyler or Scarlett Johansson for the scenes where the Lady Bercilak tempts poor Gawain’s purity with all manner of seductive ruses. Well, I’d have watched it, anyway.