Thursday 8 December 2016

Television review: The boys and girls of summer

* Glastonbury (BBC Interactive)
* Wimbledon (BBC Interactive)
* Women's World Cup (Sky News)

Published 06/07/2015 | 02:30

Illustration: Jim Cogan
Illustration: Jim Cogan

Wimbledon used to stand there on the BBC as the epitome of the Middle England summer, a full fortnight in which no members of the lower orders were to be seen in the studio or on the premises in general - there were a few blackguards on court, such as John McEnroe, but a certain amount of vulgarity was always to be expected from the professional sportsman.

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Now that fortnight has been effectively extended, with Glastonbury being shown in the weekend before Wimbledon, providing a perfect prelude to this celebration of the virtues of the English middle class, whatever they are.

There are no chavs at Glastonbury, none of the sort of lads who might end up on Big Brother. Because those people have no taste.

For this miraculous weekend, a city is created in the English countryside in which there is no underclass, only middle-class people and people who are even more middle-class again, and ultimately, to paraphrase the singer with Iron Maiden, "people like Gwyneth Paltrow living in an air conditioned yurt".

Not only has Glastonbury come to represent these values, it celebrates the nation's culture at its most quintessential - the tradition of inviting a great English rock'n'roll band such as The Who, The Stones, or Motorhead, is now as ingrained in all our minds as is an image of the Tower of London or Westminster Abbey.

These are living monuments, as perennial as the grass at the Chelsea Flower Show, or at Wimbledon indeed - with the slight contrast that the legends of rock may be pretending to swig from a bottle of Jack Daniel's, while the tennis players are pretending to drink Robinsons Barley Water.

And straddling these worlds of sport and rock'n'roll there is the magnificent McEnroe, whose commentaries for the BBC are so excellent, and wise.

McEnroe will happily declare that he has changed his mind on certain matters, since the days when he was mad with rage at most things. It is an attractive trait, this ability to recognise your mistakes, and laugh at them, a trait conspicuous by its absence during the appearance of Charlie McCreevy at the Banking Enquiry.

McCreevy has been "in character" since he was about 17, and seems determined to stay that way.

 

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But there is still rage in McEnroe, as he gave out about "reverse sexism", this strange decision of the Wimbledon authorities to have "heat breaks" for women but not for men. In this, he was being dangerously logical, what with the men's matches being the best of five sets, whereas the women will never play more than three sets.

Yet it is also possible to see this as Wimbledon's way of putting women down, of making it clear in their patronising way that they regard the likes of Serena Williams as being more fragile creatures than the men, protecting them from the terrible heat for their own good.

In return for this, women may get to stay alive a bit longer.

But these are complicated trade-offs, as we saw during the Sky News preview of England's appearance in the semi-final of the Women's World Cup in Canada, which was described by the reporter as "the biggest game in English football for decades".

I think that football women would not thank him for this, for forcing this false comparison between men's football and women's football, and for doing it deliberately - it was open to him to describe it as the biggest game ever in English women's football, but he decided to make a Statement.

And since it was an obviously dubious statement, again it merely patronised when it was meant to please. It invited the equally fatuous argument on the other side, that there is no Leo Messi to be seen out there in Canada, that the goalkeepers are much smaller, all that old twaddle.

Then again it may have been well meant, unlike those crucial scenes during the election campaign in Britain when news programmes would show David Cameron ostentatiously opening the door of the car for his wife Samantha - which might seem like a vaguely chivalrous gesture, until the next scene, which would feature some servant in turn opening the door for Cameron.

The message was clear - the most important person in that car, was the one who had a trained professional to do his door-opening for him.

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