John Inverdale declares he has 'never been so popular' as backlash grows over BBC's revamped Wimbledon highlights
John Inverdale declared that he has "never been so popular" as the backlash grew against the BBC's revamped "mess" of a Wimbledon highlights show.
Inverdale, who presented Today at Wimbledon for 14 years, was dropped by the BBC this year to make way for the rebranded Wimbledon 2Day, hosted by Clare Balding.
The Radio 5Live commentator found himself in trouble after declaring on air that player Marion Bartoli was "not much of a looker” and was this year relegated to the commentary box in SW19.
But the revamped programme has been universally panned and its chatty format and gimmicks declared “awkward” and patronising as viewers demand a return to concise analysis and more action from the day’s matches.
Such is the unpopularity of Wimbledon 2Day that a Twitter campaign called “bring back John Inverdale” has attracted thousands of supporters.
As Inverdale strolled around the sun-drenched ground on Thursday, fans slapped him on the back, telling him: “We miss you John.” He told a friend he had never been so popular and that if he stood in one spot all day, 5,000 people would probably approach him.
When asked about the furore, Inverdale remained tight-lipped, but smiled: “I am aware that people are talking about it.”
The BBC last night refused to reveal how many complaints had been made about the new Wimbledon 2Day format. As the backlash gained momentum, a BBC spokeswoman said they would not be releasing the number of complaints received because the media coverage made it "unrepresentative".
She would say only that it had attracted 78 complaints within hours of the first broadcast on Monday evening, whilst hinting that the controversial format would be changed to meet the demands of the audience.
Other high profile former players and pundits including Andrew Castle and Greg Rusedski declined to comment on the row yesterday. But privately, many BBC stars were said to be appalled and embarrassed about the new show.
Viewers have branded it an “over-produced embarrassment” and an insult to viewers who simply wanted to watch the tennis highlights after getting home from work.
When the issue was discussed on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, presenter Sarah Montague was forced to admit they had failed to find anyone to go on air to defend it.
Alison Graham, TV editor at the Radio Times, said she had tuned in to find Balding "looking really uncomfortable, propping up what looking like a nightclub table”.
She added: “It looked like generally a cross between the ideal home exhibition and a bad night club - the whole set - and then a lot of people standing at the back who - were they in a taxi queue? Were they queuing up for the toilets? Who are these people? and it was just a great mass of mess basically.”
Asked whether she would like to comment on the backlash, Balding said: “No, I wouldn’t actually."
A BBC spokeswoman said: “The focus of the highlights show remains the tennis which forms the vast part of the programme along with analysis from expert pundits.
"This is a new look for the show this year which we would expect to evolve as the fortnight progresses.”
Asked how the format had evolved in the wake of criticism, she said she would not be providing a running commentary on the show.