Wimbledon BBC Radio 5 Live, Daily
Sunday with Miriam
RTÉ 1, Sunday, 10am
LBC, Weekdays, 10am
It came to my attention last week that you can listen to Wimbledon on the radio. BBC Radio 5 Live provides this amazing service, proving again that radio is the greatest medium ever invented, all the better with the assistance of the internet machine on which you can find your station in perfect condition.
Even if you have no interest in tennis – and I don’t have much – it is important to listen to Wimbledon on the radio just to confirm it can be done.
Historically, the BBC was known for its cricket commentaries on Radio 3, but cricket is relatively easy. There is an ebb and flow that lends itself to ramblings and digressions, the only trick then is to keep it going for about eight hours a day.
Tennis seems much harder to do – Djokovic hits it to Nadal, back to Djokovic, back to Nadal, back to Djokovic, back to Nadal – yet the BBC’s main commentators Tony Livesey and Gigi Salmon do it tremendously. Like it’s no trouble at all.
In truth, I’d say it is harder to commentate on Wimbledon than to win Wimbledon itself, but they manage it somehow.
They just squeeze in an extraordinary number of different words to illuminate for the listener the basic procedure of one player hitting it to another player and back again. And they have room for the bit of banter too, because that is the law.
It is another triumph of public service broadcasting in the finest BBC tradition, and another thing that will disappear if the present UK government achieves its cherished ambition of destroying the BBC – because that’s the kind of thing this government does.
Indeed, if you’re listening to the great James O’Brien, it seems that they do little else but the demolition of anything that is any good.
O’Brien was a guest on Sunday with Miriam recently, due to his role as the Leader of the Opposition in the UK – actually he is not in politics, as such, but as a presenter on London’s LBC his is probably the most important voice in Britain against the Tories. He is the main man shouting Stop.
During one of his LBC soliloquies, he spoke last week about his recent visit to Ireland in which he appeared with Miriam at the Dalkey Book Festival and on RTÉ radio. He felt at times like “a guide to a safari park, or a freak show”, trying to explain the essentially inexplicable nature of Brexit and its perpetrators.
His occasional appearances on Newstalk’s The Hard Shoulder also leave him with this feeling that Ireland is looking at Britain “in a state of complete wonder…what the hell are you doing over there?...how can this country have become so detached from reality so quickly?…what on earth is that ludicrous manchild doing in Downing Street?”
As he roams daily around the Serengeti of Tory misrule, O’Brien can be seen as part of a grand tradition of Irish broadcasters in the UK.
He was born to an Irish mother, and given up for adoption to the Irish journalist Jim O’Brien and his wife. Like others in that illustrious company, he should not be regarded as some sort of a safari park exhibit himself; instead our best current affairs broadcasters should be trying to emulate him, as once they emulated Eamonn Andrews or Terry Wogan.
Indeed it is probably a sign of our evolution that O’Brien is as truculent as those men were agreeable. More than any other serious presenter in these islands, he has freed himself from the dead hand of “impartiality”.
He has correctly deduced that to be “impartial” in the ancient BBC or RTÉ way toward the incessant propaganda of the far right and their media allies is to be complicit. That to be “objective” is to be biased against that which is factually accurate.
Irish broadcasters were facing another modern media challenge last Monday, with their coverage of the controversial GAA football brawl outside the tunnel at Croke Park – at least they all framed it as a controversy.
From Morning Ireland all the way to Off the Ball, they talked it through as an unusual event, a kind of scandal.
But this kind of carry-on is not much more unusual in Gaelic games than, say, a penalty kick. What you needed were the motormouth Wimbledon commentators calmly describing every single blow like it was just part of the game.
That might work.