Monday 21 October 2019

Alliss, BBC and Masters remain a match made in heaven


Jon Rahm of Spain celebrates an eagle on the 8th hole during third round play of the 2018 Masters golf tournament at Augusta. Photo: Reuters
Jon Rahm of Spain celebrates an eagle on the 8th hole during third round play of the 2018 Masters golf tournament at Augusta. Photo: Reuters

Alan Tyers

There are two types of people in the world: those who would rather watch the US Masters on Sky Sports, and those who prefer watch coverage from the BBC.

There may be other types as well, but the puzzling make-up of people who have better things to do on a rainy April weekend than watch the Masters need not detain us here.

How did the two very different products compare?

The BBC coverage is not quite the same without Hazel Irvine, but her protégée, Eilidh Barbour, had a solid tournament as her replacement.


When she was a young girl, Barbour wrote to Irvine asking for some tips on how to get into broadcasting. They seem to have worked almost too well, a less generous person than Irvine might reflect.

The 'Ken on the Course' sections with the wise and gentle Ken Brown are about as civilised as it is possible to get in sports TV. And, most importantly, the BBC coverage has Peter Alliss.

Golf broadcasting's nonpareil has been in fine lyrical form for this year's renewal.

On Saturday evening, the very first sentence out of his mouth served to "fat-shame", as the modern vernacular would have it, a competitor. "Thank you Eilidh," his commentary began, "and here is the big-boned Spaniard."

Said individual would turn out to be Jon Rahm.

"Trousers full of legs, my mum would have said," Alliss further clarified. "Big lad."

A clear and shocking example of fatism, the sort of thing that has no place whatsoever in the modern BBC. Dreadful.

Given that there are entire departments of the corporation apparently dedicated to cracking down on This Sort Of Thing, the continued presence of Alliss is something of a miracle.

The sexism accusations are well documented. He said a woman might "get a new kitchen".

He warmed up for the 2017 Masters by giving an interview to Newsweek, saying: "I think women are more delicate than men. I like holding chairs for women. I enjoy the company of women. I don't want to be bullied by them."

The sense was that the end of an era was approaching. Alliss himself speculated that 2017 might be his last, and yet 2018 finds him more popular than ever.

Other gems this year have included: "Oh look at Rory, the lone figure in the azaleas. Where's Titchmarsh when you need him?"

Then there was: "Freddie Couples, he'd have been a Labrador in another world."

The BBC coverage was long on nostalgia: in-depth chats with the likes of Sandy Lyle and Ian Woosnam, all as familiar and perennial as the super slow-motion shots of dogwood flowers, verdant greens and stewards who would happily kill your entire family if you unwrapped a boiled sweet at the wrong moment.

Meanwhile, Sky's approach is technical, analysis to the fore, extremely in-depth and rather earnest.

The producers of it never met an on-screen gizmo they did not like. There are plenty of adverts. It is, in its own way, excellent.

Yet it is not Alliss and the BBC. For those of us who only have one or two appointments a year with golf, the sport, rightly or wrongly, is indivisible from the man.

He might not be to the taste of those who want sport on TV to be all 3D graphics and careful commentary, but not everybody wants inclusion and modernity.

The Augusta National and Peter Alliss are the perfect marriage of medium and artist, and it is hard to detect much appetite for any kind of update in either.

Irish Independent

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