Books: Visions Before Midnight — Harry Commentator | clivejames.com
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Harry Commentator

By a tragic fluke of inattention I missed the immortal moment when Frank Bough said, ‘Harry Commentator is your carpenter,’ but otherwise this reporter was in close attendance on most of the week’s detritus, miscalculation and trivia. The only serious omission was one’s failure to watch Ludovic Kennedy conducting The U-Boat War (BBC1).

Usually one likes to be on hand when Ludo is sinking units of the German Navy, to catch that elegiac stiff lower register when he intones over Scharnhorst’s or Bismarck’s imminent departure for the bottom of the Atlantic. Bubbles of fuel oil come up, mountains of metal go down, and by now the Kriegsmarine is wearing thin. The subs are surely the fag-end of the subject. But the Japanese, be it remembered, had plenty of capital ships: in my recollection Ludo hasn’t yet sunk a single one of them. There’s no reason why the perennial scenario shouldn’t be trotted out once, or even thrice, again.

Anyhow, back to business. On Cup Final (BBC1) the Duchess of Kent seemed to be rendering her own version, delivered sideways to a companion, of ‘Abide With Me’. As far as I could tell from reading her enchanting lips, it took the form of an uninterrupted stream of chat. Her rendition of ‘God Save the Queen’, on the other hand, stuck close to the original.

Among the preliminaries to the match was a foot-race, undoubtedly staged so that the BBC could bring to an apogee of perfection its age-old pretence of traumatised astonishment at David Bedford coming second. The match itself yielded little of interest apart from football. The carpentry was remarkably restrained, only rising to the exalted heights we expect from David Coleman when Leeds’s Madeley ran flat-out into Sunderland’s Guthrie and jolted him sideways out of his jock-strap like a rogue truck uprooting a parking meter. ‘Interesting watching that challenge by Madeley.’

Later in the week, on Sportsnight (BBC1), the boys were back to form. Some of the Russian gymnasts had been brought over by the British Amateur Gymnastics Association, which concerns itself with amateur gymnastics, and the Daily Mirror, which concerns itself with professional money-making. Considering this disparity, it was remarkable how the Daily Mirror’s name sprang to prominence in both the camera-work and the carpentry.

Tourischeva re-established her ascendancy: her beautiful programme on the asymmetric bars has the mature inevitability we have so far missed in the work of the more spectacular Olga Korbut. Olga was there too, the sound-waves of the BBC’s hysterical build-up still raging around her pretty head. She was on rotten form. The gems from Francis Lai that were emanating from a very bad piano — played, with matching skill, by persons unknown — trickled to a halt when, or perhaps just before, Olga mucked up her back flip on the beam. She also goofed on the asymmetric bars, so it was not surprising to hear Alan Weeks get to the heart of the matter with his usual epigrammatic precision. ‘That’, he crooned, ‘was Olga Korbut at her best.’ He would have said the same if she’d flown sideways off the bars and landed head first in the carpentry box.

13 May, 1973