“It might also have something to do with BBC’s highlights presenter Colin Murray being such a turn-off,” suggested Charles Sale in his Daily Mail newspaper diary column last week – “it” being ITV’s daily World Cup highlights programme averaging a million viewers compared to the BBC’s 846,000. It is rare for ITV to outperform the BBC in this way, for the widely-acknowledged reason that ITV’s football coverage generally isn’t as good. Adrian Chiles may have closed the gap – he seems to be “such a turn-off” to some but if he’s popular with anyone at all it has to be an improvement on predecessors such as Bob Wilson.
There may be a simple reason for the ratings. The BBC’s ‘Match of the Day’ (MOTD) is scheduled for 10pm, straight after that night’s live game programme (and opposite both main channels main news bulletins). So the match highlights around which MOTD is based are transmitted twice in quick succession. And anyone near a telly who is among MOTD’s target audience will have already seen them. ITV’s highlights package starts up to an hour later – and will be a slick, well-structured football show compared to the monstrosity that is “James Cordern’s World Cup Live.” Cordern is far from my least favourite TV “personality.” But the show is an unwatchable mix of football programme and televised lads mag – exactly like previous monstrosities in the same ITV slots, (“World Cuppa” anyone?).
In that hour, an entirely new audience will have come home – those working late…or the “tea-time shift” in the pubs, the “one drink after work” brigade whose “one drink” turns readily into five. These people will not have seen the evening game and, very possibly, the two afternoon ones. There may not be many of them, but the gap between the ratings is only 154,000. Scheduling may not be the whole story, of course, although it’s difficult to believe that it hasn’t played some part. But “Colin Murray being such a turn-off?” Sale doesn’t offer any other thesis. Indeed, the comment was only a brief aside to a general point about ITV’s and BBC’s respective coverage. This has been a recurrent theme in Sale’s recent diaries, and he was, correctly, claiming these ratings as a near-unique ITV success in a competition where they have suffered “one setback after another.”
That he made space for the barb against Murray was no surprise. Such barbs have been another recurrent theme in his diaries, where Murray has been “annoying”, an “irritating Irish presenter,” who is “too clever by half,” and whose “left-field style grates with many listeners,” along with his “uncanny ability to irritate listeners to 5 Live.” That single reference to “left-field,” is the most detailed explanation Sale offers for his opinion. It’s as if I prefixed every Sale reference in this column with “self-important drunk” and left it at that. The bitterness seems to stretch back to the BBC’s shoddy treatment of former 5 Live presenter Mark Saggers and Murray having replaced Saggers in various radio slots.
Sale offers no historical or statistical evidence to back up his claims that Murray’s style has “grated” with listeners or is “irritating” or “annoying.” It could easily just be that Murray’s style grates with, irritates and annoys Sale. I’m a Murray fan. But I wouldn’t constantly refer to him as the “popular” Murray either on the basis of my personal opinion, or without making it clear that it is my personal opinion. Sale describes Murray’s rise through the BBC ranks as “making no sense whatsoever.” Again, he may not agree with Murray’s career trajectory, but surely he can understand that Murray’s experience and knowledge would make him a candidate for the various roles he’s filled, whatever he may think of Murray’s style.
The World Cup MOTD show is very much in the “MOTD 2” mould, the more light-hearted Sunday evening look at the weekend’s Premier League football which Murray will present from August. This, at times, has failed to give MOTD what some might feel is its necessary gravitas. It is the headline highlights programme after all. And there’s only 30 minutes, less credits, to play with, so the “funnies”, such as “Thatch of the Day” (haircuts) and the “Tom Davey award for best dive” (er…diving) might appear a waste of valuable time. Former Liverpool defender Craig Johnston might have been a figure of fun over the years, with his mixture of pony-tail and self-importance. But he had extremely valuable insights into the manufacture of the much-derided “Jabulani” match-ball, which demanded time the show didn’t have but demanded more serious attention than Murray provided.
The parody of Korean DPR TV coverage was tired satire on communist propaganda. And you could hear the weariness of Italian fans’ as they read “Godfather” film script excerpts during a stereotypical, mildly offensive introduction to the Italy/New Zealand highlights. One young woman nearly yawned her way through making us “an offer you can’t refuse.” And you couldn’t but be sympathetic. But overall, I’ve found MOTD a “must-watch” half-hour. Murray knows his stuff, and can be very funny. “Let’s see, who could I possibly turn to?” he wondered as the Nicolas Anelka story came up and he looked towards John Motson, Mick McCarthy and Lee Dixon, making McCarthy both squirm in his seat and laugh…and offer an opinion while he was, briefly, relaxed.
Murray conveys a genuine sense of enjoyment – including surprise at Lawrenson’s hitherto well-concealed comic timing, real awe at Motson’s recall of World Cup facts (“I’m frightened now”). And he’s professional. He is a far better discussion facilitator than Lineker, who is over-reliant on excruciating puns and far-too-well-prepared ad-libs and bonhomie. And there have been about 19 awkward silences during BBC’s live coverage – which includes MOTD. About 19 of these have occurred on Lineker’s watch. Perhaps if Sale were to watch the programme, his views on Murray might carry more some weight. For now, they sound like little Englander bitter and twisted prejudice. And we can’t be having that in the Daily Mail.