Ah the Ashes. In recent years the Ashes have turned from something that was wholly and completely unattainable, into Jodie Marsh: they’re easy, you just have to turn up, polish your balls and aim for the face. And watching the last three has been an unqualified joy. Schadenfreude is all the more freude-full when it’s the Australians. There’s nothing quite like seeing Ricky Ponting adopt the expression of a man who has just been told that the actor who plays Harold Bishop in Neighbours has run off with his wife.
So, even though the last series ended about 45 minutes ago, it was still exciting to turn on SkySports late last Wednesday night. But, as we all know, the next few days of cricket were like the 97 election for the Tories: utter capitulation to a maniac with bad hair.
But let’s talk about the coverage. The Sky coverage is good. Their pundits are all slick, professional and not afraid of a pink shirt. In fact, you could put David Gower in a shell suit and still want to sign over power of attorney to him. He just looks so reassuring. The only real problem is Strauss.
He was in poor form in England a few months ago and he still looks shaky. He’s just a bit dull. Dull makes a good captain but a bad pundit. When you’re captain you need to stay calm and think clearly, whatever happens. When you’re a commentator you need to do just the opposite. Look at Botham. You need to be expansive, make silly judgements and throw in the odd joke about David Lloyd’s personal life.
Atherton gets away with it because he’s simply very clever and expresses things beautifully. Hussain annoys everyone so much that he makes for good television. Warne is sort of mesmerising in the way that seeing Paul O’Grady present the News at 10 in the make up of Lily Savage would be mesmerising. But Strauss. He needs to spend more time in the nets drinking shandy’s with Botham and Bumble.
Jack Whitehall has been on TV a lot in the last week, almost overshadowing a certain doctor. Fresh Meat on Monday, Never Mind The Buzzcocks on Tuesday, his new show Backchat on Wednesday and Have I Got News For You on Friday. That’s a lot of Jack.
Jack Whitehall is the enfant (not so) terrible of comedy. His success is startling. He’s what would happen if Frankie Boyle head-butted all the wobbly bits off Michael McIntyre. Whitehall playfully ruffles your hair with an anecdote about his irritable father, and then knees you in the stomach with a quip about Anne Frank. It’s surprising and entertaining.
It’s his father, Michael, who is the real star of Jack’s new show. The format is the basic chat show, except with the interviewer’s dad interjaculating all over the place. This week the guests were Jeremy Paxman and Danny Dyer.
Jack sits behind a desk just a little too far from the sofa where the guests sit and his dad reclines, in brown leather armchair, just at the end of the sofa – almost like another guest. It’s a set-up designed to unsettle the guests, and it works. Paxman had the assurance of a man who knew he wasn’t comfortable. He didn’t quite know where to look: at Jack in front or at Jack’s dad, positioned awkwardly behind. It’s quite clever really, in a BBC 3 kind of way.
Michael Whitehall plays the gruff old father well; by turns embarrassing, rude and dryer than the Gobi desert. He’s the sort of father that, on your eighteenth birthday, would take you to the Garrick club for supper and then buy you a prostitute. One of those old-school, old cads that smoke Sobraines outside the Gay Hussar and reminisce about the time Richard Harris took a shit in Soho square.
The show is really just a vehicle for Michael’s personality. And it shows that the tree doesn’t grow far from the apple. Soon we might be seeing almost as much of Michael as we are of Jack.