We spent Friday in the BBC 2012 office watching students running around Leicestershire. This was a test of how we’re going to broadcast the Olympic Torch Relay when it starts its journey around the UK on 19 May and there are some innovative bits of technology that will offer close-to-live coverage for at least 75 per cent of the journey. I know some people will think this sounds like creating the Paint-Drying Channel. But we reckon the torch’s arrival will mark the point when mass audiences become interested in the Olympics, and the ability to follow its journey across the UK on TV and online could turn into one of the media hits of the early summer. This isn’t wishful thinking. In one day, two million people viewed the street-by-street route when we published it on our website; and when the torch reaches Plymouth or Aberdeen or Lincoln it will create big moments for those cities. If we can glue it all together with continuous video of the torch on its 7,000-mile progress through town and country, this will be a picture of the UK that we’ll never create again in our lifetimes.
One thing the runners in Lincolnshire might like to do is rescue the Olympic mascots, Wenlock and Mandeville. On a recent trip to Skegness I found multiple cuddly versions of the critters imprisoned in an amusement arcade on the pier. They were in one of those machines where you try to grab a toy with a remote-controlled crane and it’s not entirely clear that the London 2012 brand strategy was to have them available in this way for 50p a pop. But they’re a bargain at that price – if, of course, you have a steady arm.
My home city of Bradford has had a tough year for sport. The rugby league club, Bradford Bulls, were in danger of going out of business; and Bradford City football club, in the Premier League just over a decade ago, have been flirting with a relegation that would have taken them out of the Football League altogether. Fortunately both seem to have been brought to safety by George Galloway, who on Question Time linked his election as MP for Bradford West to a better run of form from the Bulls and a rare away victory for City. As someone who has spent many hours at Odsal and Valley Parade, I hope it’s not compromising my BBC impartiality to say I’d welcome anyone or anything that gives them a boost. But, after years of sporting decline in Bradford, I suspect the only politicians who should tie their fortunes to football clubs are the MPs for places such as Manchester, where Alex Ferguson or Roberto Mancini are more likely to see you home. Galloway could yet face a re-election campaign based on results from the Blue Square Premier.
Cutting the crap
Here at the BBC, it’s selection time. By the summer we’ll have a new director general. For the papabile, there’s understandable tension; and I’m not sure that disappears once the white smoke has been seen over Television Centre. Mark Thompson is unusual in having seen out a full term, but among his recent predecessors there were the forced resignations of Greg Dyke and Alasdair Milne – while Michael Checkland was edged out early by John Birt. For Birt himself, there was the pain of seeing his inheritance handed to the arch-populist Dyke – who wooed the staff as never before and pledged to “cut the crap”, before being submerged under the stuff by Lord Hutton. But whatever the personal ups and downs, the organisation continues and audiences still have their Today programme, Horizon and EastEnders – which is how it should be. Lord Reith’s mission to inform, educate and entertain still works 90 years on; and it would be bonkers for any candidate to want to change that.
Grumbling in the stands
Less entertaining was last Saturday afternoon at Arsenal, where these days I have a season ticket. The 0-0 draw with Chelsea achieved historic levels of tedium, and 90 minutes felt like 90 days. In fairness, this has been an entertaining season overall – but you wouldn’t know it from the grumbly old chaps who sit near me. They never stop carping, even when we’re winning. Why they keep paying the Emirates’ eye-watering ticket prices is difficult to fathom, because you sense that if ever Arsenal win a trophy again it will come as the most profound disappointment to them.
On the grapevine
My friend Jeremy Vine, the Radio 2 presenter, has written a book to be published in June. It has the virtues of being amusing and almost all true. But there is the odd raised eyebrow because it’s his memoirs of his time at the BBC – and Jeremy is emphatically of the here and now rather than an old buffer looking back. This means he is the first in his generation to tell some of the anecdotes and we know that a first-mover advantage for one is a disadvantage for others. Jeremy has sought to take the sting out of this by sharing widely his drafts and I’m among those who received an email with the couple of lines about me. I make it a rule never to be offended and I wasn’t. But will others regard the advance notice as an act of courtesy, or does it give them longer to plot how to tweak the Vine tail in response? It could be a good debate for a lunchtime show on Radio 2.
The humour games
On BBC television, the wonderful comedy Twenty Twelve has finished its run. There is a suspicion among our project team that it’s actually a double-bluff: a comedy pretending to be a documentary that is really a documentary. But those hoping for outrage at the London Olympic organising committee will be disappointed: they love it as much as we do. In fact, the only complaint is that it’s not quite as funny as some of the things that really happen during the planning of the Olympic Games. There isn’t much evidence of the father of the Games, Pierre de Coubertin, being a big one for jokes; but we can at least say that London has a better chance than Beijing of adding a sense of humour to the Olympic movement.
Roger Mosey is the BBC’s director of London 2012