An unglamorous meeting room in Victoria with a view of a construction site was the venue for the final meeting of the Invictus Games board before the event begins less than three weeks from now. I signed up for the project at the end of last year because it was a chance to work again with some of the people who delivered London 2012 – with a good cause attached. But in the months since then the mission of supporting our wounded, injured and sick service personnel through the power of sport has become a genuinely stirring one.
Whatever you think about the wars of the 21st century, these are men and women whose lives have been changed for ever; and we saw in the Paralympics how sport can transcend disability. Some of the performances next month in the Olympic Park will be slower and less expert, but I’ll be astonished if spectators and TV viewers aren’t enthralled and uplifted by what they see.
Harry talks human
The Games wouldn’t have happened without Prince Harry. I sense the NS isn’t the most natural place to praise princes, but it was Harry’s experience at the Warrior Games in the US that drove him to create Invictus here. He turns up at every meeting and is a royal mile away from his tabloid image, turning out to be smart, politically astute and good at “doing human”. If you define a successful politician as someone most voters would like to go for a beer with, Harry, in another life, would be in electoral landslide territory.
Keep the flame alight
A trip to Japan this summer was a cheering reminder of what hosting major sport events can achieve. I was working with the Japanese broadcaster NHK, which will be covering the Tokyo 2020 Olympics; and it was initially disconcerting to find that my hosts had collated all the comments I’d made as a BBC executive about London 2012 from 2005 onwards. There were one or two “Lord knows why I said that” moments, but it also showed how events that bring the nation together are at the heart of what public service broadcasting is about. Sport is uniquely good at that, but the trick Britain pulled off in the summer of 2012 was to have all its national institutions working together to create and capture the spirit of a new kind of country. Glasgow 2014 did the same for Scotland within the Commonwealth.
That’s why I envy the Japanese having their chance to redefine their country to themselves and to the world in six years’ time; and in this August of unremittingly awful news it would be good for us to remind ourselves about what the UK got right in 2012 and how we might keep that spirit alive.
Gee up, Newsnight
It’s possibly because of the grimness of the news agenda that I find myself ending the day with BBC2’s Newsnight less often than I used to. I admire the energy that Ian Katz has brought to the role of editor, but there’s a sense he could be flogging a dying horse.
Twenty-four-hour news channels and all the commentary online make it ever harder to offer a definitive take on the day, and over on Radio 4 the Today programme mops up the key interviews. The senior correspondents’ pieces for the adjacent BBC and ITV ten o’clock bulletins cut away yet more of Newsnight’s territory. Jeremy Paxman’s ability to create a sense of theatre even on a dull night is missed.
I would move the programme to a new slot: start it at 11pm and give it up to an hour, with a brief to be more discursive. It should improve its coverage of science and culture. It could incorporate analysis of the newspaper first editions in the way that works well on Sky and the BBC News channel, and focus on intelligent viewers and alternative voices. It should disregard the ratings. One reason this may never happen is that there’d be one of those spurious media fusses about losing the 10.30 slot; but unless the programme is reimagined, and radically, it will merely lurk as the ghost of glories past.
Footie drama in sharp acoustics
Match of the Day celebrated its 50th anniversary as an altogether sprightlier thoroughbred. It is something of a miracle that such a great footballer as Gary Lineker is a wonderful presenter too, because there isn’t a long list of former England players who could be decent pundits, let alone steer the whole show.
A curiosity to some people is that one of the best commentators in the business, John Murray, still occupies himself mainly with radio and hasn’t moved across to television. But why should he? If the pictures in a drama are better on the radio, so football in sound-only offers a platform for a commentator in which he alone captures the game for listeners; and that’s more exciting than telling people what they can already see on a 40-inch HD screen.
Nothing like a long-eared cat
An addition to my life in Cambridge in the past few months has been a basset hound called YoYo. She has proven how good an ice-breaker dogs can be: she was an instant hit with most of the students, and has the placid temperament and soulful eyes that win affection. I say “dog” but that’s not how she’s officially categorised, because college rules allow no animals save for the Master being allowed to keep a cat. I therefore received permission from the Selwyn College Council to acquire “a very large cat”.
A visiting conference of American judges thought this was a glorious manifestation of Cambridge traditions, and for a while every time I left the house with the dog in tow I was greeted by a shout of, “Hey, I love your cat!” Happily, YoYo is not alone as a college dog; I believe there are two more in residence in Master’s Lodges elsewhere, with at least one more expected this October.
Cats should look out: dogs are on the march in academia, even if they have to gain entry under false pretences. l
Roger Mosey was the BBC’s director for the London 2012 Olympic Games and is Master of Selwyn College, Cambridge