More than wallies with brollies


ITV’s finest in a touch of Cheltenham mizzle


Me in a Fontwell park monsoon


ITV’s return to racing was a damp and soggy affair – though that can be blamed on the Cheltenham weather rather than the quality of their broadcasting.

They did at least demonstrate their desire to attract a new audience without alienating those like me who have been watching for years. The mix of old and new presenters offer a decent combination of humour and knowledge.

And no doubt there will be more incremental changes as they introduce more changes. So it is probably not fair to deliver a final judgement for some months.

However, ITV has had plenty of time to prepare and yesterday’s effort was like the curate’s egg – good in parts. Professional camera work, excellent commentary, well-balanced team of presenters and informative features; but no plan B for the presenters when it rained and dreadful graphics.

On the positive side, the editorial direction of the cameras during the races seemed more disciplined – there were fewer of those ego-tripping angles that characterised the last years of Channel 4’s coverage. I found it easier to follow the horses in the races without having to cope with the Channel 4 director’s search for a novel pretty angle.

I will though never be convinced of the head-on camera as the foreshortening effect makes it much harder to read what is happening.

The commentators were excellent – but then they all are – as was the decision use an analyst during the race.

They say the old tricks are the best ones and this one is a real blast from the past – those with decent memories will recall Lord Oaksey in particular doing this when ITV last broadcast racing many years ago.

The mini features on jockeys and trainers were interesting (though I have no idea why they needed to be accompanied by dire elevator muzac) for both regular and new viewers.

And the attempts to explain the betting ring were also welcome. Those of us who regularly go to the rails and other bookmakers forget how daunting the serried ranks of pitches and complex odds can look to the newcomer.

But there were some areas that were less successful. In principle it is great to have the presenters on the course rather than in the studio.

But surely it is not beyond the wit and wisdom of outside broadcast producers to realise that mid-winter in Britain can be cold and wet. They cleverly introduced their own weather forecaster but then failed to take any notice of her forecasts!!

Yesterday there appeared to be no plan B, leaving the presenters shuddering uncomfortably under a couple of large umbrellas.

They would have looked a lot better in fedoras or trilbies but no doubt the channel’s fashion gurus decreed this to be too traditional.

As a fedora and trilby wearer of many I know that the reason they survive on a racecourse (worn by men and women alike) is not fashion but because they are much more practical than umbrellas, which are a complete disaster.

Hats keep out the rain, ensure a warm head in the cold and act as a sun visor on the few days of the year when this is necessary.

In contrast, an unfurled umbrella is a lethal weapon in a crowd as well as being anti-social as it cuts off the view for other spectators. A furled one is irritating – you need two hands to use binoculars, as well as to hold a hip flask, betting slip or race card.

For the television viewer, the sight of these men under umbrellas may have been marginally amusing as it made them look like “wallies with brollies.”

A more immediate problem was the decision to use the wrong type face and font size for the results, race-card and betting odds. Whatever Channel 4 may or may not have done, it was at least possible to read the information sitting a reasonable distance from the screen.

This was simply not possible yesterday. It defies belief that the graphic designers were too lazy to check what their images would look like on normal sized television screens. This mistake can though be easily rectified.

I can’t say that I look forward to seeing an improved performance next Saturday. But that is only because I will be at Sandown Park, watching the racing live – and wearing a fedora, whatever the weather.


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