An Open Letter To The BBC: Bring Back Barry Davies

Dear  BBC,

It is with great sadness that I write to you, since the BBC has never given me reason to question either its commitment to quality broadcasting or indeed its values as an organisation. However, last night’s semi-final between Germany and Italy finally brought to a head the frustration that many football fans have felt towards your approach to how games are scrutinised and analysed by your panel of experts. I would like to voice concerns with regard to your continued employment of individuals and enquire as to how these people add any value to the prestigious competitions many look forward to every two years.

This may seem like a trivial matter and I am inclined to agree. People have more pressing issues to attend to in these harsh economic times and when there are far more important stories dominating the headlines, football does indeed seem unimportant. Regardless of this, football provides many with an escape from their daily travails. They look forward to unwinding in front of the television for a few hours and do not deserve to have their blood pressure and anger exacerbated by the standard of commentary you provide; the only thing that should do this is the narrative of the events unfolding before them. This unfortunately, has not been the case for some time now.

Your employees, Mark Lawrenson being a chief culprit, do not ingratiate themselves with their near-incessant moaning about the games which they should merely be describing. These people have the privilege of attending events such as World Cups and European Championships on a regular basis. They are occasions that many of us can only dream of going to and furthermore these people are paid a handsome amount of money to do so. If they are so disillusioned and jaded by aspects of the modern game, then I would suggest that they relinquish their positions to individuals who would actually infuse proceedings with some of the joy that millions still derive from the game.

It is also becoming increasingly embarrassing to watch such a bastion of the English language, that is the BBC, failing to correct the persistent grammatical errors made by analysts such as Alan Shearer. Mr Shearer is not used as an example to make a case for received pronunciation and his inarticulacy is not highlighted to belittle people of inferior education or speak with regional accents. He is merely used to illustrate the point that his communicative skills pale in comparison with guest analysts such as Clarence Seedorf and Jürgen Klinsmann who have routinely made perceptive points with an excellent command of a language that is not native to them.

What the aforementioned also make manifest, is the absence of both cliché and soundbite from their observations. Unlike your more established panel of former players, they do not seek refuge in phrases telling the viewer not to “write off the Germans” or that penalties are a “lottery”. There is no enforced bonhomie between them. It is uncomfortable to watch middle-aged men referring to work colleagues as “JP”; establishing as it does a clear boundary between the viewer and the broadcaster. At no point however, have I ever come across anybody who wants to be friends with Jonathan Pearce.

Mr Pearce, like so many of his contemporaries walks a fine line between hysterical hyperbole and the mute button. Viewers have become aware of a desperate cloying amongst commentators to find a line that will be fondly mimicked in years to come in the vein of such masterful and respected professionals as Kenneth Wolstenholme or Barry Davies. The telling difference between the latter two men and their modern day equivalents was that their most famous utterances were entirely spontaneous but more importantly than that, they understood the power of silence.

Television is firstly a visual medium and secondly audio. As a result, it is the pictures developing before our eyes that should tell us all we need to know. The commentator should merely interject when context is required. He is not there to fill in air-time until the next free-kick or sending off. Mr Davies was by no means perfect. He could be pompous and schoolmasterly but his knowledge and authority was never in question. When he commentated on games, the viewer was made to feel as if he/she was actually learning something. Seeing something that they hadn’t seen before. The same can be said of Alan Hansen when he first joined the BBC. But this is no longer the case. Mr Hansen has slipped into the same lethargy as his previously mentioned colleagues.

There is an argument that suggests that former professionals give laymen an insight that they were unable to see. It is as if somehow, having been privy to dressing rooms and training sessions can reveal something to us that we cannot decipher for ourselves. Barry Davies negates such a theory. As does the former AC Milan and Italian coach Arrigo Sacchi, who when critcised for his lack of experience and pedigree as a footballer responded: “A jockey doesn’t have to have been born a horse”.

It would seem that the BBC continues to disregard or worse than that, dismiss the knowledge of its own audience. An example of this being Mark Bright’s continual damning of Greece as “the worst team at this tournament” whilst users of various social media were quick to praise the side for making the most of limited resources and being highly organised in their opening match against the host nation. The BBC should not fear the critiques it receives from such platforms. On the contrary, it should monitor what is being suggested or discussed and use it as the barometer of change it needs to remain credible as a football broadcaster. Twitter could be the best focus group it has and what’s more, it’s free!

So what are the solutions? Start with a change in personnel for one thing. Or at least a panel that doesn’t get used to the cosy environs of the studio couch. Bring in journalists to offer a different view. Or maybe even football bloggers. Apparently, there are a few out there. Don’t talk down to your audience. Many of us have been watching football for most of our lives and the explosion in communications allows us to interact like never before. The BBC should be harnessing this. At the very least, have ONE commentator (not an ex-professional) commentating on a match. Trust us. We won’t switch over.

Your analysts were very quick to point out that England’s departure from Euro 2012 signaled the need for endemic and systematic change in the country’s approach to football. I would suggest the Corporation’s coverage of the tournament has very much done the same for how you continue to televise it. There are other means to watch a football match after all.

The BBC has always been my channel of choice for watching football matches. I genuinely hope this remains the case.

Yours sincerely,

Greg Theoharis

Further reading: The Hunger Games: European Championship Edition

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26 Responses to An Open Letter To The BBC: Bring Back Barry Davies

  1. Boris June 29, 2012 at 9:16 pm #

    Brilliantly said. For more evidence, examine the contrast between Davies and that buffoon Boris Becker tonight on the Wimbledon coverage. Ex-players rarely add anything.

  2. northernmunki June 30, 2012 at 7:04 am #

    Absolutely spot on Greg. Let’s hope the BBC is big enough to take on board the suggestions.

  3. Richard Baldwin June 30, 2012 at 8:19 am #

    Bravo….

  4. Chedozie June 30, 2012 at 7:45 pm #

    Very well put. For the first time ever I switched off the commentary this tournament as I’d had enough of the inane commentary, especially from ‘Lawro’. I would rather watch in silence than be told that Spain ‘need’ to attack more when they seem to be doing quite well as they are.

    Only Lee Dixon, of the regular pundits, came across well the others were poor. I could pick 5 of my friends at random that have more of an in depth knowledge of the teams at the Euros than was shown by these experts.

    Can we start a petition? I can’t face the thought of Robbie Savage .appearing on Footbal Focus every Saturday

  5. Mary Barnes June 30, 2012 at 7:52 pm #

    Good luck with that. I’ve complained to the BBC regarding the many weird and wonderful ways John Motson insists on pronouncing (Adel) Taarabt. I’ve been told that a) I’m mishearing Motson’s regional accent and b) there’s no “proper” way to pronounce words, not even people’s names. Rude, ignorant and utterly pathetic.

  6. Neil June 30, 2012 at 7:53 pm #

    Vein. If you’re going to criticise other people’s English. you need to be faultless yourself.

    • Your mum June 30, 2012 at 8:21 pm #

      Vein?

    • Rango July 2, 2012 at 10:56 pm #

      Capital ‘Y’, you cum blanket!

  7. Gav June 30, 2012 at 8:05 pm #

    One typo per 1000 words is still a better ratio than most, Neil. Perm any three articles from the BBC website this week and you will find more errors.

    But that’s by-the-by. The point of the article is well made. The audience for football has grown in knowledge and accessibility to that knowledge in recent years, primarily due to the advent of the internet and social media. It is time that organisations such as the BBC identified this and upped the game of their commentary and punditry teams, to match the increasing understanding of the game held by their viewers.

    As things stand, the BBC are starting to fail in their Reithian Public Service broadcasting ideals of informing and educating.

  8. Simon June 30, 2012 at 8:09 pm #

    I agree with almost everything you say. However, as you referred to Shearer’s dreadful grammar, I can’t resist the temptation to say that you should have said vein, not vain.

    The commentary problem is by no means confined to the BBC. There seems to be a fear of silence so commentators and their sidekicks are expected to be talking almost all the time even if they have nothing useful to say.

    We should accept that the major tournaments are a little different. There will be people watching who don’t watch a lot of football apart from the major tournaments. Therefore some of the commentary has to make allowance for that. That is still no excuse for the inane whittering we get from some commentators with Lawrenson being one of the worst offenders on the BBC.

    The only consolation is that ITV are far worse. You can almost hear Peter Drury crossing out each prepared line as he delivers it.

  9. Jeff Black June 30, 2012 at 8:48 pm #

    Great letter. Totally agree. Regards – JB

  10. joel p July 1, 2012 at 9:11 am #

    great blog mr t, as for niel. get over yourself and focus on the article you numpty.

    lawrenson seems to think he is there to add ‘humour’ to proceedings by making utterly horrendous jokes and puns through out each game and frankly its embarrassing.

    There is a place for ex-professionals in commentary, tennis and cricket are probably the best examples of this. Henman, hardcastle, Mcenroe, boycott, agnew, atherton and gower all approach commentary with a balance of knowledge and entertainment.

    This is the only area i would disagree with you greg is that commentators have to entertain, they have to add to the drama because tv is both visual and audio, it always has been otherwise why bother having commentators?

    Gary Neville screaming when Torres scored in the Champions League just made it more fun to watch from my side.

    Either way i agree there needs to be change but for the mean time you can switch over and listen to the five live commentary for most games!

  11. Dave July 1, 2012 at 11:27 am #

    Simon, that is a spelling mistake, not a grammatical error. Well said, good luck.

  12. Paul July 1, 2012 at 2:55 pm #

    I completely agree.

    After the dire coverage of the last World Cup I submitted a complaint to BBC. The worst past was the several occasions when pundits chuckled to themselves about their ignorance of one or both of the teams on show that day. Even if there aren’t teams of research/ production staff feeding these guys bits of information (which I seriously doubt) then they should get on the internet for half an hour and find out a couple of salient facts. Anything else would be smug, lazy and a hideous waste of taxpayer money.

    Suffice to say I have complained again for the same reasons.

    Point is that nothing will change unless people start complaining to the BBC. It takes five minutes and can be done here:
    https://ssl.bbc.co.uk/complaints/forms/?reset=#anchor

    If enough people complained (500-1000) I really think the BBC would do something about it. See the Diamond Jubilee for an example of this.

    Good work Greg.

  13. James Dove July 1, 2012 at 3:22 pm #

    Excellent, this has been a process going on for some time and unfortunately the BBC doesn’t seem to understand that it is perfectly possible to offer both intelligent and inclusive football coverage at the same time. In general a good journalist is much more interesting than an ex-pro who, as has been observed here, seems to make a living stating the obvious in the most tedious way imaginable. I suspect that within the BBC there is the perception that football is a working class sport ergo if they don’t offer this kind of drivel we will be switching over in hoards or complaing about elitism. Perhaps the competition from other channels provokes a fear that sends them rushing to the lowest possible level in order to remain popular. The BBC has a unique structure that means it doesn’t have to bow to the worst excesses of the market, something worth preserving for future generations. If they offer only dross that may be seen elsewhere why pay your licence fee? They need to get a grip before it’s too late.

  14. Jake Hadlee July 1, 2012 at 3:38 pm #

    What a prissy little pursed-arsed pile of overwritten drivel.

    Why is that people feel they need to write in the manner of an edwardian clergyman addressing the moral failings of Lady Shrewsbury when they are writing an open letter of complaint?

    You don’t normally write in this pompously over-considered manner, so why do it now?

    And yes Lawrenson is annoying and most TV pundits are dull. Their job is to fill in time during a match without getting too much in the way.

    Personally, when I’m at a football match, I don’t have an insightful and erudite tactical expert explaining the latest passage of play to me during a game – I have the man in the seat next to me yelling “just kick the fucking thing!” Funnily enough, it doesn’t spoil my enjoyment of the game, because I’m there to watch the football, not concentrate on conversation.

    If you don’t like it, fine, turn the volume off. But to be honest, crap as Lawrenson is, compared to the turgid, humourless, self-important drivel you’ve just written he could be Oscar Wilde.

    • James Dove July 1, 2012 at 3:59 pm #

      Jake, I can’t see that writing carefully may be considered a vice, I’m sure your own musings went through a spell checker before you posted! What I’m trying to say is that the BBC has enough on its plate with any number of vested interests getting the knives out to serve up such poor coverage and if they ain’t careful and try to inject a bit of quality we’ll all have to buy sky or sit through hours of ads, and not only if we want to see football. Yes you’re quite right you can turn Lawrenson off but he’ll still be there and getting paid for it.

    • joel p July 1, 2012 at 6:42 pm #

      jake did you get out of bed the wrong side today?

      either that or you dont read gregs blog very often.

      This is his style, it works, it is popular, and he has been nominated for several awards.

      its funny that you say “if you don’t like it turn it off” well the same goes for you, if you don’t like it don’t read it and fuck off some where else!

      The fact that this article has been picked up by the guardian says it all.

  15. MarkB July 1, 2012 at 4:59 pm #

    Right on the money and well argued. Only thing I can think of worse than the clowns you have highlighted is watching the TV and having 5 Live’s Alan Greene’s commentary on the radio. Now there’s a man who needs to keep to his job description and hold onto his personal opinions and value judgements. Add him to list who need a P45 from Auntie!

  16. frayedknot July 1, 2012 at 5:36 pm #

    Agree with most of this – but sometimes it’s fun seeing it go wrong.

    German TV channel ZDF made the decision to stage all post-match analysis on a beach in Usedom near the Polish border (long story). The set is built on a platform in the shallows and the choice of location means the audience on the beach are all local OAPs with blankets and hot water bottles etc. And for incisive analysis? Many hours of discussion with Oliver Kahn!!

    Oddly they also seem to arranged a deal to speak to EVERY member of the German team after the game + Jogi Löw’s interrogation is so long they sit him down in an armchair!

    Anyhow, while much of the German press have had a field day with the coverage, a few did point out that when 27 million people are watching Germany vs Netherlands, you have to make sure nobody watching is overly challenged!

  17. Tiptonian July 1, 2012 at 10:06 pm #

    Couldn’t agree more. For the first time ever in my 50-odd years, I chose (was forced to choose) to watch the final on ITV because I just couldn’t take any more Lawrenson. It was ruining the match for me.

  18. Peter Harrow July 2, 2012 at 4:20 pm #

    Changing the subject and sport Barry Davies at Wimbledon is awful. When he actually says something (which is not often) he seems to have a real voice problem andf he mumbles incoherently in a strange forced tone.
    Has he got something wrong with him?
    I find myself wanting to cough every time I hear him and he is making it difficult for his main commentator John Macenroe.
    GET HIM OFF

  19. Winston Cuthbert July 2, 2012 at 4:49 pm #

    Agreed.

    I’d like to know why, when and how it was decided (and by whom), to drop adjectives and replace them with nouns i.e. “And there we see the victorious Spain players, holding the trophy aloft.”

    However, reason would argue lowest common denominator is the answer.

    Auntie could give David James a job commentating, as he is relatively articulate and bring in Roy and HG for the larfs/laffs/larves:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XKFWE1xt_x0&feature=related

  20. Vince July 2, 2012 at 10:20 pm #

    Could not agree more. While I’m aware I’m in the minority for doing so, I actually watched the final on ITV. I couldn’t ever have imagined the poor quality of the BBC would force me to the dark side, but that’s where I was driven.

  21. Mercurial Sports July 4, 2012 at 9:03 pm #

    Excellent and incisive writing. Cuts right to the core of an issue that so many felt necessary to comment on across various social media platforms, but not in such an adroit fashion as you have done. I sincerely hope the BBC understands that social media is as much about listening as it is broadcasting. I for one mute prior, at halftime and post games to avoid the jocular musings of a panel and presenter who seem to focus on being funny and ‘cool’ rather than providing insight and perspective on the games being played. Great post, I hope those at the BBC take note! 

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