I’m glued to the small screen

Published on 18th April 2020
Author George Dodds

So it is another weekend of Youtube, Facebook or whatever platforms the trendy young things such as Nurse Sarah are using this week.
Instead of celebrating a Scunny double and preparing to unleash the mighty B&G Army on Poole the only speedway available will once again be plucked from the archives – this week the incident packed visit of Sheffield to the Stad de Shielfield in 2019 – Saturday 7pm.
Last week I was tempted by the “as live” demolition of Lakeside at Shielfield before taking a gander at the much hyped Glasgow Tigers documentary In the Red.
I surely was not alone in scrolling through to the Tigers’ Shield semi-final at Eastbourne before returning to the start of the video. Good stuff it has to be said, although it could have done with a bit of brutal editing on occasions.
Coincidentally – or otherwise – our own starring role in front of the documentary makers’ lens, Margaret Salmon’s Mm, was one of the major attractions of the 2018 Glasgow Film Festival at about the time the Glasgow film was first being mooted.
That was some six months after it had premiered in front of a full house at The Maltings as the centrepiece of the Berwick Film and Media Arts Festival and has been shown at similar arty gatherings around Europe since. I think we had the better music, more original script and THAT shower scene … but I may be a little biased.
Anyway in the past some detractors, critics even, have accused me of bringing the obscure, bewildering and sometimes plain unfathomable to this fine website on a regular basis.
Not my fault that some did not have my advantage of a fine education of Mesdames Robson and Tonge and Messrs Cater and Snelson among others at Berwick and Doncaster’s finest learning academies. I also accept that those encumbered by exposure to the east Lothian educational set-up probably lag further behind than most.
However, even I was a little lost for words when the initial synopsis for Mm was published in the BFMAF programme thus: “part feminist linguistic investigation, part child’s learning tool and celebration of motor sport.” Although that is how I now describe being a Bandits’ fan to anyone who asks.
It probably didn’t form the basis of Patrick Rooney’s brief when he was asked to record the 2019 season from a Glasgow perspective.
What he came up with was a more traditional narrative – a chronological romp through a season which I rather suspect was meant to end with the Tigers sweeping all before them and Captain Cook suffering brasso rash from handling all the silverware rather than gravel rash from his WWE-worthy encounter with aged Arlington track staff.
It is a celebration of speedway and its fans and a pretty decent piece of film at that. With an interesting choice of title too.
While it could be seen as a homage to garage legends The Morlocks, a passing nod to NBJ’s compatriot singer/songwriter Tina Dico or even novelist Mark Taverner’s 1980s classic In the Red is also very much in synch with its subject.
Over the past five years or so Glasgow and the Facennas have been behind much of what would be considered good about speedway in the 2010s. Their development of facilities at Ashfield, meeting presentation and, especially, the publicity machine which bombards new media with the message that speedway in general and Glasgow in particular is worthy of attention has drawn, in equal measure plaudits and criticism – often fuelled you suspect by a large dollop of jealousy.
And yet still it loses money hand over fist meaning that the film’s title is equally descriptive of the Tigers’ financial situation as the passion of its supporters.
What both documentaries showed is a good film-maker’s ability to capture the essence of speedway from all angles – both figuratively and literally.
Over the years TV and video has struggled to capture what makes the spectating experience so much better than that for the armchair fan.
Whereas sports such as cricket, rugby, football and Formula 1 have been revolutionised in their TV presence I feel that speedway is little better covered now than it was by the brief forays of Sportsnight – usually to Wimbledon – back in the 1960s.
Somehow the adrenaline rush, the sounds and smell of our sport have never been replicated on the small screen.
Even Sky – innovators of so much that is good about modern sports’ coverage – seemed oblivious to how poor the footage from in-race helmet cams were and an obsession to ask inane questions of riders who had no insightful answers to give.
BT seemed determined to cover speedway on as small a budget as possible – the feeds from Sweden and Poland offer little innovation and are effectively cameras high in line with the start-line and a bit of super slo-mo. Eurosport’s plans remain in storage but it has rarely been known to splash the cash on the likes of Spidercams and sunken tracking cameras.
Indeed the only drones to feature in its coverage are likely to come from the presentation and commentary team.
Sports commentary is easy to do … but difficult to do well.
Possibly – but hopefully not – there exists in some digital radio Room 101 evidence of why both BBC Essex and Clubcall chose not to allow me to switch from written to oral sports’ reporting in the 1980s.
For reasons which remain a mystery to this day a stimulating passage of play – an outstanding rugby try, a brutal ice hockey body check, a sensational speedway overtake or a 30-yard screamer into the top corner – led to an uncontrollable change in the pitch of the Dodds’ dulcet tones.
In the blink of an eye my live commentary tests and showreels switched from bewitching and beguiling insight and prose to something resembling The Soup Dragon’s drunken elderly aunt after an especially heavy ingestion of helium.
It was not what the BBC, ITV – or even various sporting video production companies wanted so here I am, in the shelf-stacking frontline of a worldwide pandemic listening to the words of wisdom of those who did not fail the audition.
Among them one of my personal favourite commentators, Mike Hunter – a rare proponent of the craft in that he could never ever be accused of over-egging the pudding.
Although most strongly linked to his beloved Edinburgh Monarchs, Mike also commentated extensively for other production organisations including the Bandits during their Berrington era, Screen sport and STV among others.
I think I like him because so often he says what I am thinking but haven’t got the wit to express.
For example: Picture the scene. A Friday night at Armadale in the 90s. Three riders go into turn three hard. One at the back lifts and ploughs into the other two. Utter carnage. Bikes, bodies, bits of the Armadale fence scattered everywhere. Crowd gasps as they try to avoid the falling rust and peer through the dust.
Hunter’s commentary? “Oh dear” Nothing more… and you know what? There was nothing more needed saying.
Sometimes – but rarely in one of my columns – less is indeed more.
Stay home, stay safe, stay two metres apart and stay off the gin.

George Dodds
George Dodds

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