History’s a funny old game. Just when you’re sure something happened, it goes and gives you the slip. There’s nothing so changeable as the past.
Part of the BBC’s ‘Black Britain’ season, Adrian Chiles’ revealing documentary White vs Blacks: How Football Changed a Nation (BBC2), explored a professional soccer match between a team of all black players against a team of all whites.
On so many levels, it was a match that seems improbable to us now and outright impossible to be repeated today. So much so that it has become a blind spot in our recent past and one that made even a middle-age watcher wonder where they were when it was all going on.
For some – those in the terraces of the 1970s – who were amongst those shouting racist chants and hurling bananas on the pitch with a casual, unchecked intolerance that was normalised beyond challenge, it must have been an embarrassing reminder of who they once were.
Chiles was a revelation. Away from his usual haunt over on Radio 5 Live, it would be a shame if he doesn’t do more serious television like this. He has a passion for the game and a sensitivity to the subject born of being an unbridled Brummie, from the region which featured so many of the top divisions’ early black players.
This was Chiles in his hinterland and his comfort in bridging the social and cultural incongruities of the times made for a warmer approach to what could have been an uncomfortable subject.
If not quite an uncomfortable subject, but certainly at times uncomfortable viewing, Ed Balls finally got put out of everyone else’s misery on Strictly Come Dancing (BBC1).
The former Labour politician made it through earlier rounds on the same clown’s ticket that did so well for John Sergeant and Ann Widdecombe in previous seasons, proving once again that the British public would rather celebrate incompetence than talent, especially if can provoke the judges.
It’s a response that will bring an end to Strictly. Any talent show where anything-but-talent can prevail ceases to be worthy of its premise. For Balls, still a man with political ambitions, Strictly has fulfilled its purpose and has helped to rehabilitate his public image – alas, it’s an image that’s unlikely to get him the keys to No. 11 Downing Street.
Andrew Sachs has died. Until a few years ago, before the ill-timed anarchic intervention of Russell Brand, Sachs would have lived out his days as the creator of one of British television comedy’s most distinctive characters, playing Manuel to John Cleese’s Basil Fawlty. It was one of the great clowning partnerships and possible the last high-point of British slapstick. Another loss for 2016.