In a series of articles looking back on the first 6 months of the new look Channel 4 Racing coverage, Vernon Grant reflects on the highs and lows.
In the final article he will spell out what changes he’d like to see.
Before that he will congratulate the team on the improvements, as he sees them.
He will analyse the performance of the new look team, of the racing coverage itself and of the Saturday morning programme, ‘The Morning Line.’
But first he reveals the lessons he learned while watching their coverage of Royal Ascot. Five splendid days of racing which saw Channel 4 transmit every single race.I’ve learned much from the new look Channel 4 Racing team these past six months. About racing mainly. Even seasoned punters like me can still pick up useful tips.
And thanks to their coverage of Royal Ascot, I also learned invaluable lessons about fashion.
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I now know that a watch is a must have accessory and “a great way for telling the time.”
And there was I thinking Rolex is a two year old being trained by John Gosden.
The Channel 4 Racing fashion correspondent put me right
Her name is Brix.
She has a voice akin to someone trailing their fingernails down a blackboard.
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Brix also informed me that “a bag can be amazing and very useful.”
How I got to my 54th year without knowing that a bag can be useful is a mystery.
Is it for such expertise that Brix was hired?
No. It was because she is already part of the stable of Channel 4 presenters who front those programmes that annoy the hell out of you the rest of the week.
You know the ones.
The shows where, in order to fill the allotted airtime, the producers feel it necessary to have said presenter repeat at the beginning of each part, 30% of what you had already been told in the previous part(s).
Apparently, prior to a successful career in fashion and television, Brix was part of a band called ‘The Fall.’ I produced a show in the late 1980’s which, if memory serves, aired one of their videos first. I have no idea if Brix was singing on that song, but a musical career does explain her improbably large mouth.
Every time I saw it, my mind immediately turned to the seemingly mandatory programme trail for another C4 show.
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There is in the United States of America a “man with 10 stone testicles.”
Back in 1982 I was at the launch party of Channel 4.
I do not recall programmes about genitalia being in the original station remit.
But, as Brix would say, time moves on.
I suspect Brix is a lovable lass.
A photograph of her on the Channel 4 website resembles Debbie Harry in her pomp.
A pity then that, on Day 1 of Royal Ascot, she looked like a cross between the late Barbara Cartland, Lady Penelope and someone wearing a pork pie hat?
Her outfits got better as the week went on. Brix actually grew on me.
Like a leech!Accompanying Brix all week was one of the new members of the Channel 4 racing team hired at the beginning of the year, Gina Bryce.
What a trouper!
Gina Bryce is a racing person. She loves the sport, knows a fair bit about it for one so young, and is at one with horses.
So she must have been a little miffed to draw the short straw otherwise known as presenting the fashion segments.
I felt for Gina. She so wanted to be talking to jockeys. To be in the paddock, or at the stables watching some of the finest horses of our time being prepared for action.
But here she was not only reporting on fashion, but also on food and drink.
I think of all the ‘fillers’ produced during the coverage of Royal Ascot, the one in which Gina toured the fast food vans and spoke to someone selling quality burgers was the one that left me feeling like a bottle of tomato ketchup.
All shook up!
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Fascinators are no longer permitted in the Royal Enclosure.
Gina Bryce has never struck me as someone who would be demanding a fashion allowance allowing her to wear designer gear.
I mean this as a compliment. Gina has always given the impression she was more of an M & S girl than someone who owns five walk in wardrobes packed with items she wears once. She seems like a ‘sensible shoes’ kind of girl.
Presenting outside of her comfort zone, I thought she played an absolute blinder.
When the unforgivable happened and the once great BBC Sports department consigned racing to the same skip as the set of ‘Jim’ll Fix It’, I had hoped that the new Channel 4 Racing production company, IMG, would get the balance right between racing and fashion.
But when it came to their coverage of Royal Ascot, I was far from alone in wanting more racing talk, and much less catwalk.
I’m not interested in a minute by minute count from C4 that will prove that Clare, Nick, Rishi, Fitz and co got more airtime than Brix.
It would be a travesty were that not the case.
I am talking about how it looked to me and others who love our racing. Those watching at home, not in a TV gallery.
If I wanted less fashion between the races at Royal Ascot, what would I have instead? What did I want more of?
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The sometimes feisty discussions between Nick Luck, Jim McGrath and Graham Cunningham, that’s what.
My ears pricked up most when the studio banter bordered on being argumentative. Topics that had clearly been subject of vocal exchanges off air, suddenly became debates we could all listen to. More than once, such conversations became quite heated, especially so between Luck and McGrath.
After another dismal run at Ascot I have given up on a horse called Camelot. Post race Nick Luck tried to make the case for a defence of the horse. McGrath countered with: “open the form book.” Case closed!
When discussing the size of the field for the Coronation Stakes, Jim McGrath was right when he said to Nick Luck:
“The idea behind all sport is to find the best, not the best in certain circumstances. To have Richard Hughes saying he can’t win from that draw… it’s a ridiculous situation… there are too many runners.”
I was grateful that champion jockey Hughes was, in this instance, proved wrong.
Sky Lantern, tipped up to members of my selections service when priced at 5-1, did win from an improbable draw.In the last six months the sport of racing has offered up plenty of controversial issues worthy of discussion and, on ‘The Morning Line’ especially, hot topics such as the use of drugs in racing have been given plenty of airtime.
This is what we want… those of us who think a milliner is an average footballer who shouldn’t be playing for England. Lively, thought provoking debate.
If you include ‘The Morning Line’ transmissions that week, Channel 4 Racing transmitted over 30 hours of Royal Ascot related output. So nobody should doubt that the station has thrown plenty of money and resources at the new look coverage.
But how does a station recoup such outlay?
I have produced television programmes since 1980. The majority of that work has been for channels dependent on advertising. So I know that while I may want to produce a programme aimed solely at racing folk, the advertising department down the corridor would be on my case.
If I want my coverage of racing to survive, I’d have to listen to them. I would need to attract a broader range of viewer than those who understood what a great ride Richard Hughes gave Sky Lantern.
So it is that I would have to fill the many hours of airtime with more content than thoroughbred horses alone.
I would be left no choice other than to include features about hats, dresses, shoes, bags, burgers, cava and how useful watches can be for letting you know when the next race starts.
It is a dilemma experienced by few other television programmes. You have to keep two very different types of viewer satisfied.
And you have to entice companies to advertise in the commercial breaks.
So how did Channel 4 Racing do on that front?
Join me after a short break.
(In the meantime, feel free to leave your comments below)
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