Thursday, August 31, 2006

TV Commentators

Probably the most important factor that contributes to enjoyment of racing on TV is the commentary team. Followers of this blog will know that I have pretty strong opinions on the topic, so I present to you my favourite racing MCs:

Leigh Diffey / Neil Crompton
- V8 Supercars: A typical duo, the anchor and the expert. What makes these guys work so well is that Diffey clearly knows the sport, and Crompton can hold his own in the anchor department too. Rather than just fill in the details that an ex-racer would know, he'll work with Diffey to build the drama and describe the action. The other thing about him is that he never misses anything. I often find that I'll pick up on details before commentators do, but that is rarely the case when Neil Crompton is on the job.

Martin Haven / David Leslie - WTCC: Martin Haven doesn't pull any punches. If he sees something that he thinks is wrong, there will be no sugar-coating, or attempts to see both sides of the story. It's this confidence and belief in his own opinion being the right one that makes for some very entertaining TV-watching. David Leslie is the perfect foil for him, since Leslie will always see the other side if he feels it's warranted. He's also very good at catching Haven's mistakes, a common situation with the best commentary teams.

Charlie Cox / Steve Parrish - MotoGP: When the international feed of World Superbike lost these guys, I felt it was a huge shame. Luckily their replacements have done pretty well, although it doesn't diminish how truly terrific Cox and Parrish are at motorcycle racing commentary. Cox is a tremendously likeable chap and he has an air of "true fan" about him. His background is in touring car racing, so he came late to watching bikes. As such, he's still in awe of the spectacle and this translates into really exciting, respectful and compelling commentary. Parrish is more hard-nosed. He's seen it all before, so is well-qualified to talk about it. The combination of hardened ex-racer and fan-with-a-microphone is the key to the success here.

John Hindhaugh - Sportscars and more: Hindy is the voice of sportscars. His funny northern accent is a refreshing change from the standard neutral accents of other commentators, and it lends an air of "hanging out at the pub" whenever he's on commentary. He's clearly an influential member of the ALMS and LMS paddock but always comes off as down-to-earth and humble. His true strength is in being able to communicate his knowledge without seeming like an expert. He's also very, very funny.

Murray Walker - Formula 1: Murray is long-retired, replaced on the British terrestrial F1 broadcasts by the annoying team of James Allen and Martin Brundle. To be honest, the US Speed Channel team is significantly better than Allen and Brundle. Murray will always be considered the voice of Formula 1, and over the years has become a cult figure with his numerous "Murrayisms", remarkable errors or hysterical use of grammar. When it comes to stating the obvious, recovering from an error by making another or mixing his metaphors, Murray was the king, and people loved him for it. The classic line of course is: "Unless I'm very much mistaken... I AM very much mistaken..."

Barry Nutley / Jamie Whitham - BSB: Barry Nutley is a solid commentator, but what makes this team great is the wacky Jamie Whitham. A brutally fast, exceptionally exciting racer up until about three years ago, Whitham is the archetypal northerner who says what he thinks and "bollocks to the lot of you if you don't agree"! I remember watching the BSB race from Oulton Park earlier this year and Whitham came out with not one, but four fantastic quotes:

  • "Doin' something like that's like spilling someone's pint in a Northern pub - there's going to be bother..."
  • "An angry James 'aydon's like a wounded fox - you wanna watch where ya go - he'll 'ave ya"
  • "Just another 'alf lap an' he can 'ave another fix of his diarrhea tablets"
  • "Oooh I love motorbikes, me, when it's this excitin'"

Jonathan Green / Scott Smart - WSBK: Green had the unenviable task of replacing Charlie Cox on the World Superbike commentary, and proved shouty and annoying for the first couple of years, especially when paired with James Haydon (who himself specialized in starting every sentance with "yeah, no"). However, when paired with Scott Smart (or Aussie endurance rider Warwick Nowland) things improved dramatically. Green no longer had to work so hard because his partners weren't afraid to talk, so he was able to concentrate on building drama. And guess what? He's actually one of the best in the biz for that particular skill. He gets extremely excited when there's drama on the track, and does well to communicate that.

Honorable mentions:
Ralph Shaheen: Used to be annoying but turns out that he's as big a fan as any of us, which makes it easier to deal with his voice.

Brian Drebber / Greg White: Dreb is off the Speed Channel coverage of AMA Superbikes, which is a shame. Luckily tall bald man Greg White is still there, and does well to strike a balance between being too technical and too simplistic.

Bob Varsha / David Hobbs / Steve Matchett: Undoubtedly a solid F1 commentary team. Varsha has years of experience, Hobbs is very funny, and Matchett very, very knowledgeable.

Dorsey Schrader: The saving grace of Speed's sportscar commentary, which is pretty awful normally.

Ben Edwards / Tim Harvey: ITV's commentators for the BTCC, always solid.

Nicky Grist: Never has an ex-racer been so uncomfortable in front of the camera, but he tries very hard and has a cult following as a result. I mean, the guy is a legend, he was Colin McRae's co-driver. How cool is that?

Go away:
Greg Creamer / Calvin Fish / Brian Till - The aforementioned dismal Speed Channel sportscar team.

Freddie Spencer: Uninspiring, full of crap and always seems to be trying to ingratiate himself with racers - the opposite of Martin Haven.

Derek Daly: Simply put, Daly is irritating.

Danny Sullivan: One of the more visible ex-racers in the US mainstream media, Sullivan is always there. Danny, just for once, stay home. Your voice is annoying and a reasonably successful career in CART doesn't make you an expert on everything else. I'll forever have bad associations with Sullivan since he appeared on the "educational" video shown at both of the last traffic schools I attended for speeding tickets. Shame on you Danny...


Roy ( said...

Ben Edwards would be my favourite by quite a long way

Anonymous said...

I'm in agreement with most of your observations, but I find David Hobbs more annoying than a big bug splat on your windshield. I wish he'd stop the stupid accents and just call the race.

Dorsey is awesome, I wish Leigh Diffey hadn't gone back to Down Under. Him and Dorsey were a good team.