AS a child of The Troubles, there was a certain inevitability I’d get the first bus out of town as soon as I could afford the fare. It wasn’t so much the bombs and the bullets that repelled me as much as the abysmal sense of humour and sound of people’s voices.
Most irritating of all was the Greater Belfast snot-filled, nasal-delivered, laugh-at-my-own-jokes, self-satisfied male accent which dominated our TV screens and radio dial.
Two decades away hasn’t served to lesson my abhorrence for all things Ulster. Whereas a promotion in any other police force in the world earns a Sergeant his stripes, in the RUC, now PSNI, it requires the growing of a moustache. And when someone fails miserably with a joke beyond the Northern Ireland boundary, there is a tendency to look downwards in embarrassment. Not around Belfast, though, where self-congratulation has a bigger Church following than any Catholic or Protestant alternative.
Thankfully, with the advent of Sky Plus, there is an alternative to listening to Colin Murray, the Down-born presenter of Match of the Day 2. Having served a dubious apprenticeship as a football presenter while working on RI:SE, a Channel 4 breakfast television show, Murray then landed a gig presenting Fighting Talk, a comedic quiz show on sport. Further radio programmes and a stint presenting Channel 5’s football coverage increased his profile and by the time the MOTD2 seat became vacant, BBC bosses took a punt on an unfamiliar outsider.
Yet it is Murray’s over familiarity with his guests which discredits his polished exterior. On Sunday, Alan Shearer was referred to as “Big Al”. Later his sycophantic relationship with Shearer resulted in Murray saying: “Only a man of your quality could say, he had a free volley. I’ve never had one of those in my life.”
As if either Shearer or the viewers cared.
What they do care about when they switch on their TV to watch football is the football. If it is comedy they want then there are plenty of places to watch it. And if it is bad comedy they are after, ITV never lets you down. For Murray’s sake – and ours – let’s hope he sticks to his otherwise sound questioning and forgets about the need to sound funny because quite frankly, he sounds downright irritating when he indulges in overly chummy chat with guys he barely knows.
The opening to last Sunday’s programme was a case in point. Shearer was introduced as “one of the greatest Premier League players of all time”, Brendan Rodgers as “one of the finest managerial minds in the game” and Robbie Savage “as a past winner of Bradley Village Youth Club Under 12s pool tournament”.
While Savage found Murray’s well-rehearsed ad-lib hilarious, the look on Shearer’s face as the predictable punchline was delivered, suggested excruciating embarrassment. Was he wondering if the BBC could afford to bring Adrian Chiles, Murray’s predecessor, back from ITV?
That Chiles is in such high demand is because his humour is natural and sharp. That Murray is drawing criticism is because he simply isn’t as funny as he thinks. Good presenters are like good referees. You barely notice them because they allow more talented individuals hog the spotlight. Murray certainly has the potential to be good. The same can’t be said about his jokes.