Now I know why I am being pursued by Mr Richard Woolford, senior bureaucrat at TV Licensing, who has repeatedly threatened me with knocks on the door, a fine of up to 1,000, and a criminal record, should I fail to meet his demand to pay forthwith the sum of 96, this despite my having told him that there is no television in the premises to which he refers.
The BBC needs the money to buy neckties for its panel of World Cup presenters.
In common with millions of other people around the world who had nothing better to do at the time, I tuned into to the World Cup opening ceremony last week (using a licensed set for the purpose). And what a load of pretentious Gallic nonsense it turned out to be. Persons on stilts dressed up as insects shook their giant fabric abdomens and out billowed yellow balloons. Pollen, said the commentator. From the centre of giant flowers, spread out on an oscillating carpet of mock turf, there emerged globes which swelled and peeled to reveal huge footballs. These rose a few feet in the air where they remained suspended, as men in fancy dress descended on wires from the roof of the stadium. Supporters, explained the commentator.
Whoever thought of that – let alone designed and choreographed it – must have been spaced out on something with a high street value. One’s heart went out to the watching Duke of Edinburgh, whose 77th birthday it was. Even one who has sat straight faced and solemn through countless tribal ceremonies in which painted natives shake spears and chant, and their womenfolk shake their naked womanhood and scream, must have cringed at the French farce unfolding before his rheumy eye and longed for a re-run of Agincourt. Anyone who favours further British integration into a united Europe led by Germany and France should remember those insect persons on stilts and think again.
Worse was to come. Back in the studio, the three-man team of football analysts, plus anchor man Desmond Lynam, were braced to utter the first of the many, many thousands of words, some of them different from each other, that will fall from their lips during the four-week tournament. And not one of these eminent authorities on subjects as diverse as support upfront, set-pieces, off-sides, quality crosses into the box, and tackles from behind was wearing a tie. The nation has a right to expect more of its soccer diagnosticians.
To be fair, Jimmy Hill looked uncomfortable with an open collar revealing a neck that reminded one of the staple fare of Christmas lunch. It was as though he’d been asked to appear in front of the screen with his fly undone. He knew it was wrong, but was under orders. The dress code smacked of an unseen guiding hand. One’s suspicions were confirmed when the scene shifted to outside the studio and returned to find a subtle change in Alan Hansen’s appearance. His open shirt collar, which had been worn outside his jacket, was now tucked inside. Perhaps the earlier look had a little too much of the Barry Manilow about it. Des, tie-less looked a little awkward, too, as if he was the reluctant participant in a silly party game but, ever urbane, too polite to offend his host. David Ginola had no tie, but he had a pony tail, and anyway he’s French.
My guess is that the producer had told the lads to take off their ties, loosen their collars, lighten up a bit. After all, this is the People’s Game and no occasion for looking stuffy or formal. BBC oikism crept another pace forward.
Meanwhile up in the commentary box, where the camera seldom zooms, sat former West Ham and England player Trevor Brooking, tie immaculately knotted, as befits a man contracted to Tie Rack. And that evening, on ITV, which has no need to threaten its viewers with fines while reminding them that they make the channel what it is, former Arsenal player Bob Wilson and former company director Terence Venables, the oik’s oik, both wore ties and thus inspired confidence in their judgment.
No man wanting to be taken seriously should air his views in public while improperly dressed. Curiously, though, a bow-tie is not merely an inadequate substitute for a proper tie, it is a positive warning that the wearer is not to be trusted. When Neil Hamilton, he of the Fayed brown envelopes, started to wear a bow-tie, he confirmed, as eloquently as though he had put it in writing, everyone’s suspicion that here was a wrong ‘un. Some doctors, particularly consultants and especially gynaecologists, are inclined to sport bow-ties. This egregious exhibitionism should be a signal to patients not to entrust their vital organs to the care of a practitioner who is too mindful of his image for their good.
So yet again the BBC has got it wrong. As Marketing Week explained last week, we are all middle class now. It follows that, even as we slump before the flickering tube, belching into our lager, wiping takeaway-tandoori-stained fingers down our Ingerlund T-shirts, screaming obscenities at the screen, and waving aside the proffered bowl of Viagra tablets, we expect our presenters to adhere to an accepted dress code. Anything less lets the side down at this time of national unity.