Aidan Smith: Why is Peter Crouch in the Morecambe & Wise slot?

The Doc, Tam Gemmell, Tattie, John Lambie – all funnier than the former England striker

Maya Jama, Peter Crouch and Alex Horne are the new faces of Saturday night TV. Picture: John Riordan/Geraint Williams/BBC Pictures
Maya Jama, Peter Crouch and Alex Horne are the new faces of Saturday night TV. Picture: John Riordan/Geraint Williams/BBC Pictures

Football is back. Wall-to-wall, nearly every night, double-bills of games – and not a moment too soon. It’s going to save us from Peter Crouch.

Have you seen his new Saturday night show, Peter Crouch: Save Our Summer? What would you call it … light entertainment? Or as Radio Times bills it: “Live music, comedy skits and a host of celebrity guests”? Or how about: a load of old jockstraps, sock tape and caked boot mud (with stud holes) found on the dressing-room floor, brushed into a steaming pile, sprayed with a liberal coating of postmodern irony from an aerosol, like Deep Heat on a heavily-insured thigh, and stuck in a primetime slot.

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“In the Morecambe & Wise slot!” as someone pointed out on Twitter, clearly appalled at the sacrilege. I watched the first edition in mild disbelief then asked the BBC for an advance peek at last night’s instalment but it was “still being worked on”. Did the show improve in any way? You’ll have to tell me.

Let me say this: I like Crouchy. Liked him from the moment I thought: what an inappropriate name for a fellow for whom crouching must be a challenge, what with those Basil Fawltyesque stick-insect legs of his. My 13-year-old
son drifts off to sleep every night listening to his podcast. And when I catch up with Match of the Day on Sunday mornings (it’s on too late for me) I’ll watch beyond the first couple of games and won’t fast-forward through the chatter if he’s one of the pundits because he’s the funniest of them by the length of his chinos.

Admittedly that’s not a fierce-fought contest because Ian Wright thinks he’s funny but isn’t and Alan Shearer knows he’s not funny and mercifully doesn’t even try. Still: Crouchy in short bursts can be a good laugh.

But extended over 45 minutes with a studio set that looks like the gazebo section of a garden centre? That’s different. And yet it’s what TV can’t resist. In the comedy W1A, where admirably the Beeb sent up themselves, a ninnyish ideas-man was always fast-tracking “talent” into big showcases and ludicrous situations.

Handing Crouchy his own series as a vehicle for his “wackiness” seems only slightly less bonkers than giving one to Hugh Pym, the Beeb’s equally long-legged Health Editor. (Now I’m worried that some Corporation fool might think this a goer, offering viewers the chance to see a “different side” to Pymy after all these sombre pandemic pronouncements).

Last week the bold Peter made his grand entrance on a Vespa, lights flashing all around, while being fanfared by his newly-appointed houseband led by a tracksuited musical director who already seems destined to become one of the most irritating chumps in the telly firmament. “Too much?” he asked sidekick Maya Jama. “It’s your show,” she said. So he ploughed on: Covid had battered sport, comedy and the music festivals but – Ta-da! – here was a ready replacement for all three.

The banter with Jama was stilted, like she was reading her lines off Crouchy’s Hawaiian shirt and he was reading his off her double-denim ensemble. Not knowing Jama’s work I searched Google. Photos of her pouting in her pants popped up, along with the info that she used to step out with the skiffle sensation, Stormzy. Then a fellow who I assumed to be an actual working comedian leered from over a fence and the repartee got even clunkier.

On and on it went, Crouchy relating tame anecdotes from his playing days, the MD warbling, Jama over-laughing, Crouchy struggling with the autocue – then a “challenge” of kicking a teabag into a paper cup in which Mo Farah cheated by stretching out a leg, even though he was up against Paralympian Ellie Simmonds, just 4ft.

The skit had been “inspired” by social media footage of the countless wheezes using household equipment dreamed up by ordinary folk to beat lockdown boredom – proving once again how ingenious and hilarious we can be, and how the internet can deliver quicker than it takes a time-served comedian to work up a gag or a routine for the stage or TV.

Crouchy is not a time-served comedian. Football produces loads of unintentional humour but its platform is not this stilted affair, and you’d have thought last week’s studio guest Rio Ferdinand would have known this, given how lamentable his Rio’s World Cup Winds-Ups had been in the build-up to Germany 2006.

It was Fantasy Football League which started all this but David Baddiel and Frank Skinner, inset, were comedians who loved football, rather than footballers forced into/fancying themselves at comedy. I’ll make a prediction: Save Our Summer will never come up with a routine as funny as FFL’s re-staging of Tommy Gemmell booting Helmut Haller up the jacksie, which itself wasn’t as funny as the real thing.

Big Tam apart, the funniest football man I’ve met is Tommy Docherty. Direct from a gag-filled turn on a Norwegian fjords cruise liner, he had me in stitches in his garden. Would he have worked on the box? I’m not sure – the Doc is too Rabelaisian for the Beeb’s many strictures. The late John Lambie was hilarious in his baffies in a tiny front-room but maybe he wouldn’t have crossed over either. The impressions of Alex Ferguson by Neale Cooper deserved a far bigger audience than just your correspondent in an Aberdeen hotel – but sadly we’ve lost Tattie, too.

This stuff works in interviews and in books and I know Crouchy has good material and a nice line in self-deprecation but he’s not a TV host. Similar to when he lurked at the far post hoping for an easy header, someone needs to set him up. (And of course if the header wasn’t going to be easy he was always prepared to use the dreadlocks of the opposition defenders as climbing ropes).

Maybe TV is learning what successive managers found out about him: he can do one thing or a couple of things but not everything. Then again, only a select few footballers have the lot, and he’s a decent lad who’s been stretched too far when he already stands at 6ft 7ins.

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