Sky 'stars' insulated in their own club
PAUL HAYWARDon how ‘vaunted’ presenters have shown an inability to size up the real world outside the studio
FRONTING THEIR hyped intergalactic Sunday showdowns, Richard Keys and Andy Gray are products of modern television’s habit of recasting broadcasters as “personalities”, celebrities, players in the great drama on field and screen. With this power, often, comes an arrogance and an inability to size up the world outside the studio.
On the circuit the sacked Gray and suspended Keys were a tight double act. In the football media Gray is quite open about his disregard for anyone who “hasn’t played the game” but will at least say hello and talk over a drink. He radiates the frustrated energy of the ex-pro and wears the look of a man who sometimes struggles to control his passions.
Keys, supposedly the professional journalist of the two, is unrelentingly aloof, as if to talk to print reporters might lower the wattage of his fame. He affects the air of a TV star who has become an extension of the game he is meant to be presenting and describing. As the temperature rose after Sunday’s expose it was left to his sister to come on the airwaves and say, in effect, that Keys is not sexist and that some of his best friends are women. He even has some in his family.
Television does this to people. It raises them to a plane of imagined grandeur. What has this to do with the pair insulting Sian Massey, the assistant referee at the Wolves-Liverpool match, in a leaked exchange that arrives while Gray is suing Rupert Murdoch’s News of the Worldover the phone tapping scandal?
The point is that if either has a warning siren in his head alerting him to the folly of parading stupid prejudices at work then it has been knocked out of service by a life in football and TV.
Gray and Keys, who are unpopular with many viewers, and are often suspected of not understanding the offside rule, if the public reaction to this brouhaha is any guide, are the two main faces of a brilliant service. Sky’s football coverage is symbiotically linked to the growth of the Premier League: first in the money Murdoch’s empire pitchforks into the top division but also in the breadth and vibrancy of its programming. But by mistaking a live television show for the clubhouse at an especially backward golf club they have presented their employers with a mighty PR calamity.
A light is now cast on the amazing and presumably coincidental prevalence of attractive young women presenters on Sky Sports News, and the presence of Charlotte Jackson, say, to read out the scores on Champions Leagues nights, like one of Bruce Forsyth’s assistants from the 1970s.
Had Gray and Keys been eager to resign, they might have pointed out some of these anomalies on the way to the car park. Sky on the other hand would spell out the difference between hiring women for their looks (which conversely means not hiring other women, for their looks) and Keys saying, to Gray, about Massey: “Well, somebody better get down there and explain offside to her.” Both are guilty of risible chauvinism.
But the extra sting is Massey was required to make a highly marginal offside decision for Liverpool’s first goal and called it right. Grumbling away as they might in a bar, Gray and Keys appeared to think a man who has not played professional football might make a correct offside call, while a woman who has not played professional football is denied that capability at birth.
This is partly another object lesson in the difference between what people in public life say to the world and the things they think in private. These double standards are built into society. Usually, television’s front-men are sufficiently aware (or calculating) to suppress ugly thoughts before they reach the mouth.
At the risk of offending all footballers from his era, Gray brought something of the old dressingroom myopia to his incorrect appraisal of Massey’s work; a kind of worn-out misogyny.
He might have learned from Ron Atkinson’s racist outburst that the mic is never really off.
“The game’s gone mad,” he said.
There are many sound reasons for saying “the game’s gone mad” – obscene wages, outrageous ticket prices, the Portsmouth scandal, leveraged buy-outs, diving. Here, the game had gone mad because a woman was going about her work and going about it well.
However deeply Gray and Keys held those views before Sky gave them jobs they were bound to be made worse by the blokeish culture they constructed around themselves.
They detached themselves from the basic rules of their profession, perhaps because they thought they were too big for the code to apply to them, and will pay the price now every time they encounter a female colleague, or a woman in football: a narrow world that pretends to be inclusive.
“See charming Karren Brady this morning complaining about sexism?” Keys asks. “Yeah. Do me a favour, love.”
There is another TV character who would have killed for that line: Alan Partridge.