Mary Hannigan: Babbling Jack needs to take leaf from Benaud’s book

Richie Benaud knew the value of being economical with his words

With all the hi-tech wizardry on view at the Masters, Grand National and even the Boat Race over the last week, those old clips they kept playing in tribute to the late, great and very marvellous Richie Benaud looked a touch grainy and archaic. And divil a Snickometer in sight. But all the wizardry Benaud needed back in the day was a microphone and a bit of cricket, nothing more. There were few better.

Rory Bremner turned up on Channel Four News to talk about the man whom he impersonated rather well; indeed Benaud, he said last week, once walked up behind him when he was impersonating him and demanded royalties.

He recalled some of his finer quips, among them – and you could hear the dryness in Benaud’s voice – “Glenn McGrath dismissed for two . . . just 98 short of his century.”

Occasional breather

And plenty of Benaud’s utterances were in circulation last week, but for those who’d very much like today’s commentators to take an occasional breather, they’d have said Amen to this: “The key thing was to learn the value of economy with words and to never insult the viewer by telling them what they can already see . . . put your brain into gear and if you can add to what’s on the screen, then do it, otherwise shut up.”


Nowadays, with your ears so attuned to incessant babble, if you played back a Benaud commentary you’d assume there was a technical fault that cut off the sound, all those lengthy enough silences when nothing much was happening, because nothing much happening deserves lengthy enough silences.

It was hard not to think of Richie yesterday when Jack Nicklaus joined Ewen Murray in the Sky Sports commentary box for the start of the final day of the Masters.

Now, Jack inspires such devotion, because by all accounts he was useful at this golf business, that you'd risk losing friends by being tetchy about his telly work. But if Jordan Spieth took as few putts as Jack did breaths, he'd have been 36 under after round one.

But it’s 2015, and we just have to get used to it. And although Jordan isn’t quite as young as Paul McGinley thinks he is – “Jordan is only 21, so he was born in 1996! That’s just craaaaaazy” – he’s still a baby.

Come Friday night, McGinley had a hunch the tournament was done and dusted, so far over the horizon had Jordan disappeared, which left Monty Montgomerie having to step in, in a more-senior-Ryder- Cup-captain-who-has-been-employed-longer-by-Sky-Sports kind of way, to tell the viewers that it was FAR from over and therefore they should most definitely stay tuned.

Our host David Livingstone appreciated that very much, almost as much as Nike did yesterday's pairings. "Tiger and Rory? Wooooooot!" The Sky panel, though, worried that only one man and a dog would follow the other pairings, Tiger and Rory's adherents resembling the Million Man March, the dog possibly even deserting Phil Mickelson & Charley Hoffman and Jordan & Rose for a glimpse of the Nike boys.

Jack had lots to say about that. Lots.

Speaking of sport on today’s telly. Gok Wan. And the Grand National. What are ya like, Channel Four?

Rummaging You tune in to see horsies doing their Aintree thing, and instead you get Gok rummaging through Chanelle McCoy's wardrobes, AP's other half making Imelda Marcos look frugal in the shoe department.

And then AP got home and Gok interrogated him about his fashion choices, which probably came as a relief to the useful jockey, a break from the 65,928 questions on his feelings about retirement.

Still, if Peter O’Sullevan, the Richie Benaud of horse racing, was watching (heavens, he’s 97 now), you’d imagine he was, as the young people put it, asking: WTF?

Peter might be tempted to echo Richie’s words: “Time to say goodbye, thank you for having me.”