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BBC commentators and the art of the double entendre

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Michael_Holding_Peter_Willey_Cricket_HoldingWilleyEven for the best writers and speakers, punning requires a special talent. It is an art of playing on words & sometimes on different meanings of the same word. A double entendre is a particular way of wording that is devised to be understood in either of two ways, having a double meaning, one of them usually some form of innuendo. Double entendre may exploit puns to convey the second meaning.

The BBC sports commentators, particularly the cricket broadcasters on its much-loved and enormously followed Test Match Special (TMS), seem to be quite adept at punning and double entendres. They are so good at it that sometimes you wonder whether they are intended double entendres or actual bloopers.

Indeed, listening to the TMS commentary has always been a refreshing experience, especially when a TMS commentator is in a lighter mood and indulges in punning and his colleagues join him. And the resultant giggles, sometimes guffaws, in the commentary box lend a special music to the already boisterous TMS.

The late Brian Johnston, affectionately called Johnners, was a master punster. He almost made an art form of seemingly unintentional double entendres. Special mention must go to an instance that is quite dear to this very site: while broadcasting a Test match between England and the West Indies in the early 1980s, he rendered the commentary box helpless with uncontrollable laughter? As that graceful fast bowler Michael Holding ran in to bowl to Peter Willey, Johnners noted, his tongue firmly in cheek: “The bowler’s Holding, the batsman’s Willey!”

 

Jonathan Agnew’s hilarious description of Ian Botham’s freak dismissal – dislodging his leg bail while trying to step over the stumps, having lost his balance after missing a full-blooded hook off Curtly Ambrose – in the fifth Test between England and the West Indies at The Oval in 1991, is still talked about by those who listened to it on the TMS. “He couldn’t quite get his leg over” was all it took to send Agnew himself and Johnners into paroxysms of laughter.

Christopher Martin-Jenkins, the man known throughout the cricket world as CMJ, found himself struggling to hold it together on air, after referring to Daniel Vettori’s “rod” during the first Test between England and New Zealand at Lord’s in May 2008. Describing a Stuart Broad delivery to the New Zealand captain during the 52nd over of the Test, he essayed an interesting analogy as Vettori “fished” outside the off-stump for the red cherry.

“Broad’s in, he bowls, this time Vettori lets it go outside the off stump; good length, inviting him to fish,” he told listeners. Fair enough. However, CMJ’s steadfast composure then deserted him. “But Vettori stays on the bank and keeps his rod down, so to speak,” he added. At this point a few chuckles of the other TMS team members could be heard in the background. “I don’t know if he is a fisherman, is he?” he continued, his voice getting steadily higher as everyone around him dissolved into helpless laughter.

CMJ himself yielded to the inevitable before contritely resuming the commentary when the giggles subsided. One wonders if he knew what he was letting himself in for. He paused a bit before uttering the fatal word “rod” and by the time he finished with his remarks about fishermen his celebrated baritone had jumped an octave and he could hardly get the words out.

 

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Haresh Pandya is one of India’s leading cricket writers – highly experienced and widely published i...

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