BBC Radio 5Live makes a bad decision

The BBC’s sport and news channel has dropped journalist and broadcaster Alistair Bruce-Ball from its post-match bantzfest 606 Show in favour of two celebrity footballer pundits, Robbie Savage and Chris Sutton. Bruce-Ball’s role as the foil for ‘the talent’ has been done away with, leading us down a cock jock cul de sac.

The mainstream media is grappling with influencer and celebrity culture and the airwaves are full of former sports stars trying to create a personal brand.

The Pantomime Dame problem

The line between a character and caricature is wafer thin. In 2012, McCririck sued Channel 4 and IMG for unfair dismissal (he lost)*. McCririck’s complaint was ageism. But the court case revealed the psychological donkey work that goes in to sustaining a sports pundit brand. 

Cross-examined by Thomas Linden QC, for Channel 4, McCririck was repeatedly pressed on whether his regular appearances on celebrity and reality shows undermined his credibility as a journalist relaying betting information on Channel 4s racing coverage.

“Its part of the pantomime act,” McCririck told the three-strong panel hearing the case, with Judge Lewzey presiding. “Look at all the other programmes I’ve done, news programmes like Newsnight, which I was on this year. If an actor is playing Captain Hook in Peter Pan, when he goes out into the street, he’s a different animal.” 

One question that the McCririck case poses to sport’s wannabe influencers is how to build a personality brand without becoming a pantomime dame. How far is the rough, tough ‘ITV’s Roy Keane’ removed from Roy Keane? What happens if Roy Keane – the ITV version – gets offered the villain in panto, or in the Jungle? Which one is it? And, having benefited from him raising his profile, and therefore the profile of ITV’s football coverage, will he be punished when we bore of the caricature? 

McCririck said he had never received any indication from Channel 4 Racing that they did not approve of his regular appearance on programmes like Celebrity Big Brother and Celebrity Wife Swap, or wanted him to tone down his larger-than-life on-screen persona. 

“Most firms spend hundreds of thousands of pounds on PR agencies to get them publicity,” he said. “Here I was doing it [for nothing], and Channel 4 [on which many of the celebrity programmes appeared] certainly didn’t seem to mind.” 

When you lay ‘evidence based decision making’™️ (aka scraping Twitter) across this issue and you get this press release from Bet Victor.

*The enormous John McCririck Caveat

McCririck lost his case, not because of his efforts to create a personal brand, but because he was a sexist anachronism.

"All the evidence is that Mr McCririck's pantomime persona, as demonstrated on the celebrity television appearances, and his persona when appearing on Channel 4 Racing, together with his self-described bigoted and male chauvinist views were clearly unpalatable to a wider audience."[11] The panel was told by witnesses from the television station and IMG (the production company) that he was dropped because he was "offensive" and "disgusting".

McCririck, who is now 73 but was 72 when he was told he would not be offered a contract by Channel 4 Racing last October, was replaced as a betting ring reporter by Tanya Stephenson, who had worked alongside him for the previous eight years.

He conceded to Linden that referring to Stephenson as "the lay of the day", a pun on a betting term, while live on air was "probably not my finest hour", but said that his use of nicknames like "saucy minx" and "the pouty heiress" for two of his other female co-presenters was accepted because it "livened up the programme".