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   Web Issue 3029 December 29 2007   
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Hamster merciless on path of Evel
DAVID BELCHERDecember 24 2007

Richard Hammond Meets Evel Knievel BBC2, 9pm
Emmerdale ITV1, 7pm
Coronation Street ITV1, 7.30pm

He's a much-loved TV presence, perky wee Dickie "The Hamster" Hammond. A meek Stan Laurel to Jeremy "The Boar" Clarkson's overbearing Oliver Hardy on Top Gear. Recall how a saddened nation wept in the wake of his near-death experience in yon high-speed rocket-car crash last year.

It was thus hellish to witness grievous damage being done to the Hamster's cuddly reputation by the ill-advised documentary farrago that was Richard Hammond Meets Evel Knievel. On a conceptual level, things began badly when Hammond described his boyhood hero, the all-American motorsikkle daredevil, as "Elvis on wheels."

Wrong. It would be more accurate to describe the recently-deceased Evel as Colonel Tom Parker on wheels. Elvis's manager began his showbiz career operating a fairground show wherein he encouraged chickens to "dance" by putting them on a heated griddle. Likewise, Evel Knievel was a bike-borne huckster, a sleight-of-hand showman, a dazzler of backwoods rubes. Sure, he displayed a commendable macho bravery in persisting in being flung from a motorbike for a living, repeatedly breaking bones in the process.

Such bone-headed bravery explained the touching nature of Hammond's moist-eyed reverence on first meeting the man he'd idolised as a six-year-old. But what was it one of Knievel's ex-bodyguards told Hammond, explaining his resignation? During his erstwhile boss's public appearances, he'd found himself "in compromising positions - defending the guy that's starting the trouble."

Then, around 30 minutes into the programme, Hammond reminded us of something his adult self must have known when the programme was at the planning stage: in 1977, Evel Knievel, aided by an associate, attacked his ex-publicist with a baseball bat, breaking his arm, for publishing a scandalous biography that he'd earlier approved.

Is it possible to revere someone who does that to another human being (it resulted in a six-month jail sentence)?

Then again, Hammond's brand of worship was oddly punitive. It was painfully obvious that Evel Knievel was gravely ill, breathing through a portable oxygen supply, yet Hammond pursued the dying man through the streets of his shabby home town, Butte, Montana.

This reached its nadir when, mid-grilling, Knievel lapsed into semi-consciousness, and descended to a sub-nadir in a slow-moving golf cart chase.

"I'm chasing an old frail man, driven by a wife half his age, across a golf course," Hammond mock-agonised. Duelling Banjos played in the background. Jeremy Clarkson would have used the Benny Hill theme music. It would have been more honest.

Meanwhile, sizzling storylines presage a traditional Christmas Day feast of drama in ITV1's two big soaps, Corrie and Emmy. As ever, Emmerdale has things crucially a-gley. In rural Yorkshire, you see, there's a foul conjunction of bugs. Not only are the village's home computers being infected by a malicious virus, but its nauseous residents are dropping like flies, poisoned by Shadrach Dingle's dodgy meat. Emmerdale's panto, Cinderbella, has had its cast ravaged by sickness and diarrhoea. Viewers will surely require strong stomachs for tomorrow evening's denouement.

In contrast, Coronation Street does its usual excellent job, focusing on hearts and minds, not bowels and alimentary canals. At Liz's hen night, the gals' thrillsome anticipation of Commando Sam, the male stripper, was undermined by the everyday reality of Weatherfield's blokes. Gormless Vernon, Liz's intended: he's a no-user, isn't he? And no good will come of Rosie the schoolgirl slapper's forbidden passion for pudding-faced John, the teacher who'll never learn. Coronation Street: it never betrays its audience.


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Posted by: Boxer, Down on the Farm on 11:55am Mon 24 Dec 07
I watched hamster chasing evel knievel round butte and I thought it would have been better if the bbc had never actually shown it, much less show it in the context it was shown. i'm not sure hammond actually pursued the man as you say. Seemed to me knievel was quite happy to show up for one last showbiz hurrah till anyone asked any sort of question.

If I'd have been hamster I'd have got on the plane after the first night there and just gone home. More often than not your heroes are just ordinary people who have the same flaws as everyone else.
Posted by: Rab Taylor, cathcart, glasgow on 5:22pm Mon 24 Dec 07
Boxer wrote:
I watched hamster chasing evel knievel round butte and I thought it would have been better if the bbc had never actually shown it, much less show it in the context it was shown. i'm not sure hammond actually pursued the man as you say. Seemed to me knievel was quite happy to show up for one last showbiz hurrah till anyone asked any sort of question.

If I'd have been hamster I'd have got on the plane after the first night there and just gone home. More often than not your heroes are just ordinary people who have the same flaws as everyone else.
Excellently put! Belcher review was good, too
Posted by: H. Diamonds, Derbyshire on 11:40am Wed 26 Dec 07
I'm sorry but I disagree that 'grievous damage' was done to Hammond's reputation. I and the friends I know who watched it were very impressed with how he handled a very awkward situation. It would have been easy to have lost patience very early on with Evel's arrogance. Instead Hammond began to realise as the film progressed how much to ask and when to stop; and by the end, Evel seemed to respect him for that and they parted on good terms.

I can't say I particularly like Evel, but I do understand why he was considered an inspiration. It was a very well-done and touching programme and far from damaging Richard's reputation, I think it was one of his best pieces of work to date.
Posted by: Jane Smith, Leeds on 4:48pm Wed 26 Dec 07
I thought the documentary was very well done. I for one certainly dont think Hammonds reputation has been damaged by this, i think he handled the sometimes difficult Evel with respect, sensitivity and compassion.
It was an emotional documentary, and particularly poignant as it was filmed whilst Hammond was still in his first year of recovery. He ought to be congratulated for his courage in making this documentary.
Posted by: Joe Spalding, Bath on 8:33pm Wed 26 Dec 07
Never have I read such a load of tosh as this. Hammond could not have been more respectful and courteous. I gather you're the lentil-eating type?
Posted by: gemma s, caerphilly on 4:00pm Thu 27 Dec 07
If Evel diddnt want to do the interview,he wouldent have.simple as.BUT because Hammond presents a motoring show that ecomentalist,idiotic people like Belcher dont like,theres always got to be something wrong.GET A LIFE!! .Gemma
Hammond diddnt exacly force evel to do any thing either

HAMMOND 4 EVA
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