Sky Sports Two waiting in wings

Marina Hyde fears Richard Keys and Andy Gray have launched a stealth campaign to get their faces back on television screens.

I suppose there are more excruciating ways to try and get yourself back on the telly. Take Alan Partridge in a Castrol GTX jacket, attending the funeral of BBC commissioning editor Tony Hayers and attempting to extricate himself from a conversation with the widow to network with Hayers’ successor.

But even so, I find myself shuddering with the suspicion the Sky Sports Two have, in the past week or so, launched a stealth campaign to get their faces back on Britain’s screens.

The broadcasters in question are, of course, Richard Keys and Andy Gray — currently of TalkSport, but formerly the faces of Sky’s football coverage before they respectively resigned and were sacked for a sexism row sparked by overheard comments about the female assistant referee Sian Massey.

Richard and Andy’s publicity material subsequently insisted, they were “the driving force behind Sky Sports’ rise to football supremacy“, “synonymous with the rise of Premiership football throughout the world”. And which of us has not found ourselves in a watering hole in some remote region of the globe, the conversational barrier traversed not by smiling reference to Wayne Rooney, but by excited natives speaking the international language of Keysey and Grayey? Yet back home in our benighted land, these two assets remain currently consigned to radio. Where’s the justice? That was certainly a question Gray appeared to be pondering in his first major interview since the affair, granted to the Evening Standard earlier this month, in which he revealed that the whole business had shaken him to the extent that he contemplated suicide.

Instead, though, he opted to launch himself and Richard on the after-dinner circuit with a show entitled “Smash It!” — a reference to some of the iffy studio “banter” for which their Sky contracts had been terminated (I think the “it” in question was the same it which Richard imagined Sky pundit Jamie Redknapp hanging out the back of, but parsers of their Socratic dialogues will be able to shed more light on which object agreed with which verb and so on). The interview continued with Andy conceding provocatively his TV career “may” be over, suggesting such a loss would be down to shadowy “people who make these decisions”.

And were that all we’d heard from our heroic double act, that would be that. But on Monday, Keys took to the pair’s joint Twitter account — and gave the least patronising of blessings to a certain decision by a certain female assistant referee. The official in question was Massey, and it must have made her little day to discover her correct offside verdict on Micah Richards’s “goal” in the dying seconds of Man City’s 1-0 defeat by Swansea has been given the all-important Keys ‘n’ Gray stamp of approval. “For the record,” tweeted Richard on behalf of the pair, “great call Sian. Delighted for her — as we were a year ago.”

As they were a year ago? Forgive me for allowing daylight to intrude on magic, but Richard notoriously greeted the discovery that Sian would be running the line at Molineux with a supportive “the game’s gone mad”.

So it’s not Richard’s attempt to play the old sage that’s so troubling, despite his congratulations to Sian coming over with all the sledgehammer charm of saying: “Well done on your offside decision, dear.” It’s the hilarious airbrushing of history which apparently seeks to reinvent the pair as longtime champions of female football officialdom in all its forms (I say the pair, as the Twitter account is held in the name of Keys and Gray, and in its blurb Richard states that he writes while “Andy reads”. And yes, I confess myself uneasy with any monkey/organ grinder analogy in which the famously hirsute Keys is not typecast as the simian — but as I’m sure one or other of them would observe with the analytical insight that used to earn them seven-figure salaries, you can only play what’s put in front of you).

The gear-screeching U-turn is not without precedent. Only last year, TV funnyman Jim Davidson claimed to be reformed, having written a play in which a bigoted old comedian (played by him) was berated by a young black comic for the pain his careless jokes wrought. Described as an “intelligent, tense script” — by the Daily Mail — the opus actually got Davidson in the papers again.

Alas, while Jim might have been able to hold the line of his transformation when uttering pre-scripted words, interviews proved less manageable. “Fat women?” he demanded at one unguarded moment during a promotional chat. “Can’t bear them. I’m going to put thin turnstiles on theatres to keep them out. Otherwise they’ll each take up two seats and eat all the popcorn. Women are meant to be slim and attractive.”

Ah well, Jim Mk II was mildly intriguing while he lasted. And in this spirit we must look forward to hearing more from revisionist feminist deejay Keys — a tweeted series on his feminist heroines? — until his mask slips and we are once more disgorged from the rabbit hole.

* This article first appeared in The Guardian. All rights reserved.


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