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Many kinds of gold

10 August 2012

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GIVE the BBC something to get its teeth into, and there is no stopping it. Since the magnificent opening ceremony - brilliantly conceived, and immaculately broadcast - everything has been Olympic. Pretty well all of BBC1, most of the eclectic channel BBC3, and plenty of BBC2 have been annexed to fulfil the Corporation's promise to cover everything. And so they have.

Sports that are usually never heard of, competitors of all back­grounds, fencing, archery, tae kwon do, dressage - all have been par­aded before the cameras, and all have drawn the same flag-waving crowds of spectators. The UK has suffered a serious case of patriotic overload.

To achieve this kind of coverage, the BBC has called on a vast re­source of talent. Great athletes such as Jonathan Edwards, Colin Jack­son, and Denise Lewis have proved themselves to be professional com­mentators of high quality.

In addition, the BBC has man­aged to find expert reporters on each one of this compendium of sports. They may be unfamiliar with the tricks of the broadcasting trade, but they know their games, and have the statistics, precedents, and obscure rules at their finger­tips. In its 90th year, the BBC cer­tainly earned its own gold medal.

The obsessive search, during that nervy first week, for a British gold medal in anything, and at all costs, even took over the news bulletins on ITV and Channel 4. Eventually, at the weekend, the golds began to come by the bucketful. Passions were racked yet higher. Has broad­casting ever seen anything quite like last Saturday evening? Surely even the most enthusiastic Team GB sup­porter must have sought a mo­ment's respite.

New Forest: A year in the wild (BBC2, Friday) was exactly that. Beautifully filmed and sensitively narrated, this was the story of a year in the life of the New Forest, from early mist-drenched spring to the leafless trees in winter. For 600 years, the forest has been pursuing this annual metamorphosis, pre­served because Tudor kings chose it as a royal hunting-ground.

We met the coppicer, whose skills ensure the trees' future and that of all the wildlife that depends on them. We met a commoner - someone with the right to graze horses and cattle there - who reminded us that this is a working forest, where people make a liveli­hood by raising ponies, pigs, and deer. The spaces between the trees - the heathland and bog - are also important in the delicately balanced ecology of the forest.

Then there was the keeper, whose responsibility is to protect the ponies and deer. He reflected on the unseen processes of life which lay underneath his feet. Breaking off some dead branches, he ob­served that, in due course, when they had rotted down, they would provide cradles for seedlings.

A "storyteller", Patricia, had the last word. She has walked the forest since she was eight, but does not claim to "know" it. "It's a place of discovery, of shapes and surprises," she said. The trees reach for the light, and the sky is like a stained-glass window in a cathedral. The forest enables her to savour the wonder of "our long alliance with nature".

It was a perfect complement to the panting, straining, tearful, and joyful goings-on elsewhere.

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