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TV review: Commonwealth Games: Opening Ceremony; Virtually Famous

John Barrowman and Karen Dunbar with fellow perfomers during the Opening Ceremony for the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games, broadcast on BBC1. Photo: Getty Images for Glasgow 2014

It has often been said that there is no clear definition of the word ‘camp’, so many thanks to the Commonwealth Games Opening Ceremony for going a long, long way to providing us with one.

Even before presenter John Barrowman’s celebrated same-sex smacker appalled and delighted the Commonwealth’s viewers in equal measure, the song and dance curtain raiser had pinned its bright, bold, glitter-covered colours to the mast. I am possibly in a minority of one here, especially if the response on Twitter is anything to go by, but I thought it was great.

Obviously, games set in Glasgow would demand an opening ceremony with a distinctly Scottish flavour, but if you are going to invite nationalism to the party you have to expect cliche and stereotype to come gatecrashing in its wake. So it was no surprise to find the arena at Celtic Park awash with kilts, tartan, reeling lassies and carpets of heather, with clunking great symbols of the city’s proud industrial heritage employed as set dressing.

But mercifully there was a keen sense of humour at work here, plus no little subversion, so viewers were also treated to the sight of dancers dressed as teacakes, an inflatable Loch Ness monster, bagpipes comprised of Porage Oats bags and even an appearance from legendary comic character Oor Wullie. Alex Salmond didn’t parachute in on the back of Sean Connery, but that was about all that was missing.

That BBC commentator Huw Edwards struggled to contain his disdain and confusion further added to the enjoyment.

It was irreverent, fun, energetic and over the top, performed with enthusiasm and precision by a cast who had clearly been choreographed to within an inch of their young lives. As for Barrowman’s big number, well, it was dreadful. But dreadful in a shameless, take-it-or-leave-it way that was quite engaging. Resplendent in a lurid, purple suit and clearly impervious to embarrassment, Barrowman belted it out with admirable conviction, all the time presenting the world with a delightfully frivolous image of Scotland that was nothing if not original.

How such a production would have gone down at the legendary bear pit that was the Glasgow Empire on a Saturday night is anybody’s guess, but those with a sense of humour – a quality Glasgow prides itself on – would have surely got the joke.

There was a marked absence of wit and charm throughout Channel 4’s new comedy panel show Virtually Famous, which trawls internet postings for its inspiration. The danger here, which the producers signally failed to identify in advance, is that the YouTube clips – most of which have garnered hits in their hundreds of thousands, if not millions – would prove a whole lot more entertaining than anything the comics employed to comment on them could produce.

And if I can give a kindly word of advice to panellist Chris Ramsey: things aren’t any funnier if you shout them.

Commonwealth Games: Opening Ceremony, BBC1, Wednesday, July 23, 8pm
Virtually Famous, C4, Friday, July 25, 11.05pm

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