Paul Kaye lives in the same part of London as I do. You’ll know him even if the name isn’t familiar – he was Dennis Pennis, that red-haired red-carpet terrorist who used dubious press privileges to ask Wolf from Gladiators if his Nobbies itched on set and whether Eamonn Holmes had ever shat on a glass table.
I see Paul at the tube station from time to time, on his way to film another intriguing character role in that niche he’s etched out for himself in shows such as Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell and Humans. He plays long-faced, greasy-haired, gurning minor villains who inevitably get their comeuppance at some point. He plays them well.
It turns out these roles have been little more than prep work for his finest creation yet. I speak, of course, of ‘Morris’.
Morris has lately been seen bouncing on ridiculous springed heels up a tall building and jet-packing alongside a high-speed train, in his bid to gain the attention of his apparent mentor, a man named Victor. This Victor, no stranger to the Costa Blanca one suspects, is the owner of a popular betting company that has made him a considerable fortune; he presumably had some degree of sign-off of the adverts in which he appears alongside Paul Kaye. And if ever a more infuriating set of commercials has been made, well, they probably star Ray fucking Winstone don’t they?
Adverts are atrocities at the best of times, but the modern scourge of television must surely be betting ads. As proven by the imminent return to our lives of vital, crucial and epic football matches – up first, Leicester City versus Sunderland – sport is more important in every way than every other aspect of your being, but it’s just not enough is it?
It turns out sport’s even better when you’re not actually there watching it live surrounded by man-babies screaming hateful abuse at a player they hadn’t heard of weeks ago, but instead sat at home betting on it. Four lads lounge about on sofas in a living room watching a match, wearing the type of generic, no-logo-no-sponsor shirts not seen since Billy Meredith was in his pomp. Something happens in the game and they guffaw and groan and roll about in shared ecstasy in a way not witnessed at a football stadium since John Terry got kicked in the head that time. The camera cuts before we see their eyes lock and someone make an O with his mouth.
Do you? Don’t you? I do yeah, I really do fucking hate betting ads. The famous Winstone ‘have a bang on that’ ads are, remarkably, not quite the most despicable of the betting ads out there. That series of eye-straining adverts with blurry footballs and diving goalkeepers flying all about and a Tesco version of Block Rockin’ Beats behind it; Betfair, possibly, and it’s the pinnacle of inhumanity. It seems to be making the point that it’s one thing to win a match, it’s another to win a bet on the result, but you’ll enter a whole new world of fascinating glory if you manage to get the number of yellow cards in the second half of a League Two play-off semi-final right.
If you consider yourself a punting genius when you get (that is, guess) the number of corners right you might want to blank Stan James next time he asks you if you fancy a flutter on the Netball World Cup. If you’re falling for Victor’s lines, delivered peculiarly grim-faced by a man who milks every punter for what amounts to free money on his part, you deserve to be locked in a room with Morris on a pogo stick shouting ‘VICTOR! VICTOR!’ into your face, while the disembodied head of Ray Winstone rotates about you intoning menacingly: ‘Balotelli to score next, eight to one, Balotelli to score next, eight to one, you cant’.
The latest wheeze from the marketing boys in the betting industry is ‘cashing out’. At just the moment you might finally be about to recoup some of your losses, claw back a little of the dignity lost at the hands of Mr W Hill over years of failed sure-things, you’re given the option to take less of your winnings than you’ll be due if you simply stick to the original agreement. Guaranteed money now, for giving up the bet halfway through. Do you? Don’t you? Of course you do, because you’re a man who knows his own mind, and that if you don’t recoup a tiny bit of your daughter’s marriage fund you’ll be home tonight to find your clothes ablaze on the lawn. The kindly bookies must have introduced this for our benefit. They must have. They must have.
Betting is already screwing up sport in all manner of ways, most notably cricket where the Indian house of cards seems likely to flatten the entire sport before the next round of ‘player auctions’ involving teams called things like Chennai Super Kings and Kolkata Knight Riders, like some terrifying re-run of the 1980s. Does that stop Paddy Power plonking Graham Swann in an armchair in what seems to be a field, surrounded for some reason by expectant members of the public, while no lesser figure than the saintly Henry Blofeld is forced to laugh uncontrollably at an unamusing remark from some rugby cretin who’s wandered onto the wrong set? Of course not.
And now it’s wrecking individual lives too – not just of the mugs who fall for these heinous ads but also that of Finchley’s finest comic actor since Terry-Thomas. Paul: you have a sadness in your eyes as you stand at the tube station that few of the genuine greats of your profession could ever hope to emulate on Broadway. Either you are our finest actor or you really need to diversify. Extricating your self from the clutches of the evil Victor may be the first step on your return to greatness. And, helpfully, I won’t have to push you in front of the 10.15 to Kennington via Charing Cross.