Daytime TV: Slings and arrows

Outrageous fortune runs through the worlds of darts, particle physics and Dad's Army, learns Gary Day

January 15, 2009

We are talking darts (World Darts Championship, BBC One, Saturday 2.30pm). Clifford Geertz unlocked Balinese culture by giving a "thick description" of a cockfight. But this simplest of sports still awaits its own great anthropologist. It has its own argot and rituals. It is a remnant of our spear-throwing past, and has echoes of the Fort-Da game, where the infant throws a toy out of its cot in an attempt to control the presence and absence of the mother.

But who cares about all that? This was the big semi-final at the Lakeside. Big Tony O'Shea versus big Darryl Fitton. They bounced on to the stage and bumped their bellies together, sending shock waves through Surrey. When the audience managed to pick themselves up from the floor, they cheered wildly.

Tony and Darryl rolled to the oche, first one and then the other launched their arrows at the board. Three dull thuds. A computer did the maths, a Geordie bellowed the scores, the fans roared. And so it went on.

First Tony was ahead, then Darryl. But it was Tony who had the steadier hand. 170. He needed two double twenties and the bull. Yes! His earring flashed as he turned to salute his fans. "What emotions are you feeling now?" asked Ray Stubbs. "It was the best of games, it was the worst of games," panted Tony.

Bobby George, twice runner-up in this competition, was on hand to give his verdict. "What a bull!" he rasped in a voice that was part-gangster, part-market trader. Bobby's left arm is weighed down with jewellery; his right arm had failed to take the strain and was in a sling. No wonder Bobby was never world champion. He couldn't lift all that bling.

The Standard Model of physics describes the quantum world. But there's something strange about it. The equations suggest that particles have no mass. Scientists hope that the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) will show how they acquire it. One theory, explained Brian Cox (Big Bang Machine, BBC Four, Friday 9pm), is that they do so by passing through what is known as the Higgs boson field or the material on Bobby George's arm.

The Higgs boson apparently disappeared a split second after the initial fireball. After that, infinitesimally tiny motes slowly clumped together to form those huge structures known as atoms. To find if the Higgs boson really existed, we need to break the atoms down again, "to stare at the face of creation itself".

Here is where the LHC comes in. It fires two beams of particles in opposite directions. They collide at nearly the speed of light in a space less than the width of a human hair, breaking into ever-smaller parts. The photographs of the resulting crash look like a Jackson Pollock painting.

The LHC may also contribute to our understanding of string theory, which is one of the leading candidates for integrating quantum theory, dealing with the very small, and the theory of general relativity, dealing with the very large. The basic premise of string theory is that different vibrations give rise to different particles. The Greeks may have been right. There could indeed be a music of the spheres.

But we may never know because the LHC malfunctioned almost immediately. Why? Because, said Cox, the management cancelled incremental testing of the machine. "Just put it on full power straight away," they demanded, with predictable results.

Bob Fosbury, presenter of Hubble Telescope (BBC Four, Wednesday 9pm), moved rhythmically from side to side. Was he swaying to heavenly harmonies? With the help of a special instrument, even black holes sound like bells. Bob reminded us that dubious management decisions dogged the beginning and end of the Hubble Space Telescope's life.

Its stunning images of supernovae, distant galaxies and stellar nurseries show a Universe of explosive beauty and sublime desolation. Hubble should be displayed in a museum, not left to burn up in the atmosphere.

"There's nothing faster than the speed of light," Bob announced. Oh no? Well I have measured how fast he talks and it's more than 300,000 kilometres a second. But I still heard him say that the Sun loses 4 million tonnes of matter a second. A second! "We're doomed, we're all doomed."

That, of course, was the catchphrase of Private James Frazer in Dad's Army, which ran from 1968 to 1977. A Channel 4 documentary looked at the real Home Guard (Saturday, 8pm) and found it was just as amateurish.

Fearing a German invasion, the Government asked for Local Defence volunteers. But it didn't know how to train them and those who signed up found they were expected to repel Nazi paratroopers with pikes. The one-armed Bobby George would have stood more chance.

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