James Allen hits back

After eight years as ITV-F1 commentator James Allen will commentate on his final live Grand Prix – for the time being at least – at Interlagos this weekend.

In that time he’s been subject to a huge amount of criticism, much of it coming on internet forums and blogs.

In a retrospective look at his time with ITV-F1, Allen has finally spoken about his reaction to the criticism:

I was always pretty confident that when Murray decided to retire I would get the gig, but never anything less than utterly self-critical and seeking to improve with every race and every year, which I think I?ve done.

It?s a very difficult and high-pressure job, because with 20 cars there are 20 different points of focus.

You have to read the race, using a TV picture and the timing screens, while speaking at the same time and still leave spare brain capacity for talking to the producer and thinking about what comes next.

And as it?s live and it?s all happening very quickly it?s very easy to make a mistake, which is why you always need to allow yourself a margin.

Having a brilliant communicator like Martin Brundle as a partner helps a great deal too.

I take a journalistic approach to commentary, I?m a storyteller; it?s my job to tell the story, not to be the story.

Of course there are many people at home in their armchairs who think they could do it better and one of the challenges for me was that I replaced Murray just as the internet opened up to allow everyone to have their say in chat rooms and forums.

But I know from market research and viewer feedback that the pros massively outnumber the vocal minority of cons.

I?m very proud of the work that we have done with the North One production team over the years and we have 2 BAFTAs and 12 Royal Television Society awards to prove that the TV industry, like most viewers, rate our work very highly.

Read the article in full here and have your say below.

More on ITV-F1′s final race: ITV F1: goodbye or good riddance?

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41 comments on James Allen hits back

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  1. But I know from market research and viewer feedback that the pros massively outnumber the vocal minority of cons.

    That made me think of when people say “statistics support my view” but don’t actually supply said statistics because they don’t exist.

    But I’m in the vocal minority so what do I know?

  2. william said on 1st November 2008, 2:31

    Personally I found James’ approach to commentary way too obvious, in what he said, and often ‘behind’ interesting developments that one could see happening on track (so he came over as slow and inattentive, unfortunately). Indeed he was very often way out in what he said about key drivers on track, seemingly just because he wasn’t following all that was happening. I know – this sounds critical. But when you’ve got someone in his shoes making rather a lot of money being like that…it’s just obvious why the criticism. But one thing about what he says here, in his ‘self-defence’ is basically that it’s difficult to do that job, having to concentrate on lots of different developments in the race, talk to producers and so on…given the end product of what we got it just makes you think he wasn’t really cut out for it; he found it challenging where someone else would have the natural speed of mind and so on to do the job perfectly all right. Quite a good voice, he’s got; but where are the real positives (leaving aside the other stuff), too, that you’d hope were there for us to be able to point to and say ‘but he’s good at that kind of thing’ etc etc. Sorry! he’s had his fun, got the money for doing the job, the TV crony friends etc; the viewer has a valid right to complain about what’s being dished up there though.

  3. michael counsell said on 1st November 2008, 3:29

    Thanks for your time James, I’ve enjoyed it. In my opinion Murray was better, I believe I would have been too… I’ve lived F1 for all of my life, to gain my approval from me is near impossible yet I’ve enjoyed it. Next it will be BBC, they will have their chance, you can learn from it. Its up to you, keep commentating and disagreeeing with me.

  4. michael counsell said on 1st November 2008, 3:45

    Yes James Allen is a journalist, he sees stories, I’m disappointed that this has dominated our F1 commentary for the last 8 years. He regurgitates stories until they have lost all meaning and appears to be far too anti FIA

    I am anti nationalist so I don’t appreciate JA’s pro Hamilton stance in the way JA is promoting it… Hamilton is an awesome driver and will be a deserving world champion yet I don’t back him…

  5. I don’t doubt JA’s enthusiasm – it’s just it comes out all wrong. The pro-hamilton stance, plus (moreover) that ever grating voice is just too much. I don’t really care about what he regurgitates in race, it’s more how it comes out.

    Fair play to the boy for sticking up to the critics, but I don’t believe the mass majority is the same mass majority he’s talking about. Have you ever met anyone who’s praised (not just indifferent, but proper praise) James Allen?

  6. Alison said on 1st November 2008, 9:43

    As they say statistics are like a loose woman…… once you have them down you can do anything with them and that is what James appears to be doing. Anyone can manipulate figures to support their argument and James and his supporters have obviously done so – give me the same information and I will prove that I am right and that it is in fact a vocal majority that quite rightly complains. I email ITV-F1 after every race to make a number of complaints which are always ignored… I expect my emails don’t get counted as feedback.

  7. Santiago said on 1st November 2008, 10:06

    You have to read the race, using a TV picture and the timing screens, while speaking at the same time and still leave spare brain capacity for talking to the producer and thinking about what comes next.

    And as it’s live and it’s all happening very quickly it’s very easy to make a mistake, which is why you always need to allow yourself a margin.

    I have never heard to James Allen as I watch the GPs from another country, but this article sounds to me like an escuse to his detractors ( wich seem to quite a lot). Actually, F1, although is a live sport, is quite slow, things happen quite slowly and most of the time comentators (story-tellings as he names himself) have to work out what to say next because of the lack of news on the track. Of course they have to be quick to tell something not to decrease the audience, and also to say something interesting, because most of us watch a GP on the TV image and the timing screen at the same time, not counting what we do here, typing not speaking in the blog, and also speaking to someone nearby.

    To be honest, for a story-teller of sports, F1 is one of the easiest sports to transmit is you are enjoyable enough.

  8. D Winn said on 1st November 2008, 10:08

    Maybe JA should have a sex change if he finds multi-tasking difficult.
    Most experienced women are pretty good at it. They can also talk about multiple subjects simultaneously, which means you have to be telepathic to keep up – much like JA’s commentating.

  9. Santiago said on 1st November 2008, 10:17

    By the way, about the statistic stuff, people in the UK watch what hamilton does, in Spain the same for FA, in Poland, Germany, Brazil…. all over the world, people watch F1, in spite of the James Allens, Lobatos, etc who are there because of the TVs.

  10. ITV have always felt a little too in awe of their client and never seemed to take ownership of the F1 “show”. The production team, it seems, figured that the safest and best way of filling Murray Walker’s shoes was to wrap themselves in the flag and never stray from the obvious.

    The result has been that they covered the most globalised sport on earth as though it was some peculiarly British overseas shindig. And no matter the Bond-like visuals from exotic locations, if I had not seen Brundle walking the grid, I might have sworn he was phoning it in from his front room.

    How often has their presentation amounted to little more than parking their boys outside the McLaren paddock (or Button’s Honda) and calling it a day?

    Those who would put the blame on James Allen for this are out of line. Nobody was ever going to trump Murray Walker, just as no jingle was ever going to sound as good as Fleetwood Mac. But James did a good job of calling the races. And remember that unlike Walker, as a relative newcomer he never going to be the “voice” of the outfit. Not when at least two of his colleagues (Brundle and Blundell) were ex-McLaren employees and (to my knowledge) still active in F1 as driver agents.

    As for those who blame him for showing “too much” enthusiasm at the performance of the most successful British driver for a decade … Well that’s a crock. Do you remember Murray’s tears over Damon? The difference is Damon was a likeable sort while Hamilton is a prickly little so and so (all the genius of a champion and the arrogance of a youngster). But that’s hardly Allen’s fault. Like it or not, Hamilton is the story. Funny, I have always had Allen pegged as a closet Ferrari fan, actually.

    Like Hamilton now with Schumacher, at the time James felt a little young to be aiming at Murray’s mantle. But his heart & delivery turned out to be in the right place. If he had a fault, to my ears, it was that he fell in far too readily with his ITV team’s policy to play it commercially safe. With the result that the show began to feel even more predictable than the racing – and by the time they twigged it was too late. Have you noticed how much better the coverage has been since ITV learned they had lost the gig? I rest my case. And good luck, James

  11. He tries to sound as exciting as Murray was, but it seems that it is clearly not in his personality to be as exciting. It comes across as really bad acting.

  12. beneboy said on 1st November 2008, 12:29

    You’re right Neal, he just sounds so fake.

    I watched the MotoGP last weekend for the last time on EuroSport as they have lost the contract for next season.
    Most (not all) of the fans on their forum were thanking the commentary team & saying how much they’ll be missed.

    The main reason for this is because they are honest & natural in their style, sometimes they get excited, sometimes they’re bored & they make plenty of mistakes but they never try to be anything but themselves & it helps you relate to them.

    James Allen isn’t the worst commentator I’ve ever heard but he’s far from being the best and I doubt I’ll miss him.

  13. John Spencer said on 1st November 2008, 15:16

    michael counsell (4) is right – James Allen is a journalist first, a commentator second. He writes better than he speaks. Which is the reverse of Murray Walker, whose autobiography was an inexplicably turgid read.

    Allen was always going to suffer following the inimitable Murray – everyone expected someone with the same delivery and enthusiasm, minus all the mistakes. But now I realise the mistakes were part of what made Murray special.

    I have no idea who the BBC are lining up for the main commentary job, but who knows, maybe this time next year SniffPetrol will have a ‘restart the cock’ campaign.

  14. Robert Edwards said on 1st November 2008, 16:00

    I live in Spain and watch F1 in Telecinco. I have watched the occasioal race in ITV and simply don’t like the commentary. The last 5 years of T5 in Spain has been simply, very good. Comments by them re: Hamilton have been controversial at times but U would expect that. Their contract also ends tomorrow but fortunately, the channel that has got the TV rights for the next 5 years; la Sexta, has contracted the T5 team to cover F1, so things continue to look good!

  15. squiggle said on 1st November 2008, 17:15

    I think he’s much maligned. I have been critical of him – especially when Lewis first arrived – but someone playing that sort of role in the commentary is always going to frustrate the listener now and again. He’s been just as good as Murray.

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