Three legs and one fine stumble…

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IT WAS an unaccustomed sight: Harry Gration’s knee in all its swollen glory, puffy with pain and under the care of a physio. Not what you normally see on BBC Look North.

The 65-year-old broadcaster, sports obsessive and onetime history teacher is putting himself through it this week for Sport Relief, doing a cruelly extended version of that old school sports day favourite, the three-legged race. His partner in this marathon stumble is his weather presenter colleague, Paul Hudson.

Joined at the ankle rather than the hip, this pair are walking 120 miles across three Yorkshire counties over nine days. Today’s penultimate slog will see them cover the ground from Harrogate to Tockwith – a fair old distance even without being yoked together. Tomorrow they will do the final stretch to York.

Normally I come over all weary about these big charity fundraising efforts as they relentlessly bash you over the head with their faux cheerfulness. But there is something affecting about this partnership and the agonies they are enduring. Partly it is that they seem to be friends, with Hudson’s supportive hand rising to rest on Harry’s back as he stumbles, and the genuine glimpses of affection between them – laced, too, with the snappish rivalry that comes with two men knowing each other well.

Then there is Harry, a decent-seeming man who suffered a bad bout of cancer a few years ago and had to have a portion of his stomach removed – curbing what he can eat and, he said in an interview, “making him a cheap date”. He appeared on television looking gaunt, went down to nine-and-half stone and apparently has trouble keeping weight on.

Since his recovery he has seemed his old self, from this side of the TV screen at least, and he ran the first York Marathon.

I don’t know Harry but did speak to him on the phone occasionally when he wrote a sadly short-lived column for my old newspaper. It was good stuff but the BBC bosses didn’t approve, so he had to stop writing. Finding a name for the column was down to me and I was rather proud of it: Our Friend In The North.

Look North is my choice for local news, even if sometimes their concept of ‘local’ can be bemusing, with odd dips down into distant regions. The endless Yorkshire bragging can become a touch wearisome, but you get used to that in the end, and it is true that there is a lot of pride in Yorkshire.

The show mostly feels right, with the mix of serious news and friendliness. A long time ago the Manchester Evening News branded itself as a ‘Friend Dropping In’ and Look North feels like that to me nowadays, although I can offer no valid excuse for not watching the other side, other than being a creature of habit.

Most of the presenters are good, and Lara Rostron is quite a find as a stand-in for Amy Garcia, with natural charm and the knack of seeming totally at ease on screen.

Anyway good on Harry and Paul. I don’t envy their aches or Harry’s bloated knee, but I do admire their spirit. As of last night they had raised £100,000 which is something, and here’s hoping Harry stays in one piece for the last two days.

Incidentally, I think there could be good mischief to be had from adapting this idea. Harry and Paul are suffering even though they are friends. So how about yoking together two heated rivals for a similar bout of endurance? There must be many possibilities and my first suggestion is David Cameron and Boris Johnson.

What malicious glee it would be to see what they had to say to each other as they stumbled along with their legs and their animosity strapped together. It could be called Toff Relief and they could pay us.

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