Tuesday 29 January 2013

Happy 70th Birthday Tony Blackburn

From cheesy purveyor of pop, the golden boy of breakfast to radio’s elder statesman, a recognised national treasure, Tony Blackburn reaches (can it really be?) 70 years of age today.

Still sounding as youthful as ever Tony has been broadcasting solidly for the last 49 years.  These days you can hear him each week on anyone of five different stations. As he said on-air recently “I never want to retire…. I would quite like to live in a radio station.”
As Tony is so busy it’s difficult to grab some of his time for an interview. So I’ve been delving through my archive to see what I can glean about Mr Blackburn.

He started broadcasting on Radio Caroline in July 1964 before jumping ship to Big L two years later. ‘Wonderful Radio London’ offered “coherent programming, interspersed with regular, professional advertising and the best jingles I’d ever heard.” By the time the Marine Offences Act came into force Tony was already on the mainland and entering the portals of the Broadcasting House for the Light Programme’s Midday Spin. Effectively this was a try-out for the breakfast show on the swinging new pop station Radio 1.
The Radio 1 Annual (published in 1969 for just 12/6) offered a Blackburn Briefing. So why did he become a DJ? “I suppose I thought of it as the back door to showbusiness in general. At the time, my main aim was to become a singer. I thought dee-jaying would give me the right contacts.” Ah yes, that singing career. In Bournemouth Tony had formed a group – the punningly titled ‘Tony Blackburn and the Rovers’ – that included, on lead guitar one Al Stewart. He was later the singer with the local Jan Ralfini Orchestra. He continued to harbour pop recording ambitions during his time on Radio 1 achieving the giddy heights of number 31 in the charts with the ballad So Much Love.

The Annual also told us that Tony was 5 feet 8½ inches tall, weighed 150 lbs, that his favourite drink was Coke and his favourite food a mixed grill. Hmm, I think not. Tony has been vegetarian from age five, an omelette and chips was about as exotic as it got. In Our First Meal (Times Magazine 9.10.99) he admits that “pasta with tomato sauce is about as exotic as I get. Or Quorn. I’m still a gastronomic peasant really and good wine is wasted on me”.
By 1971 Tony was all loved up with actress Tessa Wyatt, a relationship that would publically fall apart some five years later. Talking about that trademark Blackburn humour she told the TV Times (20.1.73) that it wasn’t her cup of tea “but on the first evening we went out together I discovered he has a good subtle sense of humour. All that corny humour isn’t typical of him. I think it was just a gimmick to start with, and now I think it is quite clever”. 

By his own admission his radio persona could be both fun and annoying in equal measure. In a 1978 interview (with Ross Benson of the Daily Express 4.5.78) he claimed that he believed “that to get an audience you’ve got to irritate people – and you’ve got to accept that not everyone is going to like you.” He even admitted to ambitions to run Radio 1. “In ten years’ time I’d like to be in charge of this network.”  
The “mindless, endless, relentless happy talk” on Radio 1 continued to incense journalists like Jean Rook (her words) of the Express (18.3.77). What did Tony think drove her mad? “It’s my goodie, goodie image. I don’t smoke, I hardly drink, I don’t take drugs. I have all my own teeth. I smile too much – only because photographers always ask me to – and I’m a bit like Cliff Richard without the religion.” Even then there were no thoughts of ever retiring. “I don’t think there’s an age limit on radio. I’d like to go on and on.”

Not all was sweetness and light at Radio 1. In 1973 he was demoted, as he saw it, from the Breakfast Show to a mid-morning slot. By 1977 he was moved to the afternoons and in 1980 he lost his daily show and was looking after Junior Choice and the Top 40. “Bye, bye Blackburn” was the press headline. Publically he was ebullient (“I can’t wait to get started”) but as he later admitted “I was lying through my full set of ever smiling teeth. Broadcasting to children just wasn’t right for ‘Uncle Tony. “
Tony left Radio 1 in 1984 and, for those of us outside London and the South East, all but disappeared for the next decade. In fact in his next venture the contrast with Junior Choice couldn’t be stronger with his Sex ‘n’ Soul shows on BBC Radio London.  

It was back to commercial radio in 1988 on the new Capital Gold station alongside many of his former Radio 1 colleagues. A year later Mark Lawson (The Independent 29.7.89) observed his broadcasting style:

As the music stops he hunches in to the microphone, like the first move of a cuddle. His voice, which can find four syllables in ‘great’, maintains throughout a tone of elevated excitement, reminiscent of the one which those who are unfamiliar with children employ when speaking to them. The jokes, too, might safely be shared with that age group: ‘A friend of mine swam 100 yards in two seconds – he went over a waterfall!’ The vintage of the discs and the birthdays for which they are being played give a hint of the trick Blackburn has played. He presented breakfast shows in his salad days and still does in what he would probably not mind you calling his vegetable days but this is Capital Gold … on which all the records are old and all the disc jockeys – shall we say? – experienced.

There was TV work, Sky by Day, QVC and having the door slammed in his face each week on Noel’s House Party. There was also a second wife, Debbie Thomson, whom he’d initially met some 10 years before. “She’s the first person I’ve ever been out with who doesn’t play those stupid games”, he told Craig Brown (The Independent 9.7.94), “you know, they flirt with someone in front of you. But she’s not like that. Terrific really. Smashing.”  
If Tony’s career needed a spark to re-invigorate it, it came with his 2002 winning appearance on I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out of Here. “Could Tony Blackburn’s unlikely comeback”, asked The Times’s Chris Campling (10.9.02), “herald the rehabilitation of the FAB FM jocks?” He goes on: ”Of all the dinosaur jocks, Blackburn is the one most likely to have struck a chord in the hearts of modern yoof. It’s so difficult to dislike him, that’s the trouble. Feel sorry for him, yes. Pity him, despise him on occasions. But dislike him? Never.”

From now on Tony was all over the place, ‘appearing on a radio station near you’. Gigs at Classic Gold, Real Radio, Jazz FM and Smooth Radio followed. Meanwhile back on Radio London 94.9 he had a weekly Soul and Motown Show, the music he had championed since his pirate days. That Radio 1 annual listed his favourite singers as Steve Wonder, Dionne Warwick and Diana Ross & the Supremes.  Whilst he loved his music he only ever saw it as entertainment. “It was all pop music to me, except the stuff that John Peel tended to play was almost without exception completely awful”, he wrote in Poptastic: My Life in Radio. “I was the happy-go-lucky dispenser of the kind of song that an audience only had to hear once before rushing out to buy it.”
From November 2010 it was a return to national radio with Pick of the Pops, (“it’s one of those heritage shows … Radio 2’s equivalent to The Archers”), now live and boasting re-sings of jingles that he’d played on Big L some 44 years earlier.

Tony remains as active as ever embracing the new technology on Twitter and Audioboo. He must hold some kind of broadcasting record: at the moment you can hear him on national radio, regional and local radio within the same week on Radio 2, Magic, Radio London, Radio Berkshire KMFM. No wonder he has conceded that, although otherwise a clean-living man, “radio is an addiction”.
Tony’s last regular Radio 1 show was on Sunday 23 September 1984. But he was back the following weekend chatting to Andy Peebles and choosing his Top 10. Here’s a scoped version of that programme. The anoraks amongst you will note that Tony’s first word on Radio 1 was “and” whilst his last word was “Andy”. And not a lot of people know that!   

My Top Ten was broadcast on Saturday 29 September 1984.
Have a sensational 70th birthday Tony!

With thanks to Noel Tyrrel

Of his TV appearances Tony is best known for hosting Top of the Pops (1967-1983). His first TV appearance was in September 1965 on the ITV show Discs A Gogo alongside fellow DJ Tony Prince. Throughout 1968 he also had a weekly Saturday evening show on ITV Time for Blackburn.

Thursday 10 January 2013

Alasdair Milne 1930-2013

The former BBC Director-General Alasdair Milne has died this week. The circumstances surrounding his departure from the Corporation in 1987 somewhat overshadowed his achievements as an television executive and D-G.

Milne joined the BBC in 1955 as part of the general trainee intake scheme. He was soon attached to the BBCtv interview programme Highlight, a forerunner to the hugely successful Tonight.  The Scot found himself working alongside the fiery Welshman Donald Baverstock, they were to become “the closet of friends and to form a remarkable working combination”. Grace Wyndham Goldie, then Assistant Head of Talks, recalled that “Alasdair was the totally controlled intellectual, but never withdrawn.” Two years later Baverstock and Milne would go on to create Tonight, the programme that changed the face of TV interviewing and film reporting.   

Apart from a brief absence in the mid-60s, working on This Week for Rediffusion, Milne was a BBC-man and achieved the top post in 1982. A series of tussles with Thatcher’s government and the Board of Directors, the last being the decision on showing the series The Secret Society led to his resignation.

In 1988 Alasdair Milne talked to Frank Gillard about the rows that embroiled his time as Director-General. This programme was broadcast on Radio 4 on 10 May 1988.

Thursday 3 January 2013

It’s five o’clock. Time for Sports Report

When half-past five on Saturday comes round
For week-end stimulation will resort
To Andrew and Mackay and Sports Report                

For over six decades the jaunty tones of Out of the Blue have both presaged the latest sports results and to evoke the nostalgia of simpler times – an era of football fixtures that always kicked off at 3 o’clock, filling in the Vernons pools coupon or reading the late edition of the Hull Daily Mail Sports Green (a memory for readers in East Yorkshire there). Depending on your age, and memory, you may recall the radio voices of Eamonn Andrews, Peter Jones, Bryon Butler, Bill Bothwell and Larry Canning. In this post I review the history of Sports Report and the Saturday afternoon sports sequence in the days before sponsorship, the premiership and Sky Sports HD.


From the early days of the BBC there was coverage of the major sporting events. Pre-war, the voices of John Snagge at the Boat Race and George Allison’s football commentaries (his first match between the Corinthians and Newcastle United on 29 January 1927 was the second ever football commentary transmission) were already familiar to listeners.

The press and news agencies were initially reluctant to allow the fledgling broadcaster live coverage. The Radio Times of 30 April 1926 argued that “the BBC have repeatedly requested permission to broadcast from all stations narrative accounts of a very limited number of outstanding events while they are in progress, such as the Boat Race and the Cup-Tie Final, but they are prevented from doing so by the terms of the Agreement made with the Press before the Company was licensed by the Postmaster-General, and relaxation in this direction has so far been declined.”

With the licensing of the newly formed Corporation starting on 1 January 1927 that all changed and the BBC proclaimed that it would “broadcast running narratives and commentaries on all the leading sporting events and great public occasions, as well as put out more comprehensive and varied news bulletins, the first to be aired at 6.30, half-an-hour earlier than before.”

By the end of the year the first ever live commentaries had taken place for rugby matches, cricket, Wimbledon, the Grand National and the Derby.

Some 1927 sports broadcasts highlights:

January 15 1927 – first rugby match, England v Wales, at Twickenham
January 22 1927 – first football match, Arsenal v Sheffield United, with Teddy Wakelam
March 25 1927 – first Grand National, described by Meryick Good and George Allison
March 26 1927 – first athletics meeting the Inter-Varisty Sports at Queens Club, narrated by Harold Abrahams
April 2 1927 – first Boat Race with narrators Oliver Nickalls and JC Squire 
April 23 1927 – first FA Cup Final with George Allison and Derek McCulloch
May 14 1927 – Essex v New Zealand cricket match at Leyton, described by P.F. (Plum) Warner
June 1 1927 – first Derby, narrated by Geoffrey Gilbey and George Allison
July 2 1927 – running commentary on the Wimbledon finals
September 7 1927 - running commentary of the St Leger by Geoffrey and Quintin Gilbey

Although the BBC continued to cover an increasing number of sporting events there was, up until 1939, still an embargo on the reporting of sports news and results until after 6.15 p.m.


The idea of a round-up of Saturday’s sports news just after the final whistle didn’t surface until late 1947 when news producer Angus Mackay (pictured above) was approached to start what would be called Sports Report. Writing in 1954 he recalled that it was October 1947 “when I received a phone call from John McMillan, who was then the first assistant to Norman Collins, Controller, Light Programme. McMillan asked me in his laconic way ‘would you like to try your hand at putting a sports programme out on the air at 5.30 p.m. in the Light Programme?”

This would technically be quite demanding as the match reports had to come from studios, so only those grounds that were within a fast car drive away of a BBC studio could be considered. Mackay continues: “A lightning trip round the BBC Regions followed. Would the North, Midlands, Wales and West of England co-operate? They would, but ominously the generous offers to help were generally accompanied by bland statements to the effect that whether they did or not we would never get a programme on the air as early as 5.30 p.m. Personally, I was inclined to agree, but nevertheless we forged ahead and on 3rd January 1948 we went on the air with the very first edition of Sports Report.”

At the microphone was Raymond Glendenning, the BBC’s moustachioed all-rounder commentator. No recordings of that first show exist but the script went as follows:

Hello there, sports fans, and welcome to Sports Report – a weekly programme on the air at this time every Saturday, with a roving microphone, to bring you not only the football results, but up-to-the-minute accounts of major sporting fixtures from all parts of the country, and an “open” microphone over which we shall be airing the personal views of experts on sport on topics of the moment. Now our aim is to bring into your home, wherever you may be, a half-hour coverage of sport, wherever it may be taking place. How well we have succeeded in this first edition, you will be able to judge after the next 29 minutes.”
The first programme featured reports from three football matches: Portsmouth v Huddersfield with John Arlott and Manchester City v Aston Villa with Alan Clarke (who would stay with the BBC for another 20 years as football commentator). The Scottish League match was Rangers v Dundee and the England v Australia Rugby Union fixture was covered by Frank Shaw.

For many years the programme would also feature longer talks on sporting news and previews. So we heard newspaperman Peter Wilson, of the Daily Mirror, talk about US sports events and personalities whilst Alan Hoby, of the Sunday Express, argued in favour of part-time payments to athletes.

As John Arlott recalled there were several different types of contributors:”the outside reporter, dashing to a microphone to hustle his hot news over the air; the talker who would discuss a situation authoritatively; and, finally, the personality, from a world champion at any kind of sport to a man who had just made the news.”
Sports Report 14 March 1959

Mackay’s favoured use of Fleet Street sports journalists- as well as Wilson and Hoby, J.L.Manning of the Daily Mail was another regular- raised tensions between two BBC departments for the best part of two decades. The programme itself was under the News division whilst the commentators worked Outside Broadcasts. “A Chinese wall soon developed between these two departments” recalled racing commentator Peter Bromley, “and there was little or no co-operation and certainly no goodwill.”

It wasn’t until the Head of OB Charles Max Muller retired in 1969 and Robert Hudson took over that plans to amalgamate Outside Broadcasts and Sports News were made. In the event this didn’t happen until Mackay also retired in 1972 and Cliff Morgan became the new Editor of Sport.

The inclusion of Out of the Blue as the theme for Sports Report was a last minute addition. Here’s Angus Mackay again:  

For several weary days Hugh Driver, one of my colleagues, and I had been listening to literally dozens of gramophone records trying to find a suitable melody. It seemed to us that we had exhausted the reserves of the gramophone library, and we were not very happy about the disc we had chosen when, in the late afternoon of our first broadcast, the library came through to say that there were a few more discs available if we had time to hear them. We did find time that afternoon and one of the first we heard was a march called Out of the Blue composed by Hubert Bath. This was just what we had been looking for and almost immediately it was whisked up to the studio, slapped on the turntable and used to introduce the first edition.

Eamonn Andrews was much used on BBC TV and radio.
In this Radio Times from 1962 he featured on Sports Parade,
Sports Report, What's My Line?, This is Your Life
and Crackerjack
Glendenning was not the only presenter, he was followed by Rex Alston, Geoffrey Peck, Wynford Vaughan-Thomas, Stephen Grenfell, Stewart MacPherson, Peter Wilson, John Webster (more of whom later), Alex McCrindle, Max Robertson, Henry Longhurst, Cliff Michelmore and, for one time only, George Allison. But it was the voice of Eamonn Andrews that would be most closely associated with the programme in its early days.

Andrews had been a sports commentator on Radio √Čireann before joining the BBC in 1950, taking over from Stewart MacPherson as question-master on Ignorance is Bliss. When that ended he read a few morning stories and set about pestering the OB Department for commentary try-outs. Following an introduction to Mackay by colleague Brian George, Andrews was hired to host Sports Preview on the BBC’s General Overseas Service. Shortly after he was asked to take on Sports Report – his first edition airing on 9 December 1950.


The combination of Mackay “the stern, methodical Scot” and Andrews “the affably engaging Irishman” was perfect chemistry and, according to sports writer Patrick Collins “the results were stunning. The essential service of reports and statistics was never disregarded, but a newspaper of the airwaves consists of more than a back page, and one of the strengths of the programme became its willingness to air controversy and encourage strong opinions.”   

Angus Mackay instilled a discipline into sports reporting that endures to this day. Remembering the early programmes he wrote that “we used to think we were putting on fast, slick shows. In those days we used to give as much as two and a half minutes to a report on a soccer match, and we got what we deserved- flowery, well-padded stories which contained a good deal of wholly unnecessary information. We learned the hard way because there was no precedent for a programme such as this, but it wasn’t long before we realised that a good radio reporter could give us an accurate, informative picture of a game in  something like a minute and a quarter or a minute and a half.”

Mackay and Andrews in the studio
Mackay would sit in the studio next to Eamonn Andrews giving him instructions at relevant moments. The programme would go on to pioneer the concept of the producer/presenter talkback. Years later Alan Parry worked with Mackay for his first few months and recalled “What a character. What a man. His discipline was very strict, and if he asked you to deliver a one minute report it had to be just that – one minute”.

From 20 August 1955 Sports Report was extended to run for one hour, occupying its now familiar 5-6 p.m. slot during the football season. In 1949 another sports programme had been added to the Light Programme schedule:Sports Parade. Starting on 15 January and subtitled “What’s on Today?” it aired on Saturday lunchtimes all year round. An early presenter was Michael Brooks but it was later presented by whoever was in charge of Sports Report later that afternoon.    

As the technology developed Sports Report was able to cover more matches. Mackay had pushed for the SOOBE, the Self-Operated Broadcast Equipment. This was a briefcase the reporter took to the match, plugged into a telephone point that connected to the Post Office and onto Broadcasting House. There was no more mad dash to the nearest studio.

John Webster reads the classifieds
The other component was the reading of the Classified Football Results. Allotted, at that time, precisely 270 seconds to read, this duty fell to one of the staff announcers; so you’d have heard John Hobday, Jimmy Kingsbury, Robin Boyle, John Wing and, most frequently during the 50s and 60s, John Webster.

Describing the announcers in 1955 Eamonn Andrews talks about them drifting “into the studio at five-twenty-nine, calmly slip the written results from the hands of some breathless attendant, slide into a chair, give a sly sidelong glance at the clock and bestow a sort of silent benediction to the gabbling, whispering reports in the four corners of the studio. A half-smile in my direction and I feel they saying ‘Relax, I’m ready.’

Here’s a short clip of John Webster reading the results followed by an extract of a Home Service news bulletin in 1961.

In this recording of Sports Report from 30 October 1948 you’ll hear presenter Stephen Grenfell and then announcer Robin Boyle reading the results - but surely it’s ‘nil” not “nought”. 


Whilst Sports Report covered the day’s results the actual sporting coverage was a little more random, scattered throughout the afternoon on either the Light Programme or the Home Service, or even, from 1957 the wavelengths of the Third Programme when they carried Test Match Special for the first time. As the Home Service was regional it tended to look after things like Rugby League, for us Northerners, or Scottish Association football north of the border.

Here’s a typical Saturday of sport from 14 March 1959 if you’d been living in the North of England:

1245-1310 Sports Parade with Eamonn Andrew (Light)
1505-1520 Racing at Sandown Park with Raymond Glendenning and Roger Mortimer (Light)
1540-1635 Rugby League GB v France with Keith Macklin and Harry Sunderland (Home)
1545-1650 FA Cup Semi-Finals with commentary from Alan Clarke (Light)
1700-1800 Sports Report with Eamonn Andrews (Light)
1820-1855 Sport Spotlight with George Carr (Home)
1924-1930 Association Football with games summaries from Charles Buchan (Light)

The Home Service also provided its own regional sports round-ups after the 6.00 p.m. news. These companion programmes to Sports Report started in the 1950s and continued until the summer of 1974.

Flicking through some old editions of the Radio Times reveals the following regional shows:

Welsh Home Service (1960)
Sports Medley with Clem Thomas and T. Eyton Jones

North Home Service (1959)
Sport Spotlight with George Carr and Norman Turner with reports from Bill Bothwell, Victor Bernard, Stuart Hall, Barney Colehan, Bernard Taylor, Bill Grundy, Barney Mulrenan, Michael Betts, George Potts, Harry Sunderland, Cyril Briggs and Alan Dixon.

Midland Home Service (1957)
Sport in the Midlands with David Coleman

West Home Service (1958)
Sport in the West with Bernard Fishwick with reports from Arthur Vickerage, Bill Latto, Jimmy Ure, Peter Cranmer, Alan Gibson, David Haines and Peter Hunter

Scottish Home Service (1960)
Sportsreel with R.F. Dunnett

London Home Service (1963)
Sports Session with Gerald Sinstadt, produced by Godfrey Dixey

Northern Ireland Home Service (1962)
Ulster Sports Report with Ronald Rosser with reports from Harry Thompson, Rupert Millar, Syd Maguire, Eddie McFall, Jack Sloane, Bill Heaney, Jack Carroll, Derek Johnston, Billy McMaster, Billy Mackey and Hugo Patterson

In October 1958 Grandstand was to start on BBC TV with former Midlands Region sports presenter David Coleman at the helm. But BBC Radio still didn’t have a full year-round Saturday afternoon sports programme, though for the summer months from 1955 the Saturday and August Bank Holiday coverage on the Light Programme was grouped together under the umbrella title of Out and About, the whole held together by announcers such as Robin Boyle or Jimmy Kingsbury. There was still a break for music though with Bandstand.


Out and About ended in 1960 and from 29 April 1961 the BBC was now making use of the Network Three wavelengths (as the daytime service of the Third Programme was called) to broadcast the new Sports Service; running throughout the summer months and Bank Holidays consisting of live commentaries interspersed with classical and light music. Sports Parade and Sports Report continued on the Light with music programmes in between, though there was still the odd bit of cricket and racing. 

In 1964 the Sports Service programmes resumed again from 25 April, but this time it was the start of what we now recognise as the regular Saturday afternoon sports magazine. Sports Parade and Sports Report moved across from the Light Programme on 22 August 1964 to top and tail the main programme. The Radio Times of 19 September 1964 explained: 

In previous years the Third Network Sports Service has been a strictly summer adventure on Saturdays and Bank Holidays. This year, for the first time, it is going on indefinitely. The programme will in future deal with all the Saturday sport which was formerly covered by the other Services; it will take over rugby from the Home, and association football and horse racing from the Light.  The only exception is that the Regional and national Home Service will still carry commentaries and reports on some events which are of particular concern to their own listeners – such as Scottish football or the first half of an international rugger match.

The Sports Service on that date ran as follows:

Sports Parade
Sporting Chance – repeat of a quiz with question master John Snagge
Sailing – reports from (surprisingly) Ken Sykora, best known for presenting music shows
Motor Cycling from Scarborough with Alan Clarke & Eddie Fitch
Motor Racing from Oulton Park with Robin Richards and Eric Tobitt
Olympic Preview with Rex Alston
Racing from Haydock Park with Peter Montague-Evans (Peter Bromley presumably at another meeting)
Association Football with second-half commentary from Brian Moore and Simon Smith
Sports Report

Of course this move just wasn’t to please sports fans. Earlier that year Radio Caroline had started its transmissions so the Beeb wanted to stop the tide of listeners tuning into the pirates, moving all the sport to the Third Network cleared the Light’s schedule for more music in Saturday Swings and a new weekend edition of Roundabout. 

19 September 1964
For the first two or three years linking the Sports Service again fell under the duties of the continuity announcers working from studio 1A. Announcers included Jimmy Kingsbury, John Dunn, Bob Willcox, Robin Boyle, Rodney Burke, Andrew Gemmill, Peter Latham and, most regularly Michael de Morgan. Sports Parade and Sports Report were presented by either Robin Marler or Liam Nolan. Eamonn Andrews had left the BBC earlier in 1964 – presenting his last Sports Report on 25 April – before heading off to ITV where he was given his own last-night Sunday talk show and, from 2 January 1965, becoming the first anchor of World of Sport.

The first major defection to "the other side".
World of Sport started in 1965
By 1968 Sports Service, now on Radio 3, had presenters who would become very familiar to radio sports fans: Peter Jones, surely one of the finest ever commentators, who’d joined the sports department in 1966, and Bryon Butler, who would become the radio football correspondent for over 20 years. On occasional presenting duties were Brian Johnston, Neil Durden-Smith and Vincent Duggleby (later of Money Box fame).

Behind the scenes alongside Angus Mackay were producers Geoff Dobson and Jacob de Vries. Jacob had started with the BBC in the 1950s on Sports Session. He became the main sports editor presenting Sunday Sport (Home Service from 1966) and World Service programmes Spectator and Bulletin from Britain. In the 1970s he worked for West Nally, a sports marketing company set-up by BBC commentator Peter West and Patrick Nally. 


Following the internal review of the BBC’s radio services, Broadcasting in the Seventies, it was decided to realign the four national stations. One consequence of this was that all sport was to move to Radio 2. The final Sports Service aired on 28 March 1970 and Sport on 2 the following Saturday 4 April – both presented by the now regular host Peter Jones. 

The great Peter Jones
That first Sport on 2 included coverage of The Grand National with commentary from Peter Bromley, Michael O’Hehir, Michael Seth-Smith and Roger Mortimer; Rugby Union commentary on the Wales v France game from Alun Williams and Alan Gibson; and second-half football commentary with Maurice Edelston and Bryon Butler. The running time for the first few months was just 2.30 to 5.45 p.m. but it soon extended to start at 2.00 p.m.and end at 6.00 p.m. By 1973 it was carried on long wave only, Radio 1 grabbing the scare VHF resource on Saturday afternoons, and by 1974 it was starting at its long-running regular time of 1.30 p.m.

In fact sport didn’t entirely disappear from Radio 4. The Sports Parade broadcasts moved to that channel from 4 April and continued its run until the end of the football season in 1974. A new sports preview programme, Sport on 4, joined the schedules in 1977, but that’s for a future post.

Sport on 2 got its own theme too, Number 1 by The Delle Haensch Band, those first few notes perfectly punctuating the programme’s opening announcement, and conveniently a definite end to dovetail into the next programme junction or the pips. It continued to be used as the theme for Sport on Five but was dropped some years ago, if you know exactly when please let me know.

Jim Rosenthal presents Sport on 2 from the Thames
for coverage of the Boat Race
(Photo Roger George Clark)
At the helm of Sport on 2 during the 1970s and 80s, now masterminded from studio B9, were Peter Jones, Bryon Butler, Desmond Lynam, Chris Martin-Jenkins (who sadly died just this week), Jim Rosenthal, Alan Parry, Tony Adamson, Mike Ingham, Ian Darke, Renton Laidlaw, Jon Champion and John Inverdale. Many of these came up the ranks from BBC local radio, many went onto work in TV.

This is Peter Jones with part of the Sports Report programme for 25 August 1984, the start of the new season, with reports from Ian Carnaby, George Hamilton, Mike Ingham and Stuart Hall.

One constant on Saturday afternoons for the last 30+ years is that of James Alexander Gordon (above), reading the classified football results in his own inimitable style. The previous main reader, John Webster, had retired from the BBC in October 1970 and so the task was picked up by other staff announcers such as Jimmy Kingsbury and even Simon Bates. In 1974 James Alexander Gordon joined the rota of readers – Kingsbury, by then Presentation Editor, asking him to “nip over to sport and read the classifieds” – alongside David Bellan and Len Jackson, and he became the sole reader from the early 80s and continues to this day.

Mike Ingham in the studio in 1982
Here’s a 90 minute recording of Sport on 2 when Sports Report celebrated its 40th anniversary on 2 January 1988. Reminiscing along with Peter Jones are Cliff Morgan, Rex Alston, Geoffrey Green, Harry Carpenter, Des Lynam, Patrick Collins, Alan Grace, Roy Hattersley, Barry Norman, Jimmy Tarbuck, Michael Parkinson, Henry Cooper, Fred Perry and Ian Wooldridge. You’ll also hear football reporters Jimmy Armfield, Denis Law, Larry Canning, Trevor Brooking, the poetic Stuart Hall, Ron Jones, Bryon Butler, Peter Slater and George Bailey. Plus Rugby Union with Ian Robertson (still doing sterling service on 5 Live) and the late Peter Bromley at the Newbury race meeting. 

Just before “the five o’clock show” as Sports Report was known to the production team, there was a live link-up with Grandstand: 


By 1990 BBC radio was having to relinquish some of the FM/AM simulcasting and Radio 2’s medium wave frequencies were allocated to the first new national station in 23 years, the rag-bag of programmes that became Radio 5. All the sports coverage moved across along with children’s programme, youth-orientated shows, schools programming, the Open University, bits of the World Service and a new breakfast show.  

Here’s John Inverdale with the final Sport on 2 on 25 August 1990. The following weekend the programme moved lock, stock and barrel to become Sport on Five.

2 April 1994. Note a displaced Sports Report due to
the extra football commentary.
And when did Sport on Five drop the racing results?
From 2 April 1994 Sport on Five (also variously billed as Sport on 5) was now on the new 24 hour news and sports service Radio Five Live, still with ‘Invers’ at the helm but now extended to start at 1.00 p.m. Presenters since have included Ian Payne, Jonathan Legard, Clare Balding, Eleanor Oldroyd, Russell Fuller, Arlo White, Mark Saggers and currently either Mark Pougatch or Mark Chapman. The sports coverage was re-titled as 5 Live Sport with effect from 3 June 2006 just ahead of the World Cup tournament.  

Over the years the Saturday afternoon programme was seen an increase in its duration and 11 a.m. or 12 noon start times are not uncommon as matches kick off earlier to accommodate the demands of TV. Sports Report itself has remained a fixture during the football season but has sometimes been cut to just 15 or 30 minutes when there’s an evening match. Sport is no longer mainly just a Saturday event: summertime sports coverage was introduced on Radio 2 medium wave back in the mid-80s.  And of course there’s plenty of opportunity to chew the sporting cud in 606 orSportsweek.  

The armchair sports fan is now well served by the broadcasters: 5 Live, 5 Live Sports Extra, talkSport, Sky Sports, ESPN, BT Vision but the old warhorse, Sports Report, is there. It’s theme may sound dated amongst the electronic whooshes and beats but, to quote one-time presenter Des Lynam, “it’s part of the fabric of sports broadcasting. It’s a tradition.”  Altogether now: De Dum De Dum De Dum De Dum Diddly Dum De Dum.


Sports Report edited by Eamonn Andrews & Angus Mackay (Sportsmans Book Club 1955, originally Heinemann 1954)
Sports Report: 40 Years of the Best edited by Bryon Butler (Queen Anne Press 1987)
50 Years of Sports Report edited by Audrey Adams (CollinsWillow 1997)
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