Bad Sport 

1 September 2001

“Sport, sport masculine sport. Equips a young man for society. Yes, sport turns out a jolly good sort. It’s an odd boy that doesn’t like sport…”

I have one big hatred in my life. Sport. I hate watching it, I hated taking part in it, I hate people that go on about it and most of all I hate the rag-bag of occasional weirdoes who teach it in schools (before they graduate to become third-rate geography teachers when they get too fat). Therefore, I was quite shocked at the idea that EMC would start a sports-based microsite.

For me, presentation was a safe haven for me to escape as a child, away from the anally retentive half-wits who went on interminably about football, but are so threatened by every other hobby they brand them as “sad” and their followers as “anoraks”.

The question that always occurred with tedious regularity at school was “Who do you support?” My answer was “BECTU”. “Are they a foreign team?”. No, I would explain. I wanted a technician’s strike to wipe out outside broadcasts (and hence sport) again. However, when thinking about it, even in my life, sport and presentation have been strangely mixed.

As far as school sport was concerned, I caught an awful lot of presentation of all kinds when at home feigning illness to avoid cross-country running.

That was until I found out that I had no need to feign illness, as my parents were quite happy to give me notes on demand excusing me from PE or games. I will be forever grateful to them for this and I’m only sorry that most children don’t have such understanding parents.

I was lucky enough to live in a household where there was no one with any interest in football or racing, but the one sport that blighted my childhood was cricket. Sometimes my Dad would get annoyed with the cricket commentary on TV, turn down the sound and listen to the commentary on the radio.

However, more usually he would get annoyed with the commentary on the radio – particularly when we were in the garden – and tune into the VHF or UHF television sound for the television commentary instead.

Being able to listen to the television on the radio was something quite incredible to me as a child. I remember very well the first time he did this – the HTV waterfall ident played right on cue. I was amazed to hear sounds that were for me inextricably linked with television on his radio – this was something that excited me enormously. He could also tune into the police radio as well, or listen to Morse code broadcasts on shortwave radio.

Televised cricket was to blight my childhood – everyone in the house apart from my Dad hated it, but it didn’t stop him watching it endlessly whenever it was on.

However, Cricket coverage did mean we could enjoy the marvellous treat of test card music and Anchor text captions whenever it was rained off, or cancelled due to bad light.

The unpredictability of the English weather would ensure that cricket would be punctuated by unscripted, ad-hoc presentation, sometimes filling quite large amounts of airtime with all sorts of extended trailers and “extra programmes” added into the bargain – I saw countless editions of “Look, Stranger” courtesy of “bad light”.

I still remember the feeling of euphoria on Saturday evening watching the closing credits of “World Of Sport” or “Grandstand” – that this duolith of boredom, taking up the best part of my childhood Saturdays, had finally come to an end for another weekend.

It felt like being released from a life sentence. Lew Grade felt much the same way, and I’m only sorry he didn’t manage to kill off “World of Sport” back in the seventies. As a child it was terrible – particularly before Channel Four began.

Two channels showing sport, and BBC2 showing black and white films. There was almost literally nothing on all day Saturday if it was raining.

I had a particular dislike of “World of Sport” because, due to the way it packaged events from the various ITV companies under the “Independent Television Sport” banner, you were deprived of regional idents.

Therefore although the credits may tell you that racing came courtesy of Southern Television, we were deprived of Steve Race’s wonderful jingle and the blue compass ident and instead had to make to with some cheesy bonhomie from Dickie Davies.

Similarly, though darts may well of come from Tyne Tees, Fred Dinenage’s impish humour was robbing me of the kazoo jingle and lovely weaving custard ident I so enjoyed. In fact, on some weekends “World of Sport” managed to deprive you of six idents.

Horseracing, before Channel 4, was the blight of ITV on weekdays. ITV had decided, bizarrely, in the interests of public service broadcasting that, instead of broadcasting to the unemployed, or parents at home with children, or indeed the elderly, they’d make best use weekday afternoons by feeding the gambling addiction of sad feckless chain-smoking middle-aged men or sate the cravings of people who like overly inbred animals breaking their necks jumping over artificial fences.

But, luckily, racing was also prey to the weather, which was a presentation fan’s dream. But sadly, racing also deprived you of regional idents, a plain caption proclaiming “Independent Television Presents” on a green background or similar would be your lot.

Of course, this in itself is interesting from a historical presentation point of view now, but back then it was very frustrating. The most racing could offer a presentation fan was the odd glimpse of an OB unit – I always found the company logos painted on these fascinating.

It was very rare that you got a company logo preceding sport. Occasionally you did get a Thames mirror before athletics or gymnastics during the week, or even a Westward galleon before the short-lived fad “Target Bowls” (a weird event invented by Westward’s Head of Sport, Chris Fear).

Both the BBC and ITV tended to push the boat out for sports broadcasts and that meant that – particularly in the seventies – things often went wrong. I first saw a foreign testcard when a Eurovision skiing link broke.

And it was the first of many, as Eurovision circuits often had minor glitches. The thing I found most interesting was not the different testcards or colour bars, but the ones that were the same as ours. I got the first inklings that some test cards were international beings thanks to sports coverage.

The biggest blessing of multichannel TV is the ability to avoid sport. I hate sport even today – and most of all I hate the people who think it should be taught in schools as the only way of ensuring children lead a healthy lifestyle – thus guaranteeing the opposite.

I hate the smug self-congratulatory laddish (we called it yobbish in the seventies for good reason) tone of things like “Fantasy Football League”. I’m not alone.

As my wife’s grandmother still says, “if they’ve got that much energy why aren’t they hoeing their garden or doing something useful?” At 72 she can hoe an acre of maize in a day – and she’s never done a minute of sport in her life.

You Say

4 responses to this article

Glenn Aylett 12 April 2014 at 7:29 pm

Chain smoking middle aged racing fans? Sounds a bit like me then. Mind you I’d rather sit in a shed with a pack of rottweilers than sit through a football match or test match cricket( bane of my life as my old man when he retired would inflict test matches on us for ten hours a day, thank God for Sky now).

Actually I used to quite like World of Sport as it didn’t treat sport with the deadly reverence the BBC did and as ITV didn’t have many rights, watching professional wrestling was far more fun than the third test.

Glenn Aylett 6 December 2015 at 5:14 pm

Just to add, when rain stopped play during test matches on BBC 2, they always seemed to haul out a black and white test match from 1963 to fill the time. This test, particularly during the terrible summer of 1985, must have been broadcast into the ground that year.
Like Dave, I have very little interest in sport and yes, I did forge letters to get out of games.

Joanne Gray 21 December 2015 at 4:53 am

My grandparents (who, coincidentally, were both heavy smokers) were racing fans – though I always thought their daily fix was on BBC2 rather than Tyne Tees because I have an all-pervading memory of sitting through hours of Testcard F with that creepy girl’s eyes following me round the room, which was even more scary because they had a black and white set.

This was in the mid 1970s when we still only had 3 channels and tended to watch whichever of the 3 had the least boring daytime output (the testcard F girl scared me, but I dididn’t mind the music – providing my back was to the screen – as it was an accompaniment to whatever I was reading), I wasn’t really a sporty person either, but I enjoyed the wrestling on a Saturday and can remember the likes of Big Daddy, Giant Haystacks, Kendo Nagasaki and Mick McManus – the most unhealthy looking “athletes” in the world – fat, sweaty and unkempt. I think that was half of the appeal of wrestling; the participants looked about as fit as their audience.

I preferred World of Sport to Grandstand because the former clearly drew the short straw when it came to what they could show. Where else back then could one see cliff diving from Mexico, stock car racing or even caravan racing (this was before Top Gear and the Extreme Sports Channel, don’t forget)? And I have World of Sport to thank for introducing me to snooker (which was generally on after my bedtime) – although I still see this as more of a game of skill than a sport, same with darts (which bores the bum off me).

Alan Keeling 6 July 2016 at 3:43 pm

Regarding World of Sport, when Dickie Davies appeared, doing his on-screen announcements, there was almost always a long haired brunette lady using a typewriter in the left-hand background.

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