The British Sports Journalism awards…1948/9 style!

Philip BarkerAs we look forward to the 2018 British Sports Journalism awards next Monday, PHILIP BARKER takes a few liberties and presents his 1948/9 version.

Seventy years ago, there was no thought of journalism awards to mark the completion of our first year as the Sports Writers’ Association.

This may have been because most broadsheets still cloaked their correspondents in anonymity. An ‘Association Football Correspondent’ covered the game for The Times.

But this seems the perfect time for some gentle speculation on who might have been straightening the bow tie and breaking out the dinner jackets in 1949. Our awards ceremony would undoubtedly have been glittering, but the menu rather restricted because of rationing.

 Newspapers were printed in black and white, nothing like the colour supplements of today, but the first year of our Association had seen the 1948 Olympics in London.

The South London Press’s representative at the cycling was a candidate both for young reporter and regional reporter. His name? John Rodda.

It’s a fair bet that Neville Cardus of the Manchester Guardian, Denzil Batchelor of Picture Post and tennis writer Laurie Pignon of the Daily Mail would all have been contenders for sportswriter of the year. So too Roy Peskett, the Mail’s man at the FA Cup final, although not for his tips.

“I am going to tip against the favourites as I have a hunch for Blackpool,” his northern colleague Eric Thompson insisted. “I cannot envisage but a victory for Manchester United.”

 R.C. Robertson Glasgow (known as Crusoe), better known for cricket, was at Wembley for the Observer and praised Manchester United’s 4-2 victory as “a tribute to their courage and a measure of their skill.”

 World Sports magazine, an ambitious monthly which resumed publication in December 1947 produced two commemorative numbers for the Olympics, worthy surely of our “special edition” award. Editor Cecil Bear also compiled the British Olympic Association’s report of the Games.

It doesn’t take any special expertise to predict the BBC would have swept the board in broadcasting. There was no one else.

What might come as a surprise was to find John Arlott reporting on Portsmouth’s victory over Huddersfield for a new Saturday evening radio programme called Sports Report. Produced by Angus Mackay, it would have been an outstanding candidate for our radio live category.

Hubert Bath’s jaunty march Out of the Blue opened the first programme in 1948 and still does to this day.

Contributors included Peter Wilson “on events and personalities in the United States today”. He was then a tennis and boxing writer with the Sunday Pictorial and a member of the exploratory committee which founded our association. He might even have done an “Atherton” by winning awards for written and broadcast work.

The first Sports Report also featured Alan Hoby to argue in favour of part-time payments to athletes, then a burning issue in sport. Long time SWA chairman Bill McGowran was also heard regularly on the “wireless”.

In the summer, Arlott was back on familiar ground at the cricket. He would have been a leading contender for commentator of the year. Rex Alston had just handed over when Don Bradman began his final test innings. Two balls later ‘The Don’ was out for a duck.

“What do you say under those circumstances? How do you see a ball very clearly in your last test in England,  where the opposing team have stood around you and given you three cheers, and the crowd has clapped you to the wicket. I wonder whether you really see the ball at all,” mused Arlott. He had been a poetry producer early in his career.

 In 1948 John Snagge described the University boat race, a national institution every bit as much as Arlott. Often visibility was a problem when covering that race too.

 TV was very much a junior partner when Dorian Williams described the Olympic show jumping. His audience was London and the South East. Williams doubled as stadium announcer that evening.

In years to come, Williams would become a national institution every bit as much as Arlott and Snagge.

 The Beeb were host broadcasters in the truest sense, providing facilities for the rest of the world. The BBC handbook called it “a planning and operational problem which had  never before been encountered in the history of any broadcasting organisation in the world.”

A broadcast centre was set up in the Palace of the Arts close to Wembley stadium with studios, recording and switching equipment, an effort worthy of Sports Production team of the year.

They might have had trouble in putting together an awards showreel though, for, in 1948, there was no technology for videotaping. Sadly the coverage was lost forever.