Grandstand RIP

Alan Fraser, of the Daily Mail, laments the passing of the British sports broadcasting institution, as the last Grandstand goes out on BBC television today

Grandstand disappears from our screens this weekend after 48 years of continuous, largely distinguished, broadcasting service. It departs with barely a whimper, never mind a bang, as nothing more grand than a BBC2 Sunday afternoon alternative menu to the FA Cup game between Chelsea and Nottingham Forest.

A starter of ice skating, a main course of rugby union (highlights) and, for dessert, a world bowls final.

Grandstand began life as an innovator, matured in the pursuit of excellence but sadly has died as a result of neglect, neither sustained by competitive tendering for top-class sport nor cherished as the institution it had become.

Grandstand no longer punches through in this multi-channel world,” said Mark Thompson, the BBC’s director general, last April when the decision to axe was first announced. Icons deserve greater respect.

It was to be gradually phased out by 2009. In the event, it has not even survived a year, outlasted by Blue Peter which also began in 1958 and seems destined to celebrate a dignified 50th anniversary.

With the Six Nations Championship dominating the schedules from next weekend into March, it appears the BBC hoped Grandstand would be forgotten about.

Not by those who remember with excitement the original opening titles in which a camera swung round and showed four sports quartered in its four telescopic lenses; not by those who came to regard the big four presenters — David Coleman (pictured above, and here alongside founding producer Peter Dimmock at the programme’s 40th anniversary), Frank Bough, Des Lynam and Steve Rider — as members of the family.

Coleman, the first at the helm, is now 80 and nursing a broken hand as well as a dodgy knee. Coincidentally he lunched with co-creator Sir Peter Dimmock only this week.

“I am disappointed because Grandstand was just allowed to drift,” he told Sportsmail. “We used to be very competitive. Bryan Cowgill, who went on to be controller of BBC, used to say that ITV could have one night provided the BBC had the other six.

“The news department has taken over yet they do not seem to do news. Peter and I mentioned Grandstand only in passing when we had lunch. They have been running it down for years. But it is a very powerful brand name. They should keep the title.”

The BBC website still quotes Steve Rider as saying last year: “It was always felt to be a fundamental gesture about commitment to sport if Grandstand were to be abolished.”

Lynam was happy enough to look back, even more eager to look forward. “Grandstand became a bit of a dinosaur. Its time has come and gone. People won’t sit for five hours now unless there’s something specific to watch.

“The modern audience is more selective. I think people should enjoy remembering fondly what was part of their television lives, then move on.”

Grandstand first appeared on October 11, 1958 – a Saturday afternoon of course – with the remit “to feature sports and events as they happen, where they happen”.

Previously, the sports fan wanting to see action had either to attend the event itself or listen to the radio. The new programme joined pictures to the words of legends in the making.

Peter O’Sullevan described horse racing from Ascot that first day, a vanguard for the emergence of an extraordinary body of talent, every one a consummate professional, each with their own idiosyncrasies.

Bill McLaren, Dan Maskell, Harry Carpenter, Richie Benaud, Peter Alliss, Eddie Waring and Murray Walker all became household names. Later, former footballers Gary Lineker and Bob Wilson were recruited for their insightful contributions.

Coleman recalled: “It was the first programme of its kind, anywhere in the world. Television producers from all over the world would pop in to see what we were doing, so that they could copy us.”

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