60 years on: Sports Report still leads

The SJA is not the only august sports media entity celebrating a diamond anniversary in 2008, as RICHARD HOBSON reports in The Times
Mark Pougatch began to shiver seven years ago when he was given the job of presenting Sports Report. At 5 o’clock on Saturday he started to shake again. “Every week,” he says, “I still think to myself ‘don’t balls it up, you can’t balls it up.’ ” This is what hosting the BBC’s flagship radio sports programme can do to a grown man.

Sports Report celebrates its diamond jubilee early in the new year and such occasions bring out the nostalgia in all of us. The BBC is joining in unashamedly with a two-hour show on the evening of January 3 dedicated to 60 years of Saturday sport. Guests will include the daughter of Angus Mackay, the first producer.

Pougatch knows he is following an illustrious line. The programme launched the careers of Raymond Glendenning, Eamonn Andrews, Des Lynam, Jim Rosenthal and John Inverdale, among others, while equally famous names have contributed. John Arlott covered Portsmouth against Huddersfield Town for the first show.

The signature tune is so famous as to be recognisable in print: da-dum da-dum da-dum da-dum da-diddly-dum di-dum. But only aficionados will know or care about its title, Out of the Blue, or that Hubert Bath was the composer. Two years earlier, Bath had written the score for Blackmail, an early Hitchcock film.

Only twice since Mackay chose the gramophone record from the BBC library has it gone unplayed: once by mistake and once because it was deemed inappropriate on the afternoon of the Hillsborough disaster. It is said that protestations by Lynam prevented a change in the early Seventies when an executive considered it to be out of date.

To anybody below the age of 40 the second constant will be James Alexander Gordon’s reading of the “classified football results”. Since 1974, his voice has been imitated, parodied and chosen for its clear enunciation by English language teachers abroad. He was once offered a bribe to rig the results by a bank manager in Nigeria.

But without a flippant misjudgment by Jimmy Kingsbury, his predecessor, Gordon’s career may not have been born. With millions of aspirant jackpot winners poised over their weekly pools coupons, Kingsbury began: “Eyes down, children. May your felt tips never run dry.” Football, of course, is far too important for any such levity.

Despite advances in technology and ever-increasing competition from media old and new, Jonathan Wall, the programme editor, believes that the fundamental role of Sports Report remains unchanged. “We are still here to give out information quickly and accurately for our listeners, and to put it into context,” he says.

On Saturday, Wall focused on goal-line technology based on incidents at Villa Park and the Madejski Stadium. Roy Keane, the unhappy Sunderland manager, was on early and one-to-one interviews from both matches kept things rolling. By the time Pougatch handed over to 606 (at 6.07), Sports Report had set an agenda. Mackay would have approved.

To read Richard Hobson’s article in full, click here

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