Award-winning athletics producer Martin Webster has died

Commentator STUART STOREY, who worked with him on the BBC’s coverage of athletics for around 30 years, pays tribute to Martin Webster, who died last week

Martin Webster, who died in the early hours of March 28, aged 56, was BBC Television’s executive producer of athletics. In a 30-year career he worked at six Olympic Games, including Beijing in 2008, despite his having been diagnosed with with Motor Neurone Disease in 2005.

Webster joined the BBC in 1978 as a researcher based in Cardiff. He moved to London to join BBC TV Sport in 1981 and became a producer in 1987. The following year he worked as a producer on his first Olympic Games, in Seoul. By 2008 and Beijing, Webster was responsible for planning the television coverage of the Games as executive producer.

At the Sydney Olympics in 2000, as host director of athletics, Webster provided the television pictures for the world. His talent had been recognised worldwide.

He was at the helm as executive producer athletics for the BBC at 10 world championships, the first in Tokyo in 1991. Webster was also responsible in full or in part for the coverage of athletics at the European championships and Commonwealth Games throughout his time at the BBC, including the Games in Melbourne in 2006.

Webster was regarded as an incredibly talented television sports producer and director, totally dedicated to the sport of athletics in particular. He continuously sought new ways of improving the coverage of athletics in pictures and took on board new technologies, all in an attempt to add visual support to his commentators.

Award-winner: Martin Webster pictured after being named the winner of the 2007 Ron Pickering Memorial Award at the BAWA annual dinner. Left to right are his wife Liz, Jean Pickering, Martin, Sean Pickering and Stuart Storey

He was keen to help the ordinary viewer at home to understand the complexities of the sport. He introduced the home straight tracking camera, and the gyro-stabilized ball camera, a piece of kit that David Coleman once called “a cement mixer on wheels”.

Webster’s introduction of the  epsis virtual graphics to the sport was to give emphasis to athlete lane line ups, with national flags and athletes names appearing on television screens at home. The technique was also used, and continues to be used, in the horizontal jumps and throws too, highlighting leading and record distances.

In 2002, Webster’s work in the coverage of the Manchester Commonwealth Games was recognised with the award of a British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA). His second BAFTA came for his coverage of the athletics world championships in Berlin in 2009, with particular reference to his coverage of the men’s 100 metres final that featured Usain Bolt.

Webster’s innovative coverage of the Great North Run and the London Marathon over the years was admired worldwide. In 2007 he was inducted into the Great North Run Hall of Fame and in the same year at the British Athletics Writers’ Association’s awards dinner, he received the Ron Pickering Memorial Award for services to athletics.

The BBC's coverage of this 100m world championship final saw Martin Webster win a second BAFTA

Webster enjoyed football, too, and he was involved in the coverage of many major events and championships over the years. He was host director at the World Cup in 1994 and again for the Euro 96 when staged in England. He was a supporter of Sheffield Wednesday.

In 1998 Webster demonstrated his versatility by becoming host director for the coverage of the bobsleigh at the Winter Olympics in Nagano.

As a leader of men and women he was second to none.

Barbara Slater, Director BBC Sport, said of him: “Martin was one of the great television producer/directors of his generation. His BBC career spanned 32 years and he was one of the most innovative and creative OB directors ever to have worked for BBC Sport.

“His talents and professionalism were universally admired and he made a unique contribution, especially to the coverage of athletics, not just in the UK but right across the world.

“He will be sorely missed by all of us who had the privilege to work with him and our thoughts are with his family at this sad time.”

And to quote Martin’s son Mark, “He was a champion in his field, but perhaps more importantly he was cherished and admired by those he worked with.”

Read Mark Butler’s tribute to Martin Webster on the IAAF website by clicking here