By Philip Barker
Its makers claim it is the longest currently running television sports programme: Trans World Sport celebrated its 20th anniversary with a celebratory party at the Hurlingham Club in Fulham on Friday.
The brainchild of sports marketing mogul Mark McCormack, the programme was launched in 1987, a year when Ben Johnson was still collecting gold medals with impunity, the MCC celebrated its 200th birthday, and six months before Andy Murray was born.
The first boss of the programme was the late Marshall Lee, onetime Newsnight presenter and veteran Anti Apartheid campaigner. Later, Stewart Binns and Graham Fry took over the executive producer reins and the first show was
presented by SJA member Gerald Sinstadt.
Since then it has had only two regular male presenters, Mark Smith and Bruce Hammal, with a succession of female voices including the late Helen Rollason and nowadays Sue Carpenter.
Long serving producers included Jamie Baker and Simon Birri.
Trans World Sport introduced the Copa America and the African Cup of Nations to our screens at a time when coverage of football, let alone other sport in Africa and South America, was unheard of. The programme has been welcome in sports arenas across the world, not to mention a few royal palaces. Early scoops included an interview in Monaco with HSH Prince Albert, they acted on a tip about about a youthful golf prodigy called Eldrick Woods, and a teenager at Nick Bollitieri’s tennis academy called Andre Agassi.
The programme spoke to legends such as Juan Manuel Fangio, Emil Zatopek and Lev Yashin, Torvill and Dean and Pele.
Then there was the esoteric and the downright bizarre from Road Bowling to Bog Snorkellling and Octopush.
For the first time there was news from around the world, reflecting headlines from Buenos Aires to Beijing, Alaska to Antartica.
The programme visited Rwanda in the aftermath of the terrible civil strife, inspired prisoners to a sponsored row to raise funds for Aids victims in Africa and much more besides. It followed the Olympic flame from the sacred lighting ceremony in Olympia to the final spectacular moments when it burned in the stadiums as it covered every Games since Calgary in 1988.
It was TWS that unleashed the tale of the Jamaican bobsledders to an unsuspecting world, long before Cool Runnings.
In the days before digital technology, the making of the programme was a minor miracle, seven days of intense effort to produce 52 minutes a week, 52 weeks a year. Those who gathered on Friday night deserved their party.