British Television & The World Cup, Part Two – The Box Takes Over
In the first part of this series, we looked at the formative days of televising the World Cup, from the limited selection of matches on offer to viewers in Europe in 1954 to the two day delay for any televised coverage at all from Chile, eight years later. Even though viewers in Europe were not in a position to be able to watch live matches in 1962, however, there was already a global revolution in television broadcasting coming, thanks to developments in satellite and other technology, and the next two tournaments would come to shape much of what we still see today whenever the World Cup finals come around.
When the 1966 World Cup finals was awarded to England – and originally it was intended to be the very last act of the Football Association’s centenary celebrations, which had mostly taken place three years earlier – few within the host nation would have anticipated the impact that television would have upon the game over the coming years. By the time the tournament came around, however, it was a different matter altogether. With the launch of the first Telstar satellite shortly after the end of the 1962 tournament in Chile, live pictures could now be beamed around the world, and this meant that the 1966 tournament would be the first to be seen live by anything like a global audience.
It was also the last tournament to be broadcast in black and white. Colour television would arrive in the United Kingdom the following year, but this was too soon for broadcasters to use colour technology to shoot the matches. There was a crumb of comfort for those who did want a better viewing experience, however. The 1966 World Cup final was broadcast using technology designed for more modern “625 line” television sets, meaning that viewers who had already spent money on buying newer television sets would be able to watch the match at a higher definition than had been seen before.
Having sat out the previous tournament on account of the logistical difficulties faced in getting film onto their screens in the first place, the BBC’s commercial rivals from ITV were back for the 1966 finals. The two networks shared their pictures, and this had the unfortunate effect of meaning that some matches weren’t shown live on the television because FIFA had included simulaneous kick-off times for some of them, up to and including quarter-final matches, but at least a full Outside Broadcast unit was sent to every match. European audiences received the full benefit of the BBC and ITV’s Eurovision feed, whilst developments in satellite broadcasting meant that South American viewers were able to avail themselves of the Eurovision feed.
With a significant increase in the amount of television coverage of the tournament came increased opportunities for journalists and football people to get some world. The BBC’s commentary team for tournament was Kenneth Wolstenholme, Frank Bough, Walley Barnes and David Coleman, with Coleman doubling up as the BBC’s main presenter for their coverage and Barnes also acting as a co-commentator (a practice that had actually started for viewers in this country eight years earlier in Sweden) with Kenneth Wolstenholme for selected matches up to and including the final itself. In the studio, meanwhile, Jimmy Hill, Johnny Haynes, Tommy Docherty, Danny Blanchflower and Ron Greenwood were the BBC’s pundits. ITV, meanwhile, had a commentary team of Hugh Johns, Gerry Loftus, Barry Davies and John Camkin, with Eamonn Andrews – probably better known as the long time host of the entertainment programme “This Is Your Life”) as the studio anchor and the former England captain Billy Wright summarising.
The final itself attracted a huge television audence, still the biggest ever for any television event in the United Kingdom, of 32.3m people (a full 200,000 people more than watched the funeral of Princess Diana in 1997), with – then as we might expect now – ninety per cent of the audience watching the match on the BBC. Those who watched the match on the national broadcaster were, of course, treated to Kenneth Wolstenholme’s celebrated “They think it’s all over…” line, those who stuck with ITV heard their commentator Hugh Johns – who, incidentally, frequently was polled as more popular than Wolstenholme at the time – heard Johns say, “Here’s Hurst. He might make it three. He has! He has! So that’s it! That is it.” And it was, but few within the television industry itself could possibly have ignored the size of the television audience that watched the match. Football, they can only have figured, could be very good for television ratings.
By the time of the next World Cup finals, in Mexico in 1970, a lot had changed. From an international perspective, this tournament would be the first to be broadcast around the world in colour, and the first to make the full use of satellite technology which allowed every single match to be broadcast live across the world. On a somewhat smaller scale, however, the 1970 World Cup was also the scene of a minor revolution in the television broadcasting of football in the United Kingdom, and the man responsible for it was a television producer called John Bromley. Bromley had previously had success in devising “World Of Sport”, the long-running Saturday afternoon programme that offered an alternative to the occasionally dry “Grandstand.” When the ITV network of regional companies was shaken up by a round of franchise renewals in 1968, Bromley found himself at London Weekend Television their Head of Sport, Jimmy Hill, and Hill wanted to shake up the way in which television treated its national game.
Brian Moore is now probably remembered as a commentator for the commercial channel, but the World Cup was the one occasion when his voice would not be heard from the commentary gantry. Moore was ITV’s anchorman from 1970 on – he wouldn’t commentate on a World Cup final for ITV until 1986 – and he said of Bromley’s revolution that, “Football criticism on television had been fairly mealy-mouthed up until 1970, you know, it was important you said the right thing. And then we came to the 1970 World Cup, and Jimmy [Hill] was a party to it, who decided we would have a panel with a difference. We wanted one or two extroverts.” They certainly got that. Malcolm Allison, Derek Dougan, Pat Crerand and Bob McNab were the four men chosen for the job – for which they were paid the princely sum of £500 each – and, through a fug of cigar smoke and whisky they bickered and laughed their way through the tournament in a way which simply hadn’t been seen on the television in this country before.
It was Allison that stole the show, though. On one occasion, quite possibly in a state of being tired and emotional, he commented that, “Why are we technically better in Europe? Because we play against peasants, teams who play in primitive ways”, a comment which would now most likely get whoever said it fired but then was considered gold because it lit up the ITV telephone switchboards with complaints. After England were beaten by West Germany in the quarter-finals of the competition, the pundits took the Union Jack ties that they’d been wearing off and threw them to the floor (now there’s a mental image that it’s difficult to dislodge from one’s head once it’s there), before Allison opened a tirade against the Tottenham Hotspur player Alan Mullery, accusing him of being unfit for international football. When Mullery arrived back from Mexico a few days later, he made straight for the studio to confront Allison over his comments and the argument which followed ended with Mullery throwing his England cap at Allison. A short clip from this meeting – although sadly not the cap-throwing – can be seen here.
For the first and only time, ITV beat the BBC in the ratings battle for the 1970 World Cup finals, but this relative combatism would prove to have a relatively short shelf-life in Britain. Few would have predicted at the start of the decade that England’s appearance in the 1970 World Cup finals would turn out to be their last of the decade, and the improved performance of Scotland over the same period of time was unable to lift television ratings back to those of 1966 and 1970. Between them, however, Bromley and Hill had proved that a more combative atmosphere in the studio could prove to be a winning formula with viewers. It’s a lesson that television producers seem to have forgotten over the ensuing four and a half decades, as televised football has continued its seemingly relentless march towards becoming the entire planet’s single most uniting broadcasting phenomenon.
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