The Saturday Movie Club: Saint & Greavsie (1987)

by | Oct 20, 2018

If the ushering in of the Premier League in the summer of 1992 also involved the sweeping of a broom through some of football’s dustier corners at the same time, there were perhaps no higher profile casualties than Ian St John and Jimmy Greaves. For the previous seven years, their double act had been on our screens every Saturday lunchtime, but the formation of a new league had ironic after-effects, and as ITV scaled back its football coverage to suit its new, reduced circumstances, so Saint & Greavsie was dropped from the schedule.

The story of the origins Saint & Greavsie goes back to the days of black and white television. ABC Weekend Television launched World of Sport in 1965 as Saturday afternoon competition to the BBC’s Grandstand. Initially hosted by Eamonn Andrews, it was a weekly compendium of whatever sport ABC could find to put on air, and after a shake-up of ITV regional franchises in 1968 the new company, London Weekend Television, gave it a makeover, bringing in man about town Dickie Davies as host, the “ITV Seven” (seven horse races with bets that could complemented by accumulator bets with unlikely odds but very big potential returns), and continuing its popular mid-afternoon wrestling slot.

One further innovation came in the form of On The Ball, a lunchtime football preview broadcast hosted by commentator and anchor Brian Moore, but Moore eventually moved on to focus more on his more serious duties, with Ian St John being brought in to replace him. Initially, St John was only joined remotely by Jimmy Greaves by camera link. Greaves had started his television career with ATV’s Star Soccer in 1980, co-hosted Central’s replacement for Tiswas, The Saturday Show, and had columns in both The Sun and The Sunday People.

When World of Sport was axed in 1985 On The Ball went with it, but ITV Sport decided to keep faith with this new double act and moved Greaves into the studio with St John as a co-host, which led to Saint & Greavsie beginning its run as soon as World of Sport came to its end. For the next seven years, Greaves told his jokes and St John – who’d started his media career by entering the BBC’s Find a Commentator competition in 1969 before spending the second half of the 1970s in management – chuckled away.

Football, however, was changing, and for younger viewers this particular double-act was seen very much as the old guard, all comfortable knitwear and anecdotes from the golf course. That said, there was occasionally some grit to their reporting. The last season of the show, for example, saw reports from the collapse of Aldershot FC and a coach trip to Macclesfield with supporters of Chester City, who were playing their home matches at Moss Rose whole their brand new Deva Stadium was still being built.

When the end came, though, it was savage. The idea of breaking away from the Football League to start a new division that would keep all the television money was put to the biggest clubs by Greg Dyke, then of ITV, only for the clubs to snub ITV by choosing a television deal with Sky Sports and the BBC instead. With the formation of the Premier League meaning the end of ITV’s exclusive four-year deal for live television rights, the network had to scale back its coverage and Saint & Greavsie were amongst the casualties of this. They didn’t know this at the time of their final broadcast, at the end of the 1991/92 season, though. That summer, the TV rights went to Sky and Saint & Greavsie was consigned to the dustbin of history.

For this morning’s Saturday Movie Club, however, we’re going back to Saint & Greavsie’s salad days. It’s Saturday the twenty-sixth of September 1987, Terry Venables has just left the Barcelona job but Howard Kendall is still in place at Atletic Bilbao, Reading have just beaten Chelsea in the League Cup, and Liverpool may be interested in signing Oxford United’s Ray Houghton. The voiceover for the week’s League Cup goals, by the way, comes from the recently-deceased commentator Peter Brackley.