Nobody asked for the whole article I mentioned, but anyway, here it is. (He is, of course, referring to McCririck at one point here; he appears to be unaware that ITV had their own snooker tournaments although, admittedly, not the big ones. Dunkley was very much the sort of critic opposed by the New Left who believed in the liberating potential of popular culture, etc. - the company Wall to Wall Television was named in sarcastic opposition to something he wrote - so you have to bear that in mind at certain points. Shoot Pool! sticks in my mind mainly because it often came from the Orchard Theatre in Dartford, which I visited many times in childhood; it ultimately ran for five series, and the last one in 1987 - which definitely came from Dartford - was typically billed in The Times' sports pages merely as "not Scotland" when in fact the TV listings confirm that it wasn't shown *anywhere* outside London and the surrounding counties.)
The Arts: Television - The World of Sport - a Grandstand view of Britain's two nations (by Chris Dunkley, Financial Times, 20 April 1983)
Once upon a time, a quarter of a century ago, the BBC was believed to supply middle class television while ITV catered for the working class. It was rarely stated as baldly as that, of course, yet there was surely little doubt about it: before the days of commercial competition BBC television meant chamber music, serious plays and Richard Dimbleby with Panorama. When they were feeling really playful they screened Animal, Vegetable, Mineral in which archaeologists and professors discussed fossils and curios. The character of the BBC was typified by announcers McDonald Hobley and Sylvia Peters whose accents were indistinguishable from the Royal family.
ITV arrived like a fish and chip van at The Connaught: the game shows Take Your Pick and Double Your Money and the variety spectacular Sunday Night at the London Palladium were presented by Michael Miles, Hughie Green and Tommy Trinder, who did not sound a bit like the Queen. Those series combined with commercial television's comedy programmes like the cheerfully plebeian Army Game captured about 70 per cent of the audience - frightening the BBC as never before or since.
In response Auntie set out determinedly to learn how to make popular programmes and fight to hold at least half the audience to sustain the credibility of her claim to the licence fee. ITV simultaneously set out in the opposite direction, seeking to capture some of the kudos accruing to the BBC from its arts and current affairs output.
It is received wisdom nowadays that this swapping of clothes has gone so far that there is no longer any trace of class distinction between the two services. ITV regularly wins the Prix Italia, the most prized European television award, in the music and arts category which the BBC has never managed. Conversely the BBC produces a succession of shamelessly coarse and ribald comedies - from Steptoe and Son to Are You Being Served? - which would have been unthinkable under Lord Reith.
The rise in the reputation of ITN's News at Ten has coincided precisely with the decline of the BBC's Nine O'Clock News, once the very touchstone of Corporation values. With BBC game shows now winning higher ratings than ITV's, with ITV's current affairs series Weekend World quoted more than Panorama in the quality Press, and with BBC breakfast television providing an object lesson to the commercial chaps in how to go downmarket and capture the ratings, there are surely no class differences left between the two sides. And yet ...
Watching sport for nine and a half hours last Saturday, 4 hours 50 minutes live of ITV's World of Sport followed by 4 hours 40 minutes of BBC's Grandstand on tape, the week's longest unified programme strands, and technically very impressive in their deployment of resources, their switching from location to location, and the smoothness with which it is all handled from the studios suggested that in this area, at any rate, astonishingly little has changed; most of the old differences are still there.
Of course the standard criticism tends to be precisely the opposite: that there is nothing to choose between them and that the public is ill served by such an example of Hobson's choice on one of only two afternoons that the viewer generally has free. But such complaints tell more about the complainers' dislike of sport in general than about any serious attempt to compare the two programmes. The fact is that from such small matters of the opening titles to such large matters as the sports covered, many of the old distinctions seem to have survived intact.
True, the two presenters, David Coleman for the BBC and Dickie Davies for ITV, are remarkably similar in some ways: they both wear grey suits and toning tie and hankie sets and as it happens both have twin sons. Moreover they are both extremely good at their jobs which can become horrifically complicated when the words on the paper in front of them, the words in their earpieces, the words on the autocue and the words they need to lead us into the next item all happen to be different. Yet there is something about Davies - the moustache, perhaps, or the fat Windsor knot, or maybe the too ready smile - which whispers "commercial traveller".
The credits which superficially seem near-identical assemblies of quick-cutting scenes from various sports prove on close analysis to be tellingly different: the BBC's emphasise speed and grace whereas ITV's emphasise violence with a ski jumper crashing, a car crash, and soccer players crashing together.
Both programmes include extensive soccer news and both feature horse racing, though this week ITV was denied its Thirsk coverage by an internal ITV dispute. Even with racing there are intriguing differences in style: it is the BBC which employs that smoothest of all commentators, Peter O'Sullevan, the man with the belt-fed larynx, and ITV which in addition to the usual presenter and commentator employs a special "man of the people" type, down among the punters. Last week he appeared in pork pie hat, tweed cloak and tinted glasses striving with embarrassing intensity to be "a real character".
It is with the week's featured sports, however, that the distinction becomes most obvious. ITV's first major feature was motorcycle racing at Donington, starting with the most hair-raising event I have ever seen in 23 years as a motorcyclist: Round 1 of the Yamaha Pro-Am series with a couple of dozen teenage riders going for glory on matched production machines.
Some dozen or so contestants just behind the leaders rode the entire race within arms' widths of one another, a practice which is horribly dangerous yet undeniably exciting. The last thing we needed was one of those hysterical commentaries like a Monty Python parody, but that is what we got of course. "And this is a race where you wanna be first or last but not in the middle" shrieked Chris Carter unnecessarily. Champion rider Barry Sheene beside him sanely muttered "I'd rather be in the pits".
Meanwhile the BBC was going over to its own first feature, the Badminton Horse Trials, where Raymond Brooks-Ward was informing us in a McDonald Hobley voice that "Mary Gordon-Watson had a corking fall there on The Great Speculator". We saw Princess Anne's husband come unstuck at the Pigsties, innumerable Sloane Rangers being dumped on their jodhpurs, and more Barbour jackets, green wellies and Volvo Estates than you could shake a stick at - awfly awfly old school BBC.
You could hardly invent a greater contrast than ITV's next featured "sport": all-in wrestling from Haslingden. From the referee's jacket quartered in red, white and blue sequins to the familiar credulous commentary of Kent Walton it was about as vulgar as you could get. ITV's other event was the New York State Firemen's Competition which involved racing dragster fire tenders, hitting targets with hoses, and a bucket-chain race: knockabout spectacle of the Jeux Sans Frontieres types rather than sport.
The BBC's other feature was the start of what has become one of the major sporting events of the television year: the World Professional Snooker Championship. It is of course played mostly by young men from working class backgrounds and the event could scarcely be more commercial. Yet snooker has somehow managed to retain, right through the postwar doldrums and into a new golden age, something of the atmosphere of the officers' mess in the days of the Raj.
Indeed I suspect that one of the main reasons for its huge popularity is the gentlemanly way in which it is played: with tennis now ruined by the tantrums of millionaire tots, cricket played in fancy dress, soccer providing more action on the terraces than the field, and the awful news about rugby union, snooker despite its professionalism is becoming the last haven of the English sporting ideal with its skill, length, calm, concentration and good manners.
No doubt ITV would love to develop something to challenge the popularity of the BBC's World Snooker, but instead it is succeeding mainly in pointing up those old distinctions with Shoot Pool! which is currently being tried in the London ITV region, a dreadfully common little hole-in-the-corner affair ...
Last edited by Araminta Kane on 22 July 2017 6:05am