Sports Report at 70 – celebrating a radio favourite

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We celebrate the iconic Sports Report which turns 70 this week.

It is the world’s longest-running sports programme and this weekend Sports Report celebrates its 70th birthday.

At 17:00 GMT on Saturday, the famous theme tune will kick in on BBC Radio 5 live and a round-up of the day’s big stories, classified football results and interviews with key people will follow.

Here, we share memories from some of the well-known presenters and commentators through those years of broadcasting:

That legendary music

Sports Report at 70 – celebrating a radio favourite
Sports Report at 70 – celebrating a radio favourite

The programme has used the same theme music since its inception, which is ‘Out of the Blue’, written by Hubert Bath. Apart from Saturday, 5 January 2013, when ‘gremlins’ in the system meant it was played an hour later.

Mark Pougatch (Presenter 2000-2016):

I had to say ‘I’m really sorry, it’s clearly not the music’ and there was such a reaction to it, we played the right music later. It was like the ravens had left the Tower of London, it was like the worst thing you could have ever done.

We’re British, right, we don’t like change anyway, but to change music which symbolises a programme – or to think that you have done – causes absolute mayhem. The music is so evocative.

BBC 5 live presenter Mark Pougatch
Mark Pougatch was Sports Report’s longest-running presenter

Mark Chapman, who took over from Pougatch in 2016:

It is one of the most iconic pieces of music that there is, not just in sport, but in British broadcasting. It takes everybody back to when they were kids, in the car, after watching the football.

The one time the music didn’t play is still one of my favourite moments – people thought the world had ended.

BBC Radio 5 live apology over Sports Report theme tune in 2013
BBC Radio 5 live apology over Sports Report theme tune in 2013
How the 5 live Twitter account responded when the signature tune wasn’t played

John Inverdale (1987-94):

It’s about the signature tune as much as anything. The first time I said ‘It’s five o’clock and time for Sports Report’ and then it played I just couldn’t stop grinning throughout the whole of the classified results.

But 30 years on now I still love, and I hope I always will, the moment when Out of the Blue begins. It’s reassuring, it’s your childhood, it’s your youth, it’s your middle age, it’s your later years too, because if you love sport, it always has been an integral part of your life.

Commentator Barry Davies:

I wanted to do it for so long, but when it came to five o’clock and that wonderful tune came I found myself saying, this is something I’ve always wanted to do: ‘It’s five o’clock. It’s Sports Report’ – wonderful.

  • Listen: Sports Report theme tune

Landmark moment

Eleanor Oldroyd on being the first female presenter in 1995:

It felt huge, I grew up listening to it and knowing the theme, it’s that theme, when you say those words. I feel massively proud, it’s pretty good company to be in. It’s still a very special programme, if we can hold on to that feeling of excitement on a Saturday afternoon then it will keep going.

I think people wouldn’t bat an eyelid now – if it was Kelly Cates or Caroline Barker – they are so established. But I don’t remember anything being made of it back in the ’90s. It felt like a big deal for me, it had been such a male-dominated thing for such a long time.

When my daughter was tiny, I can still remember on a Saturday afternoon when I was on maternity leave and she was a bit grizzly I would bounce her up and down and hum the tune to her – it was a good baby-bouncing theme.

Eleanor Oldroyd was the show's first female presenter
“So many of the TV themes have been lost but we have still got so many on radio,” says Eleanor Oldroyd

A long-running success

The programme was originally produced by Angus Mackay and the first episode, advertised as a ‘new Saturday feature for sportsmen’, was aired on the BBC Light Programme on Saturday, 3 January 1948 and was presented by Raymond Glendenning.

Its profile grew in the 1950s and 1960s with Eamonn Andrews at the helm and the show’s ethos of rounding up the big stories remains the same – so while it might have been John Arlott and Bobby Charlton speaking to the programme back then, it could be John Murray and Jurgen Klopp now.

Mark Chapman:

Normally, when you do this kind of thing the more you do it, the more relaxed you become and I am usually quite relaxed. But there is still that moment when you say that sentence before the music kicks in, you get goosebumps, your hair stands on the back of your neck – I think you feel that more than any job in the broadcast world. Even this Saturday I will feel the same.

I am so conscious when I do it of the weight of history behind it and the remarkable broadcasters that have done it before me and reporters contributing to it and I like to think, when the time comes to pass it on, I will leave it in a similar state.

Des Lynam (1970-80):

It had a very firm base, a very good reason for being, it formed some very good habits, it’s always hired great people, and it’s continued to do so and I would say it’s the best of what it is.

Commentator John Motson:

It was always regarded as the absolute Mecca of football programmes. Even when television came along and began to widen its scope in the 1960s, Sports Report stood untarnished the whole time and I think that’s the great tribute to the programme, its staying power, it has never diminished in reputation.

BBC commentator John Motson
John Motson will retire at the end of the 2017-18 season

Mark Pougatch:

It still has its place and the figures show it still has its place. Everybody knows what it is. It’s just as significant as it’s ever been and that’s as much because of the quality of the people who do it.

Eleanor Oldroyd:

It may change, but people still go to football at 3pm on a Saturday afternoon, then they get in the car and turn the radio on. Or they are listening to Sports Report on their phones through iPlayer – which is something we would never have imagined.

The seal of approval

After many years on Radio 2, the programme switched to Radio 5 on 1 September 1990 and since 2 April 1994 it has been heard on 5 live.

The show features the classified football results, first presented by John Webster and then for 40 years by James Alexander Gordon, before Charlotte Green took over in 2013.

Gordon, who died in 2014, attracted an army of followers with his distinctive Scottish accent and unique style of delivery. He would alter his tone of voice to indicate whether a result was a home win, an away win, or a draw.

His most famous fan was comic Eric Morecambe, who always greeted him by mimicking the tongue-twister scoreline ‘East Fife 4 Forfar 5’ which Gordon became synonymous with – despite it never happening.

James Alexander Gordon (1974-2013):

I saw this blue flashing light and a policeman pulled me in and he said: ‘Do you realise you’re exceeding the speed limit?’ I said: ‘I’m frightfully sorry, officer, but I’m going to read the football results.’ He said: ‘I suppose you’re James Alexander Gordon.’ So I produced my driving licence and he said: ‘I’ll let you off this time’.

Renton Laidlaw (1985-87):

Once, when I was speaking to the Duke of Edinburgh, he said ‘Renton, I did enjoy your interview with such-and-such last week on Sports Report’ and it did go through my mind, did he really listen to this and is he actually being honest? Maybe I’m being a bit unfair, but it certainly impressed me that he knew the programme and he certainly knew more than just the name of the programme – it gave me a bit of a kick to think that at all levels people are listening.

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From 2007: James Alexander Gordon – the voice behind the football results

(Compiled by Kate Kopczyk)

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