MU MUCH MISTAKEN…
In 1978 the BBC decided to cover all the races and Britain’s interest in F1 grew. TV facilities and race coverage improved: where, at Monaco, I used to sit on a folding chair by the pitlane exit, with a monitor on the pavement, I was now in a proper commentary box. Admittedly, it was the same one as the rest of the world’s broadcasters, but it was a big improvement. My voice was stronger than those of my colleagues, and the Germans next to me used to complain that their viewers were hearing me rather than them.
All this happened on the BBC’s watch and as increased audience figures justified increased budgets things got better, although they were still far from ideal. In the early days, James Hunt and I were never actually at long-haul races such as Brazil and Japan – we were commentating from Television Centre in London. Talking about pictures generated at Suzuka while trying to imply you were there, without actually saying so, tested your inventiveness. “I can’t see the pits from my commentary position,” I’d say. Perfectly true, because I was several thousand miles away, but it gave the impression you were just down the track a bit.
Over the years, things improved. Colour pictures, better facilities, more people to produce better content and an escalation in audience numbers, which included millions of viewers from across the English-speaking world. So much so that ITV were losing vast chunks of their audience on Sunday afternoons and decided to bid for the rights. Which they did and, in 1996, they got them. To ITV’s eternal credit, they really exploited their acquisition with outstanding on-site facilities, more good people, and in-depth content covering not just the race but the full story of its background.
When ITV gave up the rights to spend the money that it saved on football the BBC got the coverage back and now we viewers in the UK can choose between two providers – the BBC and, if you can afford the subscription, Sky. Both of them do a superb job; it’s no exaggeration to say that you know a lot more about what’s going on by watching it on television than by being there. As I excitedly watch it all happening on my widescreen colour television set, I get a glow of pride from knowing that I’ve been able to contribute to such a massive improvement.