On the Air .
Attendances at football matches peaked in the decade after the last war when there was little else to do on winter Saturdays, for men, women and children alike. Statistically, in smaller towns at least, as much as a quarter of the population went to the home match every fortnight which, when one considers the percentage of children and women involved, meant that almost all able- bodied men “went to the match”.
As a result, at 5pm in 1948 came the first strains of the now familiar tune “Out of the Blue” which heralded an exciting new programme covering all types of sport, although concentrating overwhelmingly on football, the common denominator for the vast majority of sporting enthusiasts.
After some catchy headlines all was hushed as the results were read out which, for millions, meant checking their football pools to see if they had won £ 75,000, a vast sum offered by the two biggest companies Littlewoods and Vernons. In reality, however, the figure was usually shared by all who correctly marked eight draws on their coupon, colloquially known as the Treble Chance. Occasional massive winnings, though, actually made headline news, announced with great aplomb in the press.
Individual match reports during Sports Report came in from all across the country and it was not unusual for links to be lost or for the reporter to miss his cue or fail to get to the microphone in time.
Some individuals became household names, among them the moustached fast- talking football and racing commentator, Raymond Glendenning, and the anchormen Eamonn Andrews and Des Lynam. Another man with animated and alliterative ways with words when reporting, was Don Davies who, sadly, perished in the Manchester United Munich air disaster of 1958.
Other notable names have included presenters Stephen Grenfell, Robin Marlar, Peter Jones, Mike Ingham, John Inverdale, Ian Payne, and latterly Mark Chapman and Mark Pougatch.
John Webster was the first classified results announcer before handing over in 1974 to the cultured Scottish voice of James Alexander Gordon, who in turn handed over to Charlotte Green in 2013. Before the advent of the internet a second reading of the results took place for “latecomers”, basically all who had been to a live match, almost every one of which had kicked off at 3pm.
Originally broadcast on the Light Programme, produced by Angus Mackay, the bouncy signature tune of Sports Report set a tone of high excitement as fans tuned in to see how their team had fared. Many were to be quickly disappointed but when the BBC tried to drop the music Desmond Lynam apparently stepped in to prevent it. More recently an immediate public outcry occurred on social media when it briefly went AWOL only for Mark Chapman to make a hurried announcement within just a few minutes to say that it had not been dropped after all.
In 1964 Sports Report was moved to the Third Programme as part of the BBC’s Sports Service, but in 1970 it returned to what is now BBC Radio 2 as part of Sport on 2. In 1990 it moved to the original Radio 5 and from 1994 was on BBC Radio 5 Live as part of Sport on 5, renamed 5 Live Sport in 2006.
No longer, however, do we breathtakingly wait at home for the “Classified Football Results” because the internet and previous live radio updates have rendered them virtually obsolete. But for those tuning into the car radio after watching a live match, however, it is an entirely
different matter. Some of the magic has gone with the march of electronic progress and time but the signature tune, especially when waiting for the football results, still sends a shiver down the spine of all who grew up listening to Sports Report.
Although less frenetic during the cricket season, Sports Report still begs the question “How did my team get on today?”
Eamonn Andrews ( left) was a superb anchorman, as was Desmond Lynam ( bottom left), who allegedly resisted the call to abandon the familiar signature tune, “Out of the Blue”.
For many years the football results were read by James Alexander Gordon ( top right), whose dulcet tones and clear rise and fall of his voice immediately signalled a draw, or a home or away win, even before he read the score.
Modern presenter Mark Chapman ( bottom right) also doubles on BBC Television’s Match of the Day.
Raymond Glendenning gave his name to a sporting annual throughout the Fifties. An enthusiastic and often excitable radio commentator he vividly portrayed what he saw and successfully brought sport into the home long before early television coverage arrived on the scene.
Most football pools were laboriously checked by hand in Liverpool where an army of women was employed immediately after the results were announced.
Littlewoods and Vernons Football Pools were based in Liverpool, Copes and Zetters in London, Empire in Blackpool, Brittens in Leicester and Shermans in Cardiff. Many have since merged with hands- on postal entries and checking replaced by online betting.