Abhishek Mukherjee, cricketsoccer’s prolific writer, brings to you the words, verbal or written, almost never intended to be pathbreaking quotes in the history of cricket in this fascinating series……
Complete quote: “Test cricket was the delight of viewers. It is a very happy thing to be one with the Test crowd in your own home, and to see the batsmen sending the ball to the boundary and to hear the roar of the crowd. At times the viewer must have felt himself on the pitch.”
By: The Times, in 1938
We have already discussed the early days of radio coverage of cricket in some details. While the print media still dominated the realm of news and reports and interviews and analysis, the radio held the advantage of live coverage.
But in the 1930s, radio was not the ultimate form of live feeds. John Logie Beard had given his first public demonstration of televised silhouette motion pictures in 1925. In 1929, he combined with Bernard Natan of Pathé to found Télévision-Baird-Natan. The organisation made the first ever outdoor remote broadcast in 1931, of the Epsom Derby, and repeated it in 1932.
Meanwhile, BBC had started running experimental television broadcasts in 1930. This became regular in 1934. In 1936, they set up the world’s first regular public television service in Alexandra Palace. The range of coverage was a 40-kilometre radius of the transmitter.
In 1937, BBC telecast the coronation of George VI and Queen Elizabeth live. Regular coverage of sport was only a matter of time. Unlike in radio, however, their coverage had to be restricted to events in London or thereabouts. Thanks to the flexibility of the Emitron cameras, they were able to cover England vs Scotland from Wembley, the Varsity Boat Race, and Wimbledon.
In England: The Biography, Simon Wilde mentions that there were only about five thousand households with television sets in the London area at that time. However, a brochure called On Television mentions that about a hundred thousand people watched The Derby.
Michael Joh Law has defended the latter count in 1938: Modern Britain: “… is probably correct if families and friends sitting around this unusual new attraction were taken into account. Spectacular events of national interest were a far greater attraction than BBC’s often prosaic television studio output.”
Since Australia were touring England that summer, BBC added the Lord’s and Oval Tests to their itinerary. Obtaining permission was not too difficult, as they had already established rapport with MCC over years, thanks to their radio coverage. If anything, MCC were keen to have an “omnibus agreement” with BBC that included both radio and television.
For the match, BBC producer Orr Ewing had two cameras placed on a platform at the Nursery End, one focusing on the bowler and the other on the batsman. A third was placed at the Tavern, near the pavilion.
In Ball by Ball, Christopher Martin-Jenkins mentioned that the commentary stand was made at the Nursery End, between the Free Seats and the Old Mound Stand. The commentator would be Teddy Wakelam, who had also covered the first-ever sports event covered by BBC on radio and by then a multisport commentator of some repute. There was no scorer – just the scoreboard in case he had to refer to.
Surprisingly, there was limited pre-match coverage even in Radio Times, BBC’s own publication. The Test was telecast from 11.30 to 12.30, 2.30 to 3.30, and 3.50 to 5. In case anything major happened, there would be a subsequent transmission from 6.15 till stumps.
There was a reason behind these punctuated hours. The Test ran from June 24 to 28, whereas Wimbledon started June 20.
The telecast was obviously archaic, without action replays. The coverage was from one end, which meant that every alternate over had to be viewed from behind the batsman. Archaic as it may seem today, the coverage impressed many.
The Telegraph was among them: “The TV cameras were swung smoothly about the field so that every detail of the play could be followed … A striking example of the advance in television and the improvement in the receiving apparatus.”
However, Richard Haynes had a different version in BBC Sport in Black and White: “It was later noted the three Emitron cameras gave a poor and oblique view of play, mainly because the BBC was unable to position its cameras directly down the wicket.”
But there was one redeeming point. The cameras included a telephoto lens for close-ups, which, as Radio Times pointed out, would “show things as intimate as the expression on a bowler’s face when Bradman is missed in the field.”
The Test was drawn, but there double-hundreds from Wally Hammond and Bill Brown (who also carried his bat) and a fourth-innings hundred from Bradman, which obviously contributed towards the success of the coverage.
Televised cricket generally opened to universal applause (who wouldn’t want to watch Bradman live from the comfort of the living room?). We have already mentioned the reaction of The Times.
The original schedule for the summer, as published in On Television, ran:
– Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race
– FA Cup Final [Soccer]
– Trooping the Colour
– The Derby [Horse Racing]
– Wimbledon Lawn Tennis
– Test Match at Lord’s [Cricket]
– “The Constant Nymph” – a play
– “Broadway” – a gangster play
The coverage of the Lord’s Test must have been a success, for the final Test of the series, at The Oval, seems to be a late addition. This was the Test where Len Hutton famously scored 364 and England 903/7. The public got to see a significant proportion of these runs, because this time there was no overlap.
“It will be possible to televise the whole of the Oval Test match, however long it lasts,” announced The Radio Times. As the rubber was alive, the Test was timeless, as per the norms of the day.
BBC paid MCC a combined amount of a hundred guineas for the two Tests. Exactly when this payment was scheduled seems uncertain, as the Oval Test does not seem to be part of the original plan.
The payment went under the header “facilities fee”. To quote Haynes, this “covered the estimated loss of revenue caused by use of seating and other facilities.”
The 1939 Tests at the two venues, against West Indies, were telecast as well. There was no telecast from 1939 due to World War II. Services resumed during the India series of 1946.
Watching sport on television became more and more popular in London over time. There is a delightful anecdote about Lindsay Hassett, vice-captain of Bradman’s Invincibles of 1948, as narrated by Wilde.
Hassett was bowled by England captain Norman Yardley first ball in the Lord’s Test. In typical tongue-in-cheek fashion, Hassett blamed the television set in the dressing-room. Watching a sport on television with one eye and the ground with the other, he had apparently turned cross-eyed…
The venues of broadcasting increased as new transmitters were set up in Edgbaston (1950), Old Trafford (1951), and Headingley (1952).
Television coverage had arrived in Australia in 1956, during the Melbourne Olympics. In 1968, BBC televised in a cricket match in colour for the first time. Australia took to coloured coverage shortly after that.
BBC continued to dominate television coverage in England in 1999, when they lost out to Channel 4 and Sky. Six years later Sky won the rights singlehandedly. Cricket telecast in England would no longer be free to all.