Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Boggenstrovia at the Olympics - Part Two...

After the Mexico Olympics of 1968 showed the public the wonders of colour television and a mass sporting occasion, meant the take up for colour television sets was steady as by the time the 1972 Munich Olympics came around. Broadcasting using the PAL system both used in the UK and also in host country Germany, unlike Mexico when the pictures needed converting to both 405 lines and also 625 lines as well. It allowed pictures just to stream back to the BBC in London bringing more extensive coverage then ever before and more live events as well.

Historical feats of endevour such as Mark Spitz's seven gold medals, Mary Peters winning the hepthalon could be seen live and brought into people's homes but to all this there was one event which overshadow these Olympics and them from a great sporting event to looking at dramatic and tragic unfolding before the viewing public.

On September 5th, what was seen as the friendly games was to be shaken to its core when the Palestinian terrorist group Black September got into the Athletes Village and held hostage five Israeli athletes and six of the Israeli coaching staff. When this happened, it was clear that the world's eyes would focused on their television sets watching an apartment block in the Athlete's Village. With this developing situation, what had been the world's top sports broadcasters covering the Olympic event meant they had turned into news anchors informing the public what was happening.

For David Coleman, that day was to be a rest day for him having commentated on the Athletics and also having anchored coverage as well the previous day. But this was all to change when his fellow athletics commentator Ron Pickering came to his room banging on his door. After being awoke by the rapid pounding of the room he was staying in, Pickering relayed the news that no-one wanted to hear.

Coleman went straight to the studio to anchor what was effectively rolling news coverage of the events unfolding, unbelievable to think now with twenty-four hour news available. Such was the BBC's higher management judgement, they trusted Coleman with holding the coverage together whilst reporting any news as to what was going on. As hour after hour passed with a single locked-off camera looking at the apartment block's balcony with the terrorists on it, the events came to their gory conclusion with the terrorists trying to escape with the hostages by helicopter but with them, German police and Secret Service officers being involved in a firefight. The story which had unraveled was one of tragedy and such as a mark of respect, the games were postponed for a few days for those who had died.

When coverage started again with a memorial service for those who had died, Coleman was once again called upon to be the BBC's commentator for the service relaying the feelings of all athletes, officials and the public to the viewer at home. It was during these games that Coleman's reputation was cemented as one of the broadcasting giants.

For all the BBC's coverage of the 1972 Olympic Games, ITV had made different plans themselves. They had announced they were going to show the day's best action in a two hour block of programming per day, as the TV Times had said about their plans "You can catch all of the day's best Olympic action, but also still watch Max Bygraves as well..."

This in itself seemed antiquated, but compared to the overshadowing events seem irrelivant. But ITV's relationship with the Olympics has been patchy at times though. Through the European Broadcasting Union's purchasing wholesale of the coverage of the Olympic Games, like the World Cup, allowed ITV to cover them as well as the BBC.

The first time that ITV covered the Olympics with full gusto was in 1968 when LWT had been put in charge of editing ITV's coverage of the games. Though one man made his debut on commentary duties for ITV in 1968 who would commentate on every Olympics right upto the 2012 addition of the games, but more later on him...

With similar coverage in 1976 for the Montreal games, ITV's coverage seemed almost non-exsistant in the public's eye. But for the BBC, who broadcast more live hours of sport then ever before, these games were memorable for the public being able to vote on which theme tune the BBC would use for their coverage via Nationwide and a postal vote. Unique by the way the theme was chosen, apart from very few other programmes this was one of the first examples of interactivity. By 1980 though both the broadcasting and the political landscape surrounding the Moscow Olympics was very different.

With the Soviets invasion of Afganistan in 1979, lead to questions being asked about the games and participation of nations by both the sporting organisations themseves and politicans as well.

With several countries withdrawing from the games including the United States, which meant NBC which had big plans for covering the games had to withdraw their live coverage apart from highlights on the nightly news. But for British broadcasters it was catch-22, some sports had gone to Moscow such as the Athletics team and the swimmng teams, other completely withdrew. Where as it was British athletes competing, they had go under the Olympic flag as independent athletes after the government gave the choice to the individual athletes if they wanted to go to Moscow or not.

But this lead to both BBC and ITV scaling down coverage for these games, though the events which counted the most were covered live by both. It was costly for NBC in the end, but for memorable moments for British competitors great for ITV and more so BBC. Though as it came around to 1984, the BBC were able to offer through the night coverage of the LA Olympics even changing the BBC1 globe of the time to the Olympic rings with the globe contained within them.

These games were truely Hollywood with sun beating down and also the Americans as host broadcaster, it gave a new perspective to the coverage with the BBC wanting to showcase what was going on but really from this point the coverage changed more to live events and with the BBC gaining full live rights in 1992, it may gained huge audiences upto and including the London games. But it somehow lost a little bit with one network showing coverage and that alone.

Coleman, Pickering and the other great commentators may have been there, but as we have seen new commentators have taken their place, some good, some bad... But the experience of Olympic Grandstand, it was a part of coverage but that will never be forgotten for what it did for sports broadcasting...

Thought what about that man who's commentated on every Olympics since 1968? Barry Davies, the man behind the mic... His commentary has brought moments of importance to the screen such as the 1988 men's hockey gold medal, his line "Where were the Germans? Frankly who cares..." It struck a cord with the viewers. Yes maybe jingoistic in some ways, but it captured the moment so well and his dulcet tones are still commentating on the hockey at the latest games nearly 44 years later...

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