Friday, June 30, 2017

Thoughts on Structuring a Thesis

When I began researching the history of sport on commercial television (1955-92), I had a vague notion of how the finished work might be structured. While I cannot claim to have thought through every detail of format and layout, my original conception (if that’s not too grand a phrase) envisaged a historical piece laid out along chronological lines. This would be broken down into four distinct sections, a periodisation based on key public policy interventions: the 1954 TV Act and the subsequent committees chaired by Pilkington (1962), Annan (1977) and Peacock (1986).

There was a rudimentary logic behind this.  Firstly, it was influenced by a number of works read during the early stages of literature searching. Both introductory texts (Crisell, 2002) and subject-specific books (Black, 1972) explored the history of television chronologically. Moreover, the ‘official’ histories of ITV produced by the IBA (Sendall, 1982; Potter, 1989; Bonner and Aston, 1998) each dealt with specific periods of commercial television’s history in such a fashion.

Equally, thinking about the research in strictly chronological terms afforded certain benefits. It allowed me, as a relatively novice researcher, to organise key details within the broader historical picture. It is then possible to appreciate historical developments, and to differentiate between short-term experimentation and long-term trends. It was the simplest way of familiarising myself with the period and organising my thoughts.

As the research has progressed, and my thoughts have turned to questions of structuring my thesis, so the linear model seems increasingly redundant. Put simply, it does not feel as though this approach is sophisticated or nuanced enough to deal with the complexity of the subject. Already it is obvious that there are potential themes and case-studies which cannot be easily addressed within such a structure. One may point to ITV’s competition with the BBC, the long-running Saturday afternoon magazine show World of Sport, and the network’s coverage of professional wrestling.

There is a further consideration. Although the research has a distinct focus on ITV, any history of sport on commercial television must include discussion of Channel 4. Launched in 1982, the channel had a distinct remit, and its sports coverage a definite identity. There are specific questions concerning the sports covered by Channel 4, its presentation style, and how the ideas of Americanisation can be used to explain its programming.

In revising my thoughts on the structure of the thesis, I found myself influenced by Andreas Fickers’ book review and what is described as the “rapprochement between the textual and the contextual tradition in television historiography” (2009:568)

“It is only in the last decade that television studies have witnessed a growing interest in the historical nature of the medium and that media historians have moved from a reconstruction of the past based on written archives to a more integral historiography of television, translated in a serious attention for the audiovisual tradition of the medium.” (ibid.)

In this conception, television historiography is not simply reducible to a “reconstruction of the past based on written archives” – as important as this remains. In addition to the political, economic and social contexts of the programming, one might also consider such factors as the audience, technological innovation, and the relationship between broadcaster and advertiser. Perhaps most importantly, the programming is the key text from which analysis flows – elements of which appear, do varying degrees, in works of sports history (Whannel, 1992; Buscombe, 1975).

One can see thematic structuring in various works. Wheatley’s edited collection of essays (2007) on television historiography – the subject of the review – is broken down into four separate themes: “Debating the Canon”, “Textual Histories”, “Production and Institution” and “Audiences”. Something similar occurs in the book ITV Cultures (Johnson & Turnock, 2005). In this work, chapters fall under one of three themes: “Histories”, “Institutions” and “Texts”.

Even if one does not exactly reproduce these themes – and, obviously, a thesis does not follow the same framework as a book – they offer a useful starting point from which to develop my writing. With this in mind, I’m proposing the following as a working structure:

1.            Context
                                 I.           The historical link between sport and the media
                               II.           The position of the BBC as an established broadcaster
                             III.           The birth of independent television; its political and social context
                            IV.            The unique structure of the ITV network
                              V.            An overview of how sport has been broadcast on independent television

2.            Programming & Audiences
                                 I.           A chapter rich in quantitative data examining what is shown, how often, at         what points in the schedule.
                               II.           Viewing figures for sport on commercial television
                             III.           This may be the best place to address the question of ITV’s relationship to       the BBC

3.            Histories
                                 I.           World of Sport
                               II.           Wrestling
                             III.           Football
                            IV.            Channel 4

4.            Identities
                                 I.           National identities: What differences in programming do we witness in Wales and Scotland? How does the position of Scottish Television (STV) – separate from the rest of the independent network – affect sports coverage? To what extent does sports programming recreate, reinforce and shape ideas of British identity?
                               II.           Regional identities: What regional variations are to be found in programming? How do these translate to the national picture, if at all?
                             III.            How does the sports coverage of ITV and Channel 4 intersect with        considerations of gender, race and class?

Of course, this is only a provisional structure, likely to be revised as my research and writing continues. There are, I think, some areas that remain problematic. Despite my best intentions, the history of sport on Channel 4 still feels like an adjunct to ITV. While it certainly fits into the ‘Histories’ section, it may be the case that it requires a stand-alone chapter. The ‘Audiences’ chapter looks sparse, but could be bolstered by the including a discussion of televised mega-events (specifically the Olympics and FIFA World Cup). But, for now at least, this is a sound platform on which to build.


Black, Peter (1972) The Mirror in the Corner: People’s Television, Hutchinson: London

Bonner, P. & Aston, L. (1998) Independent Television in Britain, Vol 5: ITV and the IBA 1981-1992: The Relationship Changes, Macmillan Press Ltd: Basingstoke

Buscombe, C. (ed.) (1975) Football on Television, British Film Institute: London

Crisell, A. (2002) An Introductory History of British Broadcasting (2nd addition), Routledge: London

Fickers, A. (2009) Re-Viewing Television History. Critical Issues in Television Historiography, Helen Wheatley (Ed.), Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television, 29:4, 567-570

Johnson, C. & Turnock, R., (eds.) (2005) ITV Cultures: Independent Television over Fifty Years, Open University Press: Maidenhead

Potter, J. (1989) Independent Television in Britain, Vol 3: Politics and Control 1968-80, Macmillan Press Ltd: Basingstoke

Sendall, B. (1982) Independent Television in Britain, Vol 1: Origin and Foundation 1946-62, Macmillan Press Ltd: Basingstoke

Whannel, G. (1992) Fields in Vision: Television Sport and Cultural Transformation, Routledge: London

Wheatley, H. (ed.) (2007) Re-Viewing Television History. Critical Issues in Television Historiography, I.B. Tauris: London

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Sir Lancelot Complains About the Wrestling

© National Portrait Gallery, London
Contained within the ‘wrestling’ files of the ITA/ITV archive are a number of letters from disgruntled grapple fans.[1] Through the course of the 1960s and 70s some viewers had written in to complain about the network’s scheduling, others to protest results that saw the blue-eyed baby faces bested by the monstrous heels of the time. In those wonderfully innocent days – pre-kayfabe-savvy, pre-internet smark – people would take the time and trouble to write to ITV and bemoan the lack of sportsmanship on display and the ineffectiveness of the referees. Some letters, however, stand out more than others – especially ones penned by the ITV press office that begin with the words “Dear Sir Lancelot”.

Who was this Sir Lancelot? Was this a work? A gimmick? Was this a fan with Arthurian delusions of grandeur or a genuine knight of the realm with a love of Mick McManus?

Each option seemed unlikely, but the last one particularly so. The origins of ‘professional’ wrestling are to be found in carnivals and town halls and, as the title of a BBC documentary suggests, it was a world of grapples, grunts and grannies.[2] Certainly, wrestling was a ratings winner for ITV. Broadcast for the first time in 1955, it was described as television’s most popular sport by the TV Times in 1958, and would claim that its FA Cup Final day specials in 1962 and 1963 had “more viewers than the Cup Final” itself.[3] It was the entertainment of the poor, the post-war working class.

This was a trend that continued into the 1970s. While not fully understood by those who commissioned sports programming (a point to which I will return in a future post), ‘the wrestling’ was a key component of ITV’s Saturday afternoon magazine show World of Sport. By 1974 viewership stood at an average of 7.5 million, although it would decline gradually through the latter part of the decade.[4] When Dobie and Wober conducted research into the audience for ITV’s wrestling programming in 1978 they found viewers were far more likely to be from a working class background.[5]

But this doesn’t tell the entire story. While wrestling may have been rooted in working class communities it also attracted a number of fans from the upper echelons of British society. Such associations, of course, are not unknown - even on the other side of the Atlantic[6] - and it is no secret that both Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Phillip enjoyed the wrestling.[7] It is also well-documented that Conservative Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was a fan of legendary grappler Big Daddy.[8] Sir Peter Blake, most famous for co-designing the cover of the Beatles’ album Sgt. Pepper’s, would recall the appeal of the wrestling. Sir Lancelot may not have been a gimmick after all.

The man in question was Sir Lancelot Keay, someone who combined the title of architect and a love of wrestling long before Seth Rollins was a twinkle in the eye of WWE’s development scheme. Born in 1883, Keay’s father was a bookseller and mayor of Eastbourne on seven separate occasions. Having studied at the Brighton College of Art and Technology, Keay would go on to take the position of chief architectural assistant to the city of Norwich. The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography tells us something of his outside interests: “A keen theatregoer, he was also an early member of Nugent Monck's Guild of Norwich Players, formed in 1911.”[9]

However, Keay is perhaps most famous for planning the development of the Speke area of Liverpool. From the late 1920s until after the second world war, a village of no more than 400 people was transformed. By the end of the 1950s it was home to 25,000 people. Keay seems to have practiced a charmingly progressive approach to town planning. His plan was that Speke would be a self-contained economy replete with art gallery, library, community centre, concert hall and open-air theatre. “I feel that what we need,” said Keay, “is something different from the old methods of building cottages without any playgrounds and without any spaces for recreation.”[10]

Perhaps this love of, and commitment to, theatrics and playful spaces was behind Sir Lancelot Keay’s passion for wrestling. Amongst the very many letters of complaint in the wrestling archive are two absolute beauties from Keay who, by this time, was well into his 80s. I reproduce one of them below along with the response from Gillian Keene of the ITV press office. Two things, I think, are worth noting. Firstly, while Keay’s letter falls short of “the sneer of cold command” that Shelley wrote of, it is dripping with a wonderfully sarcastic, entitled condescension. Secondly, Keene’s response, whilst polite, carries such an air of restraint one can almost hear the exasperated sighs as it was composed.

24th August 1968

Dear Sirs,

I look forward to watching wrestling on your Wednesday and Saturday programmes. This afternoon I switched on at 4.0.p.m. and unless my clock was wrong the programme started late. The programme was interupted [sic] for a news flash to tell us that the stand at the football ground at Nottingham was on fire. If Nero fiddled why Rome burnt why should wrestling stop?

Then an eight minute suspension while we saw Clark beat his own world record and listened to the monotonous voice of a commentator some of whose remarks seemed to have little bearing on the race.

In the little time left for wrestling four cuts were made for commercials. We were most grateful to the commentator for two impointant [sic] pieces of news. The wrestling referee had just opened a pub and it was the birthday of one of the wrestlers nieces.

Yours faithfully

Sir Lancelot Keay[11]

9th September 1968

Dear Sir Lancelot,

Further to your letter of the 24th August we regret very much that you have been upset by the programming of wrestling particularly on a Saturday.

However, we feel you must appreciate that there are other people who are also very interested in different aspects of sport and it is not every day that one see world records on television.

Wrestling is a sport which has a great deal of coverage and it is not often that it is interrupted for other sports news.

We hope you will view the situation more tolerably on reflection.

Yours sincerely

Gillian Keene, Press Office[12]

[1] ITA/IBA/Cable Authority archive:1954-1990, ‘Sporting Events “Wrestling”’: File: 5010/1
[2] Nelson Pereira (17 December 2012) When Wrestling Was Golden: Grapples, Grunts and Grannies (BBC - 2012) [video file]. retrieved from
[3] (2017). [online] Available at: [Accessed 23 Feb. 2017].
[4] Ibid.
[5] Dobie, I. and Wober, M. (1978), The Role of Wrestling as a Public Spectacle: Audience Attitudes to Wrestling as Portrayed on Television, Independent Broadcasting Authority, London.
[6] dagalagas (12th August 2015) Donald Trump bodyslams, beats and shaves Vince McMahon at Wrestlemania XXIII [video file]. retrieved from
[7] See: Garfield, S. (1996) The Wrestling: The Hilarious True Story of Britain’s Last Great Superheroes, Faber & Faber: London, p55; Moran, J. (2014) Armchair Nation: An Intimate History of Britain in Front of the TV, Profile Books: London, pp86-87
[8] See Litherland, B. (2012) ‘Selling punches: Free markets and professional wrestling in the UK, 19861993’, Journal of Historical Research in Marketing, 4(4), pp. 578–598
[9] Matthew Whitfield, ‘Keay, Sir Lancelot Herman (1883–1974)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, Sept 2011 [, accessed 21 Feb 2017]
[10] Quoted in Stephen Armstrong (2012) The Road to Wigan Pier Revisited, Constable & Robinson Ltd.: London. Pp.189-190
[11] Keay, Sir Lancelot (24th August 1968) Letter from Sir Lancelot Keay to ITV (Sporting Events “Wrestling”’: File: 5010/1), ITA/IBA/Cable Authority archive, Sir Michael Cobham Library, Bournemouth University
[12] Keene, Gillian (9th September 1968) Letter from Gillian Keene to Sir Lancelot Keay (Sporting Events “Wrestling”’: File: 5010/1), ITA/IBA/Cable Authority archive, Sir Michael Cobham Library, Bournemouth University

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Into the Archives

Yesterday I spent a few hours with one of my PhD supervisors in the Sir Michael Cobham library at Bournemouth University, rootling through the ITA/ITV archive. I've been through newspaper archives before, searching through microfiches as part of my research into Lindy Delapenha's time at Portsmouth Football Club. This however was a new experience for me, being deluged with files and folders, and a series of paper trails dating back some 60 years or so. I wasn't entirely sure what to expect but, at the risk of confirming my status as a sports history geek, I found the whole thing rather exciting. 

Previously held by Ofcom, the archive is the most detailed record of ITV's - and, to a lesser extent, Channel 4's - history as you will find, The archive catalogue contains more than 21,000 entries, with each of these folders containing a myriad of documentation: meeting minutes, scribbled memos, letters, reports, viewing figures, internal correspondence and press clippings. About a third of the collection is kept on site, housed in grey stacks that, once upon a time, might have been opened by turning a giant wheel at the end of each row, but are now accessed through a magnetic fob and electronic keycode. 

The size of the archive is, if you'll excuse the lack of academic formality for a second, fucking massive - especially in the eyes of someone who has only just gone through the research yips. We chose just 15 of the most obviously relevant folders and barely scratched the surface in five hours of reading and discussion. Oddly, perhaps, this wasn't the most striking feature of the archive. That honour falls to the content itself, which was, ahem, variable in quality. At points I found myself reading between the lines of a behind-the-scenes power struggle, at others I was bogged down in the minutiae of management and bureaucracy. 

For the first fifteen minutes I read through an interminable exchange of letters from 1955, most of which were sent by Lord Aberdare of Duffryn, in which he and various other IMPORTANT people attempted to organise a meeting of the Sports Advisory Committee. Eventually they decided on dining at the Park Lane Hotel, although the top table were expected to foot the bill of a loss-leader event designed to curry favour with the assorted guests. Sadly no one had thought to include the set menu in the archives.

At best, though, the information in these folders was absolutely fascinating. Tedium was the exception rather than the rule. There were three areas in particular that stood out. First was the attempts by the ITA to formulate a policy around sports programming in the mid-1950s. Despite the efforts of Aberdare and co, the files include as many apologies for a lack of progress as they do ideas for moving things forward. Meetings were sporadic; a list of possible sports to cover and governing bodies to be approached was drafted. In much the same way as Bernard Sendall would characterise ITV's early sports programming, the whole discussion felt "sparse, random and sometimes amateurish".

The second thing that caught my eye was 'the wrestling', or, more specifically, the audience reaction to the coverage of British professional wrestling in the 1960s. Amidst the selection of wrestler profiles and contract negotiations were a wonderful selection of letters sent by viewers either aggrieved or outraged by the results and presentation of the wrestling. In these post-kayfabe days it's not uncommon to see marks angry at the bookings, but these letters were noticeable for their unknowing innocence as their Mary Whitehouse-style righteous indignation. One correspondent couldn't understand why matches were repeated over and over again. Another, quite wonderfully, wrote in to say that his daughter had turned on the television and accidentally caught a bout. The horror! The horror, I tells ya! Grapple fans, trust me when I say these letters deserve, and will receive, a post all of their own.

Lastly, and most importantly, was a file from the late 1960s discussing the future of ITV's Saturday afternoon sports magazine show World of Sport. The network had long struggled to match the resources and experience behind the BBC's sports coverage. In no small part this was because of the federal structure of ITV, in which each regional franchise would create or procure programming. Eventually ITV would form a centralised sports department but this did little to ameliorate the tensions between various companies, at least in the short term. This political struggle was played out through the plans for World of Sport. Should it be changed or scrapped altogether? Should ITV bother with live sport at all? In the end, of course, the programme would continue for another 20 years. But in that moment it was touch and go.

The archive experience was fascinating and a string of article ideas have come out of this first visit. Over the next few weeks I'd like to try and write:
  • Keeping it Kayfabe - audience reaction to ITV's wrestling coverage
  • The Politics of the 1954 TV Act
  • ITV's Programming and Accusations of Americanisation
  • Won't Someone Think of the Children? - 1950s TV Advertising 
  • Federalism vs Centralisation: The World of Sport Debate
Will I get all of these done by the end of January? Possibly, although I'm likely to lose the next fortnight to a festive, Bailey's induced, stupor. But it's not a bad plan. Happy Christmas one and all!

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Research: Novelty, Process and Panic

It’s been two months since I started my PhD. Two months of living a loop of reading and note-taking, reading and note-taking, reading and note-taking. As it stands I have a document containing some 10,000 words of thoughts, asides, quotes, references, possible leads and half-written sentences. One line simply reads “The”. I’ve drawn on scores of secondary sources – and read (and discarded) a whole lot more – ruining five highlighter pens in the process. I’ve raided libraries at three separate universities, talked to half a dozen academics, and googled every possible variation of the words ‘sport’, ‘independent television’, ‘ITV’ and ‘Channel 4’.

I’m not at all sure what I expected from this initial period, but at the start of the month I found myself in a state of mild panic and confusion. I said I would get back in the habit of writing. I haven’t. I've written nothing of substance. What should I have done by now? Am I on the right track? Should research really make me feel so much self doubt?

The irony is that I should have seen this coming. Research isn’t entirely new to me, and, more pertinently, I’m now in my fourth year of supervising undergraduate dissertations. In pre-Christmas supervision sessions students regularly explain how intimidated they feel by the sheer volume of things there are to read/know/explore/analyse on their subject. They’re worried about not making headway. They’re concerned that, no matter how much work has been done, they don’t even feel like they’ve started. Don’t worry, I say, it’s natural to feel this way. Keep reading. Keep taking notes. Try to write, even a little, as often as you can. It seems supervision, much like my parenting style, is a case of ‘do as I say, not as I do’.

I carried a disconcerted air into my own supervision session. When my supervisors asked how my research was going I was stumped. It was a simple question I found almost impossible to answer. I ummed and ahhed in a five minute, rambling response that seemed to carry on for hours. Every sentence started with something along the lines of “I’m trying to get a handle on…” or “I’m just starting to get to grips with…” Knowledge disappeared, the ability to talk in coherent sentences dribbled away, I forgot what I had read. By the end I was embarrassed. Everything I had done for two whole months appeared as a giant amorphous research blob. Don’t worry, they said, it’s natural to feel this way.

And it’s true. Identifying what is known and what is not – that is to say, reviewing the literature – is an integral part of the research process. Almost certainly there is a novelty to investigating a topic in such depth, even when you think you know it well. There are new writers, new theories, new facts to consider, and digesting it all takes time. Sometimes you read something that opens up a new avenue of research, sometimes you’re led down a cul-de-sac. The research process can be, in turn, enlightening and frustrating. At worst, it can feel as though you’re treading water and each day that passes without writing something – anything – can feel like failure. Yet, whether you are digging down into the archives or conducting a series of interviews, your primary research will build on everything you are doing here and now.

Sometimes you’re not always in the best position to judge how your own work is coming along so my supervision session gave me some much needed perspective. As with plenty of other students, I still wish I was further along and had written more. But this is a feeling of frustration rather than panic or anxiety. The process is moving forward. I now realise that I need to prep for supervision sessions, to know what I want out of them. I’m now in a position to write pieces on particular themes/events and have two (possibly three) planned for the next month or so. In doing so I’m structuring my own thoughts and those 10,000 words. The panic was understandable, but part and parcel of the research process.

So, how is the research going? Better than I thought.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Sport on Commercial Television: 1955-1992

Below is the successful application I submitted for the De Montfort PhD scholarship on ‘Sport and Commercial Television, 1955-1992’. It is posted here in the hope that it might, in some way, aid my research over the next three years…

In the book ITV Cultures, Johnson and Turnock lament the fact that “ITV has often been marginalized or neglected in histories of broadcasting in Britain” (2005:1). One might argue that this is especially true of sports broadcasting on independent television which, while not entirely absent, certainly appears to place a distant second in comparison with the BBC.

Nor does sports programming feature extensively in the histories of commercial television that do exist; for instance, the subject does not feature in the index of ITV Cultures. Elsewhere the early coverage of sport by independent television has been derided as “sparse, random, and sometimes amateurish” (Sendall, 1982:324).

When discussion of sport on commercial television does appear, the narrative is usually framed by reference to sport on the BBC (Crisell, 1997; Chandler, 2004). Such an outcome might be considered inevitable given the BBC’s established (and, perhaps, establishment) position. From its inception the existence of Independent Television – indeed, its very name – has been defined by its relationship to the BBC. By the time independent television first appeared in 1955 the BBC was already “consolidated in the field” having “developed expertise, equipment, contracts and contracts” (Whannel, 1992:45).

Peter Dimmock, BBC’s head of outside broadcasts in the early 1950s, recognised that the new ITV network could pose a serious threat to the BBC and that sport coverage would be an invaluable weapon. This foresight, coupled with innovations in technology and format, and their connections to sports administration (Collins, 2013:116), provided the platform from which the BBC has built its reputation as a sports broadcaster able to “tap into the national psyche in a way ITV could not.” (Holt and Mason, 2000:103)

Sports programming on ITV and Channel 4 is too important to be relegated to the position of adjunct in the story of another broadcaster, even if it would be impossible to construct a history of sport on commercial television without mention of the BBC. A number of works have attempted to overcome this problem while examining specific issues or historical moments: the rivalry between ITV and BBC (Whannel, 1992:67-86); the 1966 World Cup (Chisari, 2004); and the attempts to introduce American football to a British audience (Maguire, 2011). As important as these works are they paint only a partial picture. The history of sport on commercial television has yet to be written.


Given the scope and scale of an inquiry into sport on commercial television from 1955-1992, it is imperative to structure the research effectively. It is possible to divide the evolution of sport on commercial television into four distinct periods, the beginning of each being marked by significant moments of public policy intervention in the sphere of television broadcasting: the Television Act (1954); the Pilkington Report (1962); the report of the Annan Committee (1977); and the Peacock Committee (1986)

Constructing distinct phases around public policy is advantageous in two ways. Firstly it allows us to clearly identify the nature of commercial broadcasters who, although independent from the BBC and reliant on advertisers for revenue, remain dependent on the government for both its licence and remit. As such independent television broadcasters such as ITV occupy a “hybrid position as a ‘commercial public service broadcaster’” (Johnson & Turnock, 2005:3)

Such periodisation would also allow us to examine the production of televised sport as a social process conditioned by wider political, economic and cultural factors. It allows us to chart the chains of interdependence between government, broadcaster, sports’ governing bodies, advertisers and sponsors, and audience. Furthermore, we are able to identify how these relationships have in turn been shaped by power, status, finance, class and gender.

The TV Act (1954): The economic boom of the post-war period underpinned the rapid expansion of television ownership. Although the majority of the population in the UK would not own a television set until 1960 (Szymanski, 2011:113), demand was outstripping supply by the early 1950s (Haynes, 1998:218) and the “significance of sport for this phenomenal rate of penetration should not be underestimated” (Goldlust. 1988:8).

ITV launched in 1955, comprised of six franchises spread over three geographical areas. Sports broadcasting did not appear high on its agenda. In part this reflected the dominant position of the BBC, but it also reflected the problems inherent in the network’s composition which left it at a disadvantage (Crisell, 2002:127) compared with its competitor. Its regional structure made it almost impossible to secure the type of national broadcast deals required to televise sports, and this fragmentation mitigated the economies of scale available to the BBC. With no centralised policy, sports programming featured sporadically and those “first ITV companies to introduce sport into their schedules faced an upward struggle” (Boyle & Haynes, 2009:39).

The Pilkington Report (1962): The Pilkington Report was critical of ITV’s sports coverage in its early years of broadcasting. Even then ITV seemed slow to respond. Its coverage of the 1966 World Cup paled in comparison with the BBC. ITV offered half the output of their rival (26 hours compared to 55 hours on the BBC) and, where matches were televised on both channels simultaneously, drew a fraction of the available audience (Chisari, 2004).

It was not until 1967 that ITV created a department dedicated to the production of sports programming. This period seems to signal a marked increase in confidence for ITV sport. They jostle for position in the sports broadcasting marketplace with the BBC and attain a certain level of parity. For example the rights to show highlights of football league matches are shared through the 1970s as ITV and BBC operate what has been variously described as a “bilateral monopoly” (Buraimo et al, 2010:462) or “informal cartel” (Dobson & Goddard, 2004:81). The upwards trajectory was not without its setbacks and contradictions. ITV dabbled somewhat farcically with coverage of cricket’s Gillette Cup (Holt & Mason, 2000:109) and provided only minimal coverage of the Olympics in 1976 (Whannel, 1984:31).

The Annan Report (1977): In many ways Channel 4, which began broadcasting in 1982, opened up “new vistas for sports broadcasting” in the UK (Boyle & Haynes, 2009:41). The broadcasting of minority sports on ITV had been the result of experimentation and necessity. Channel 4 were proud to position themselves as niche and it fitted their “minority and controversial” identity (Ranelagh, 1998:56). Coverage that eschewed the “traditional form” (Maguire, 2011a:951) only added to this image.

It would be fair to see these developments as part of the wider trends of globalisation and Americanisation (Maguire, 2011b:969). Channel 4’s weekly magazine package Trans World Sport offered highlights of such diverse sports as sumo wrestling from Japan, Australian rules football, and kabaddi from India; both Gridiron and basketball were ‘traditionally American’ sports, even if coverage of the latter was from a British league. Yet it is important to point out that neither trend originated with Channel 4. The globalisation of sports broadcasting can be traced back to at least the European Broadcasting Union, while concern over American influence on independent television was apparent from the very beginning of ITV (Hill, 2002:105).

The Peacock Committee (1986): There is a certain historical irony in the fact that the Peacock Committee should open the door to satellite and cable television during the period in which ITV was beginning to establish a degree of dominance in the field of sports broadcasting. The BBC still held the rights to broadcast England’s home test matches and key domestic and international fixtures in both codes of rugby. Moreover its coverage of sport global mega-events helped the corporation retain a belief in its production quality.

In this period ITV “began to evolve the strategy of opting out of some major event coverage, whilst securing others exclusively” (Whannel, 1992:51). It had secured a range of contracts in key sports, notably boxing, athletics and, most importantly, football. For the first time in its history the network could claim with some justification, “If it’s live and exclusive it must be ITV sport!” The shift from tacit cooperation to outright competition was not without its consequences. Sports administrators realised the value and potential profitability of their ‘product’. The market in which ITV had fought so hard to establish itself was revolutionising, and market forces would usher in a new era of sports broadcasting.


The nature of this project allows for a mixed-methodological approach. Although the research would rely heavily on archive material there is a potential to incorporate quantitative data, a wealth of secondary source material and, perhaps most interestingly, a series of interviews with key figures involved in commercial broadcasting from (the latter part) of the period 1955-92.[1]

Any attempt to research the history of sport on commercial television is, however, confronted with the specific methodological problems posed by the regional structure of ITV. With the network divided into 15 regional franchises – and, in turn, three of these sub-divided between weekday and weekend programming – the paper records of the various franchisees have never been collected in a single location. In addition, a number of companies that ran regional ITV franchises no longer exist and/or have been subsumed within other companies, resulting in a “relative lack of access to archival material” (Johnson & Turnock, 2005:4). A number of major archives do exist and the following would form the first steps in research: 
  • ·        The ITV archives held at Bournemouth University
  • ·        The papers held at the British Film Institute in their Special Collections
  • ·        The regulator Ofcom holds some paper records for its predecessor organisations
  • ·        The Independent Television Commission Archive Papers (1954-65) held at Edinburgh University Library
  • ·        The archive material available through the Royal Television Society
  • ·        BBC Written Archive Centre

The availability of complete back issues of the TV Times, both online and through the painstaking digitisation undertaken by the AHRB, would also be interesting source material. First published in 1955 these magazines would provide valuable quantitative data in terms of which sports were broadcast (and how often), as well as highlighting regional differences and the overall priority accorded to sports programming. Similarly the figures available from the Television Audience Measurement and Audits of Great Britain organisations can contribute important data regarding the popularity of sports programming on the competing television channels. Newspaper archives would also be useful, as would the innumerable papers, memoirs, autobiographies, and letters left behind by key figures in independent television. Finally it might be possible to conduct interviews with some of those who had roles in the production of sport for commercial television.

Boyle, R., & Haynes, R. (2009) Power Play: Sport, The Media and Popular Culture, Edinburgh University Press: Edinburgh

Babatunde Buraimo, Juan Luis Paramio & Carlos Campos (2010) “The Impact of Televised Football on Stadium Attendances in English and Spanish League Football”, Soccer & Society, 11:4, pp461-474

Chandler, J. (2004) “The TV and Sports Industries” in Rowe, D. (ed.) Critical Readings: Sport, Culture and the Media, Open University Press: Maidenhead, pp48-69

Chisari, F. (2004) “‘Shouting Housewives!’ The 1966 World Cup and British Television” in Sport in History, 24:1, pp94-108

Collins, T. (2013) Sport in Capitalist Society: A Short History, Routledge: London

Dobson, S. & Goddard, J. (2004) The Economics of Football, University of Cambridge Press:

Crisell, A. (2002) An Introductory History of British Broadcasting (2nd addition), Routledge: London

Ellis, J. (2005) “Importance, Significance, Cost and Value” in Johnson, C. & Turnock, R., (eds.) ITV Cultures: Independent Television over Fifty Years, Open University Press: Maidenhead

Goldlust, J. (1988) Playing for Keeps, Longman Cheshire: Melbourne

Haynes, R. (1998) “A pageant of sound and vision: football's relationship with television, 1936–60” in The International Journal of the History of Sport, 15:1, 211-226

Hill, J. (2002) Sport, Leisure & Culture in Twentieth-Century Britain, Palgrave: London

Holt, R. (1989) Sport and the British: A Modern History, Oxford University Press: Oxford

Holt, R. & Mason, T., (2000) Sport in Britain: 1945-2000, Blackwell Publishers: Oxford

Kennedy, E. & Hills, L., (2009) Sport, Media and Society, Berg: Oxford

Kelner, M. (2012) Sit Down and Cheer: A History of Sport on TV, Bloomsbury: London

Joseph A. Maguire (2011a) The consumption of American football in British society: networks of interdependencies, Sport in Society, 14:7-8, 950-964

Maguire, J.A. (2011b) The global media sports complex: key issues and concerns, Sport in Society, 14:7-8, 965-977

Johnson, C. & Turnock, R., (eds.) (2005) ITV Cultures: Independent Television over Fifty Years, Open University Press: Maidenhead

Ranelagh, J. (1998) “Channel 4: A View from Within” in Contemporary British History, 12:4, 53-59
Sendall, B. (1982) Independent Television in Britain, Vol 1: Origin and Foundation 1946-62, Macmillan Press Ltd: Basingstoke

Szymanski, S. (2011) “Jeux avec Forntieres: Television Markets and European Sport” in Tomlinson, A., Young, C. & Holt, R. (eds) Sport and the Transformation of Modern Europe: States, Media and Markets 1950-2010, Routledge: London, pp113-127

Whannel, G. (1984) “The Television Spectacular” in Tomlinson, A., & Whannel, G. (eds.) Five Ring Circus: Money, Power and Politics at the Olympic Games, Pluto Press: London

Whannel, G. (1992) Fields in Vision: Television Sport and Cultural Transformation, Routledge: London

[1] Although not an academic text, Martin Kelner’s book Sit Down and Cheer: A History of Sport on TV (2012) is notable for its combination for archival references and quotations and observations drawn from interviews.