A review of the BBC Sportstown programmes

A report compiled by Bernard Warden Sports organiser for the programmes

Sportstown started in 1973 with a request and meeting with Alan Hart the then the Head of Sport for the BBC to discuss an idea he had about an inter Sports Centre competition.  The meeting was to discuss an idea to highlight Sports Centres and the role they play in the life of a community.  In those days the title Sports Centre was unheard of and the financing of such facilities by local authorities was new to them. As Manager of the Bracknell Sports Alan felt that I could contribute to examine the idea of the televised sports competition. At that time there was nothing in the BBC’s programming of a similar nature. The timing of the start of the series followed the 1972 Olympic Games and the rather poor showing of GB competitors. There was also the Sports Council’s “Sport for All” campaign which the programme series closely related to. The competitions would be sport based and involve community participants.

Following the meeting Alan he asked if I could assist the BBC in organising such a competition, the answer was yes. And the programme ran for 4 years and involved about 30+ local sports centres. Over the 4-year period there were 28 programmes transmitted and many sports were given airtime for the first time. This “supermarket” array of events pacified national sporting associations who for many years tried to get the media to accept their sport that should be given airtime. There were something between 25 – 30 different sports producing an entertainment package which created a great deal of interest both to the sports fanatic and the casual viewer.

Some of the sports used were shown for the first time on TV: Indoor Bowls with a portable mat; Indoor athletics, sprinting and relay racing using rebound boards against the end walls: Tug of War using  portable wood flooring: Gymnastics when a very young Barbara Slater competing for Coventry took part, she is now Head of Sport for the BBC.

The competition was 8 teams representing a different town,  England 4 Centres, Scotland 2 Centres & Wales 2 Centres. The completion was played on a knockout basis 7 sports in each match. Male and Females juniors and seniors were eligible to compete. The teams were made up of members of the respective centre members. The game officials were provided by the sports NGB. The Sports Centres used were of a “2 court” size, 120’ x 120’.

The programme for a match was: Friday Setting up lighting, cable installing and various game equipment. Saturday  9am Camera orientation etc, 12noon All Teams and Officials arrive for lunch. 2.00pm Game rehearsals and camera orientation. 5.00pm  End of rehearsals and tea. 6.15pm Audience Admitted. 7.00pm Recording commences. 10.00pm End of recording and equipment removed. The recorded programmes were transmitted on an early Monday evening. The BBC paid for the following: 2 day hire of the Sports Centre Main Hall; Transportation of any games equipment; Purchase and numbering of coloured Tee Shirts; Refreshments for teams and officials; Plus BBC direct costs.

Following the completion of Sportstown programmes the Sports Council organised a “Sport for All Spectacular” which was held at the NSC Crystal Palace and I was involved with the organisation of the events. Following that programme the BBC produced a series of programmes named “Play Sport”. They produced a series on information sheets giving information about each sport showing how people could take part in it. I was involved with series providing the equipment and assisting generally. The programmes were televised from the Stoke Mandeville Sports Centre.

Bernard Warden  26th September 2013

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