Thursday, 3 October 2013

A Question of Sport in the 1980s

As I sit down to watch the new series of A Question of Sport which begins on Friday October 21, it is inevitable that, as ever, nostalgia will engulf me. Don't get me wrong, I do enjoy the current show, but in my opinion, it suffers in comparison to the quiz programme I grew up watching as a boy. This may be simply because I am an old fool unable to accept that things have to move on and nothing stays the same forever. Yet, I am sure there are many like-minded people out there who will recall with fondness a glorious era for A Question of Sport.

So, this week I am going to take a look back at what made A Question of Sport special for me in the 1980s. From the opening credits, to the time when a reported 19 million tuned in to watch a very royal episode, a few of my memories of a classic 80s television programme.  

Theme tune

It is fairly hard to write a description that waxes lyrical about a theme tune, but I'll try and give it a go. Even the music for A Question of Sport in the 1980s was great. There, that was easy. The theme tune I remember mainly is this one, a belter of a tune which someone really should remix and turn into a modern dance anthem. But I also have a vague recollection of this jolly version, although with my fading memory I can't quite recall when this superseded by my favourite.

Admittedly the tune is probably only cool in an 80s kind of way, but from the very first drum beats and the computerised roar of the crowd, it propels me back to a time of eager anticipation, as I waited to see who was on the show and, more importantly, settled down in preparation for half an hour in which I could show off my sporting knowledge. I probably needed to get out more.

David Coleman

Forget Paul Ince, the real governor was David Coleman. Through the whole of the decade, the voice of athletics (and he of the infamous scorer/score football commentary of the 70s e.g. Porterfield, one-nil) hosted the quiz, with a calm authority and, where necessary, just the right level of humour.

His almost gleeful joy when one of the captains got a question wrong was always amusing - probably not for Beaumont, Hughes and others - yet this was not the only trait that made Coleman special.

"The it's-bad-news-ha-no-actually-it's-good-news technique is one I've always enjoyed. It was really pioneered by David Coleman on Question of Sport when he'd tonally suggest Bill Beaumont had got an answer wrong...only to reveal at the end of the sentence that he'd got it right." If someone as respected as Alan Partridge can write that about you, then you know you've done something right.

Coleman and A Question of Sport just fitted together so well. The fact that he probably knew most of the answers to the questions he posed (without taking a sneaky look at the bottom of the card) gave him that extra gravitas which in my eyes made him the perfect man to host the programme.

Format

There is an old quote along the lines of "Give me a child until he is seven and I will give you the man." Sadly, I can now see from personal experience, that this is not far off the mark.

As a mature man (ha ha) I like routine, a sense of familiarity. That is one of the reasons that A Question of Sport was so appealing to me in my formative years. From one week to the next you would find exactly the same format to the quiz: Picture Round, Individual Round, Home or Away, Mystery Guest, What Happens Next?, One Minute Round, and then back to the Picture Round. A simple and effective structure, one which worked so well, and suited me down to the ground.

On a slightly related note, I also liked the way that a score was maintained throughout the series, which Coleman would let us know at the start of each programme. Us sports fans like things to be quantifiable, and for me it was the little things such as this that made the show what it was in the 80s.

Captains

I'm a little too young (I don't often start a sentence with these words) to remember the era of Gareth Edwards, Willie Carson and Emlyn Hughes (pre-1981), so for me the 80s were all about Beaumont versus Hughes.

Of course, both had been very successful sporting captains in their own right, so there was a fair level of competitiveness amongst the rivalry. Beaumont was a big, friendly giant, capable of the odd moment of dry humour, whereas the livewire Hughes was forever entertaining, amusing viewers with his boyish enthusiasm.

When Hughes did the unthinkable and left the show in 1988, I was shocked, although as his replacement was Ian Botham (my cricketing hero) I soon got over it.

Hughes went on to captain a team on the woeful Sporting Triangles but even he could not rescue that particular sinking ship. A Question of Sport carried on regardless, yet for me it lost a little something after Hughes' departure. I've never been one for change though.

Humour

I'm not sure the word banter existed in the 1980s, although A Question of Sport contained many jovial exchanges between team captains, with Coleman also getting involved on numerous occasions. Beaumont would be teased mercilessly for his inability to recognise the correct sex of a mystery guest; Hughes' elaborate guesses in the What Happened Next round were always a giggle; and as I commented on earlier, Coleman would find it hilarious if Bill or Emlyn failed to answer a question on their own sport.

There were other moments too, my favourite being when Ian Woosnam twice "guessed" the mystery personality, only to reveal that on both occasions he had seen the crew filming the event (Bill Rogers and Greg Norman, I think). Admittedly, I may have found this a lot funnier than it actually was, as I was young at the time, though it was these unforced amusing bits of the show which I enjoyed so much.

And during one famous edition of the show in 1987, the LOL moments were plentiful.

Princess Anne

"Is it John Reid?" Those few words uttered by Emlyn Hughes were the foundations for the most famous episode of A Question of Sport, the opening gambit in a series of events that still bring a smile to the face.

"John Reid!" guffawed David Coleman, in response to Hughes' Picture Round guess. Coleman sounded even happier than usual at Hughes' wrong answer, and it soon became apparent why. When Beaumont tentatively suggested that the mud-splattered jockey may in fact be Princess Anne, Hughes was beside himself: "Don't put that out. They'll hang me". Not only did the clip survive the edit, but a chuffed Coleman informed Hughes that Princess Anne was to appear on the show in two weeks time.

So it transpired that on Thursday February 5 1987 an estimated 19 million viewers tuned in to watch the eagerly awaited appearance of HRH on Hughes' team, the 200th episode of the programme. The viewing public were not disappointed.

Princess Anne showed the nation that she possessed a mischievous sense of humour: teasing Hughes as to whether he could ascertain the right gender of a sporting figure on the Picture Board; criticising her captain's spelling; and cheekily challenging Coleman at one point, leading to the host crying "I can see you're on the right team".

Hughes for his part tried his very best to stop himself hugging his royal team-mate, though the threat of a handbag around his head partly did the trick. A classic moment in the history of the show, and with just four channels on UK television at the time, it was a highly publicised and watched event. Certainly a lot better than  It's a Royal Knockout at least.

Board Game

It was only natural that with such a hit on their hands, the BBC should tap into the merchandise market. No David Coleman dolls to my knowledge, but there was the Elite computer game, and a board game which you can still buy on eBay, although the questions may be a little dated.

I was as pleased as Punch when one Christmas I unwrapped a present and saw the smiling faces of Coleman, Hughes and Beaumont on the lid to the game. And what a board game it was. If I remember correctly, all the usual rounds were there, along with flip chart scoreboards which I would change with great gusto on answering a question correctly. My dad was less enamoured with this for some reason.

And therein lay the problem. Being a bit of a sports nerd (surprising, I know), I would often beat my competitive dad, so much so that soon he stopped playing me at it completely. I remember thinking that this refusal to play was lame, until that is I had children of my own. After my umpteenth defeat at the hands at my son in his Flags of the World game, my enthusiasm towards the game mysteriously dwindled. Like father like son.

But what a board game it was.

Viewers' Mystery Guest

There are more questions than answers. Too right Johnny Nash. The end of series viewers' competition was a chance to grab some tickets to a major sporting event, all answers on a postcard of course. In the age of the internet you could probably Google the answers if the quiz ran nowadays, but back in the 80s we didn't have such luxuries.

If you were lucky and owned a video recorder then you could at least get your fingers ready to record the mystery guest. Then you could spend ages trying to work out who the sporting star was, but even if you completed the set, you had an inkling that this wasn't going to be your year.

Still, at least you had the hope, and that classic tune by Johnny Nash to enjoy too.

4 comments:

  1. A show featuring Colemanballs and Tiny Tears does not appeal to me for some reason

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  2. I never saw it, but a friend has told me that when Eric Bristow was a guest on one edition he guessed that the mystery guest was Paul Daniels!, he was quickly reminded that the show was called a question of SPORT. Never seen the clip so dont know if its true but it is quite funny!

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    1. Is indeed true! It used to be re-aired during the "15/20/25 years of" shows. From memory conversation went something like this...
      Bristow "It's that magician"
      Beaumont (confused) "what do you mean?"
      Bristow "That one that does all the tricks"
      Coleman (playing straight bat) "well he's certainly doing one there" (it was the picture round, not the mystery guest and the person in question appeared to be holding a ladder up with his chin for some reason)
      Bristow "You know...his son's a magician"
      Beaumont (more confused) "Paul Daniels?!?"
      Bristow "Yes, that's him, Paul Daniels!"
      Beaumont "But...w-what would he be doing on this scene?"
      Bristow "What do you mean?"
      Beaumont "Well, what sport does he do?"
      Bristow "He does tricks, he's in the magic circle"

      In the absence of any other suggestions, they ended up guessing Paul Daniels. It wasn't him. As you can probably tell, one of my favourite all-time tv moments!

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  3. Got to come in on this and say that when I watched those series, the game order was:
    1. PICTURE ROUND
    2. INDIVIDUAL (VIDEO) ROUND
    3. MYSTERY GUEST
    4. HOME OR AWAY?
    5. WHAT HAPPENED NEXT?
    6. ONE MINUTE ROUND
    7. PICTURE BOARD.

    Only someone as deeply proud and enamoured of the show as the blogger himself would take the time to add that ... The 1980s weren't all bad, you know.

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