Saturday, September 10, 2005
And if you don't like sport...
Hands up anyone who remembers Les Kellet.
Last year, Jonathan Calder reminded us that the popularity of sports can go down as well as up. He cited speedway and show jumping as examples of sports that once commanded the nation's attention but no longer do so.
One sport that Jonathan didn't mention, but to which his argument applies, is wrestling (the 'all-in' variety with Big Daddy and Giant Haystacks, rather than the American WWF version). Few British sports can have suffered such a precipitous decline - it was once compulsory viewing at 4pm every Saturday in most British households, but is now forgotten.
All-in wrestling's sudden death was brought about by Greg Dyke's decision in 1988 to cut off ITV's television coverage. Dyke, then chairman of ITV Sport, declared, "We had to get rid of the symbolic things that we held in the past."
I was reminded of this by an article in today's Guardian commemorating World of Sport, ITV's Saturday afternoon rival to the BBC's Grandstand, which ran from 1965 until it was axed in 1985. Wrestling occupied the 4pm slot on the show every week, immediately before the final scores.
There were widespread doubts whether ITV's all-in wrestling was really a sport - it was no secret that the bouts were fixed. But then some of the other 'sports' on World of Sport stretched credulity still further - cliff-diving from Acapulco, hovercraft racing, the world log sawing championships, and barrel jumping from Connecticut.
Nostalgia buffs can relive the heyday of World of Sport in a special TV programme next Tuesday, presented by the original host Dickie Davies from a mocked-up studio set (ITV1, Tuesday 13th September at 9.45pm).
The Guardian article reveals that World of Sport was even more of a low budget production than most viewers imagined.
· The spinning "S" symbol was made of cardboard and was spun by hand while a camera zoomed in.The article does get one fact wrong, however. As any fule kno, the name of ITV's wrestling commentator was Kent Walton (not "Ken").
· The football results were on a wooden cube - while division one was being read out, staff were still sticking on the numbers for divisions three and four on the other sides.