More TV Memories – Sportsnight.

Sportsnight (BBC1, 1968-1997)

This is another look back at how sport used to be covered on TV. One of the main sport shows was Grandstand. But as this was only on BBC1 once a week, there would be an additional show in a midweek slot that took a look at the events that had happened in the days since, and this would be shown in a late-night slot. As long ago as the 50s, there was Sportsview, and this eventually became Sportsnight (not to be confused with the later American sitcom with the same name).

This launched in the late-60s, and the original host was David Coleman (to the point that the original title was Sportsnight With Coleman). Hosts in later years included Steve Rider and Des Lynam, who were all hoping that we would be able to stay up late. Of course, because of the timeslot, very little would actually be shown live, so there would be a lot of highlights shown in various sports, anything they could get to fill the time really.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is vlcsnap-00001-6.jpg

It’s no surprise to realise that football featured rather regularly. There were highlights of top-flight matches (there was no MOTD2 back in those days). There would also be highlights of various European competitions, long before the Champions League came along, and English teams were progressing to the later stages. And FA Cup replays often featured too. This was back in the days when if the replay ended in a draw, then there would be a second replay, and so on, until there was a winner. Someone finally decided that penalty shoot-outs might come in useful.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is vlcsnap-00003-4.jpg

Some of the other sports featured included boxing, or maybe some snooker as well, several familiar-sounding commentators would always be on standby, along with all of the latest results and analysis. For many years, ITV also had an equivalent show, which was Midweek Sports Special. However, Sportsnight came to an end in the late-90s after almost three decades and wasn’t replaced, and also around this time the BBC’s other live sport shows Sunday Grandstand and Sport On Friday ended too.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is vlcsnap-00002-6.jpg

Grandstand did manage to continue for a while though, but as there were now so many sport channels providing viewers with just about anything that they wanted 24 hours a day, the BBC lost the rights to several high profile events, and suddenly filling the time was a struggle. It was still a surprise when Grandstand did come to an end though, it was one of those long-running shows that you thought would never leave the screen.


One thought on “More TV Memories – Sportsnight.

  1. Des Elmes says:

    The first edition of Sportsnight aired on 12 September 1968 – and, brilliantly, some of it is on YouTube, including the opening titles:

    Needless to say, the theme tune – composed by Tony Hatch – is another of the greats, and was used throughout the show’s history.

    David Coleman presented for the first five years – also presenting MOTD during this period – before moving to commentary full-time in 1973. Tony Gubba then held the fort for a year and a bit, until Harry Carpenter took over in early 1975. Harry went on to become Sportsnight’s longest-serving and probably most famous presenter, and here he is looking back at the show’s first decade and a half on its 500th edition on 18 January 1984:

    After just over a decade Harry bowed out from Sportsnight on 5 June 1985 (although, of course, he continued to commentate on boxing), and Steve Rider moved into the presenter’s chair on 2 October of that year. Here he is on the edition of 9 November 1988, at which point the show was using a pretty nifty title sequence in which the logo of the time was incorporated into all kinds of sporting scenes (on a goalkeeper’s shirt, a showjumping fence, a triple-jump sandpit, etc.):

    Steve traded places with Des Lynam in September 1991, moving over to Grandstand while Des took over Sportsnight (“I’m looking forward to watching some football on a Saturday afternoon… I’ve told Brighton and Hove Albion that their crowd will be swollen by a total of one this season”). Here’s the first few minutes of the edition of 19 January 1994, in which the first thing Des did was to nonchalantly reassure viewers that his helicopter jump for human achievements show How Do They Do That? – as seen in the preceding trailer – turned out fine. 😉

    Sportsnight’s final years coincided with the rise of Sky and the end of the BBC’s dominance of televised sport (arguably hastened by the then Director-General, John Birt, who felt that the licence fee was better spent on dramas and on news and current affairs). The death knell for the show could be said to have sounded at the end of 1995, when it was announced that the Beeb would lose the rights to the FA Cup and England home matches after the 1996/97 season – meaning that they would have no regular midweek football. Sure enough, the Beeb confirmed in October 1996 that Sportsnight would end with that season, and the final edition aired on 14 May 1997, featuring the European Cup Winners’ Cup final between Barcelona and Paris Saint-Germain.

    Grandstand did continue on for another decade, as indeed did Sunday Grandstand – though it’s probably not unfair to say that both were shadows of their former selves at the end.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s