Turnstyle (Channel 5, 1997-1998)
This is yet another piece about the early days of Channel 5, because having looked back at various things like their original commitment to comedy, news, and so on, I thought that I would now take a look at their sport coverage. At the launch, there was a live show on Saturday mornings called Turnstyle, which was often hosted by Dominik Diamond (who wasn’t far short of the end of his time on Channel 4’s GamesMaster by this point), alongside Gail McKenna.
In this, the weekend’s sporting action would be previewed, there would also be guests in the studio, and viewers could phone in to take part in competitions. And there would be a late Sunday edition looking back at the weekend’s highlights. But it would be rather good if they actually had some live sport to show too. Most of this would feature in Live And Dangerous, which filled the majority of the twilight hours most nights (and Channel 4 attempted a similar late-night sport compendium around the same time called Under The Moon).
Among the hosts of the early editions was Tommy Boyd, although, as seems to happen a lot in his career, he vanished not long after in fairly mysterious circumstances. Among the sport featured was Major League Baseball, which attracted a decent following, and continued to be covered for many years, until Channel 5 decided that they wanted to fill the slot with endless Channel Quizzy Quiz.
But the moment where Turnstyle was really going to come into its own was when Channel 5 had the rights to show a live World Cup Qualifier featuring England. This took place at the end of May, and was promoted roughly every ten minutes since the launch of a couple of months earlier. Their aim was, like with other genres, to provide something fresh and different, not like the stuffy old BBC! Coverage began at 4:30, 2½ hours before kick-off, and they wanted an experienced host for this.
Curiously, they went for Brough Scott, best known as the host of Channel 4 Racing (I also remember Hawksbee And Jacobs commenting that he hosted the Breakfast Show on TalkSport for about one week, and all of his guests seemed to be Irish jockeys on the phone). Various people were asked about England’s prospects as the time had to be filled. And for a commentator, they chose Jonathan Pearce.
He was known for his coverage on radio station Capital Gold, and his profile increased following Euro ’96. The idea was that seemingly if there was going to be a goal, he would simply shout “England have scored!!” as loud as he could, just like the fans watching. As it turned out, in Katowice, England took an early lead through Alan Shearer, and Teddy Sheringham scored a second late on for a 2-0 win. And you wouldn’t have seen those goals on TV anywhere else. Unbelievable!
After this, Channel 5 decided to do deals to cover the English teams taking part in the European competitions the UEFA Cup, and the new defunct Cup Winners’ Cup. Pearce was kept on as commentator, but their coverage was now much more straightforward and perfectly adequate, even if it was never going to compete ratings-wise with the likes of the Champions League on ITV. Turnstyle carried on for about a year, and then Diamond went on to host Sportscall on BBC Radio 5 Live, an amusing show featuring questions about the week’s sport.