See Part 1: Tottenham (about 1935)
See Introduction to Part 2.
- Preston (early 1951)
The official inauguration date of a hospital commentary service in Preston is New Years Day 1953, but as far back as 1949/1950 Norman Gornall had been broadcasting through headphones to a group of blind spectators in what was then called’ A Stand’. This facility was extended to the patients of Preston Royal Infirmary during the 1950/1951 football season. The commentary position was moved to the press section of the Pavilion Stand for a short time. The reporters found the commentary too distracting, so a further move was made to the front row of the South Pavilion Stand, and it was from here that the official opening took place.
Norman Sutcliffe, who transferred to the Finance Department of the Preston Royal Infirmary in 1948, recalls: “I remember a number of us, including Norman Gornall, going one winter evening to the office of Rediffusion for voice tests. I am sure Walter Richardson (Group Cashier at the PRI) took part in the early days and one thing I can be positive about is that he died in June 1951. This, therefore, would date the first commentary season as 1950/51“.
Norman was a member of the commentary service until 1960 when the Preston North End Authority decided in to locate the commentary box half way up one of the floodlight pylons. The 40ft climb was not for him!
An article written by John Wilkinson, a commentator in 1978, reads: “Officially 1978 marks the Silver Jubilee of live football match broadcasts from Preston North End’s ground at Deepdale to patients in the Preston Hospitals. The service was inaugurated on New Year’s Day, 1953 on the occasion of a derby match between Preston North End and Blackpool who, at that time, were both in the First Division of the Football League. Tom Finney came along to start the commentaries from Deepdale. In those days the team of volunteer commentators were all members of the hospital staff recruited by Norman Kidd, a very progressive administrator, and included Walter Richardson from the Treasurer’s Department, who died in the early 1950’s and also Norman Sutcliffe our Salaries and Wages Officer who served on the team for many years”.
The article went on to say: “It became the practice to broadcast to patients each week using the Central League Reserve matches as training in the techniques of broadcasting for those who ultimately became fully fledged members of the commentating team. It was in this way in 1952 your correspondent began by sitting in front of the South Pavilion Stand with a hand microphone and a transmitting box on the floor beneath the seat. When it rained or snowed, which it quite often does during any football season, the commentators, soaked to the skin, carried on following every move of the game and transmitting it to their unseen audience.
Three of the present commentating team are members of staff: John Calderbank (District Administration), Tony Worswick (District Finance) and John Wilkinson (District Laboratory). Other members of the team are Tom Heap, Sid Kayley, Gerry allerton, Ray Porter and Chairman Arthur Worden”.
Arthur Worden joined the commentary team in 1964 as a trainee and became a full member during the 1965/66 season. As a GPO technician he was instrumental in arranging lines for occasional away matches. Arthur became Chairman in 1973 and held the office until his death during the 1984/85 season.
Syd Kayley reported: “We originally broadcast to Preston Royal Infirmary and extended the service subsequently to Sharoe Green Hospital, Deepdale Hospital, Longsands Hospital, the Willows Rehabilitation Hospital, Ribbleton Hospital and for a time to Chorley hospitals until Chorley set up their own service in the late sixties. Of the above hospitals all except Sharoe Green have since been closed. Sharoe Green has been extended and of course the new Royal Preston Hospital has been opened and these are the two hospitals which now receive the broadcasts. We work from a rota system which allocates 4 commentators to each game.
The first named is responsible for collecting the keys, programming team changes from the P.N.E office and for opening the commentary box. He then does approx 10 minutes pre-match build up detailing teams, expectations etc., a half time summary and after match close down. The other three named on the rota take 3 fifteen minute periods of each half”. Sid started with the football commentary service in 1964 and was still involved in 1991. By 1963 the commentary service was being heard in 11 hospitals in Preston and Chorley, an estimated audience of 1,000 patients.
In 1991 J Morton of the Preston & District Hospitals Welfare Society wrote: “There is a private line between our studio and the Preston North End commentators box which is switched through by us for all home matches. Present broadcasts are to the Royal Preston Hospital and Sharoe Green Hospital, the other Preston hospitals having closed shortly after the Royal Preston Hospital was opened in June 1983. The football commentary team are not members of our society”.
The commentary team in 1991 consisted of: John Wilkinson (Chairman), Tony Worswick (Secretary), Sid Kayley, Ray Porter, Gerry allerton, Malcolm Rae, Howard Gray and Fred Eaton (Studio Link).
- Newcastle (6 October 1951)
The first football commentary service in Newcastle took place on Saturday, 6 October 1951. The commentators at that time were Tom Taylor (City Magistrate), Peter Mearns (Business Executive), Ted Harris (Sales Representative), Frank Lowery (School Master), Tom Sanderson (School Master) and Doug Whitlie (Engineer). Tom Taylor’s son Max (a commentator himself) recalls his father stating that the first game was against Wolverhampton Wanderers, which Newcastle won 3-1.
One of the original commentators, Frank Lowery, recalled: “In the 1950s in Newcastle football support was really at a fever pitch and the average gate at St James was 50,000 +. The doctors and nurses noticed that patients who had been making a good recovery suddenly took a turn for the worse on a Saturday afternoon – these were patients who would have been at the match had they been fit (the Royal Victoria Hospital is only a couple of hundred yards from St James and the ‘football-mad’ patients could hear the constant roar from the huge crowds). So the original impetus for match information or commentary came from the medics and as the four major hospitals (two on each side of the river Tyne) were already wired up by Redifussion NE with headsets to each bed and loudspeakers in the day rooms, the Directors of Newcastle United were approached by Rediffusion with the object of providing a running commentary to these four hospitals. The commentary box (also used by the BBC Sports Report team when they were doing a second half commentary) was in the roof of the main stand and gave a superb view of the whole ground. I remember that the first commentary was in late 1951“.
A booklet produced for the Tyneside Hospitals Commentators Association prior to the start of the 1959/60 football season reads as follows: “The Football Commentaries from Newcastle United’s ground to hospitals in Newcastle and Gateshead commenced during the 1951-52 Season, and six commentators were selected by the Directors of Newcastle United from tape recordings made by numerous volunteers who were auditioned at reserve matches. All the technical equipment necessary for these broadcasts was provided by Rediffusion (North East) Ltd., and in those days Mr Alan Pattison, of Rediffusion, was busily engaged in supervising the installation of the necessary wiring required before the broadcasts commenced. Only four Hospitals received the first match broadcast, these being the Royal Victoria Infirmary, the Newcastle General Hospital, Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Gateshead, and Sheriff Hill Hospital, Gateshead. As time went by, however, this feature became so popular that other hospitals joined the circuit, and in addition to those mentioned above, the commentaries now go out to Walkergate Hospital, Hunters Moor, Bensham General Hospital, Dunston Hill Hospital and Normans Riding (Winlaton), and it is hoped that in the near future patients at Shotley Bridge Hospital will also enjoy these facilities”.
Included in the booklet was a message to patients entitled “How to get the best out of Football Broadcasts”. It explained “If you are confined to your bed you will find behind the head of the bed a pair of headphones and switching arrangement to enable you to select the special hospital programmes which always come on Channel C. In case of difficulties your nurse will put you right. For patients who are able to walk, there are loudspeakers in various day rooms so no one should have any difficulty in arranging to listen in. To those of you who know St James’ Park, the broadcasting box is situated at the top of the grandstand almost centrally positioned between the two ends of the ground, the end on our left being known as the Leazes end and the end to our right as the Gallowgate end”.
An article in the official programme for the football match held at St James Park on 14 January 1956 reads “It is with pride and pleasure that we name today six voluntary United fans who devote their time, whenever United are playing at home, to give running commentary on play to hospital wards in Newcastle, Gateshead and Sunderland. We, the Board, are delighted to award this service to the sick and infirm for we can think of no greater aid to health for the football folk in adversity than to be able to follow the fortunes of the ‘Magpies’ even though they are unfortunately in ‘dock’. The team of broadcasters who send out their running report are making a first class job of it. They are: T Taylor, P Mearns, T Sanderson, E Harris, D Whitlie, F Lowery. They come from varying walks of life to do their Saturday service and deserve great praise. They operate from the roof of the main stand and keep patients right up with the playas it progresses to bring the thrills of the game into the hospitals. Their’s is a service to the sick that they are proud to provide and many are the letters of thanks that come in appreciation”.
In 1991 the commentary service was being relayed to one hospital in Newcastle, the Royal Victoria Infirmary.
- Portsmouth (27 October 1951)
On three occasions in the early 1950s when home FA Cup fixtures were being played at Fratton Park (the home of the Portsmouth Football Club) the gates had to be closed because of a capacity crowd. A police sergeant called Brian Morrissey, who was helping with crowd control, was called upon to provide a running commentary of the matches to the crowds locked outside Fratton Park. This was quickly arranged by a police constable, Len (Bill) Rooms, who linked the club’s PA equipment with the Police communications vehicle. Brian, without realising it, had started on a new role as football commentator that was to lead on to the expansion of hospital broadcasting.
At this time many of the patients in hospitals throughout the country could listen to the Saturday afternoon football matches on the BBC. Then in 1951 a statement was made that indicated that the BBC football commentaries might be “within certain limits”. This caused much concern that the blind and sick could be deprived of their regular Saturday afternoon commentary. The Police team associated with Fratton Park took this to heart and initial discussions took place with PC Bill Rooms about broadcasting to hospitals and blind homes in the area using short wave radios. For legal reasons this idea had to be abandoned.
PC Bill Rooms then decided to discuss the problem with a friend in Post Office Telephones, John Griffiths. John came up with the proposal that if the football club would dedicate one exchange line to the Post Office, and the hospitals and blind homes would do the same, he would link up the systems at the Post Office and also link up each unit with the PA systems in the various establishments. Sgt Brian Morrissey put this proposition to the Portsmouth Football Club and agreement was reached without hesitation with Vernon Stokes, the Chairman of the Board of Directors and Director Jack Sparshott. They were very enthusiastic and gave all the necessary support. The Royal Navy “rowed in” with financial support and on the 27th October 1951 the service went live at Fratton Park with a game against Newcastle United which was broadcast to St. Mary’s Hospital.
From about 1970 the service also broadcast for a time to St James’ Hospital, Portsmouth Royal, Jubilee Home for the Blind, the Eye & Ear Hospital and Haslar Royal Naval Hospital, Gosport.
In 1995 the commentary service was being relayed to St Mary’s Hospital, Portsmouth and Queen Alexandra Hospital, Cosham. The regular commentators were David Blandford (24 years service), David Rudling (24 years) and Roy Whiteside. Peter Smith and Phillip Reed were the two substitute commentators.
- Scunthorpe (17 November 1951)
Within a few weeks of the start of the service from Portsmouth a recorded football commentary service was in operation at Scunthorpe. A plaque at Scunthorpe General Hospital reads: “This plaque commemorates the gift by the League of Friends of a three way radio system to this hospital. Opened by their Chairman, D Drury Esq., on 28th April, 1960. Dedicated to the memory of John Tock, Esq, Hon. Treasurer, who made the first football commentary to patients on 17th November, 1951“.
Mr E W Ellis, who joined the service in 1967, recalled being told that in 1951 a gentleman by the name of John Tock took it upon himself to take a reel-to-reel tape recorder to the Old Show Ground at Scunthorpe to record his own commentaries of the Scunthorpe United football matches. During the next few days he would take his tape recorder around the wards of the General Hospital and anyone who wished to hear his match commentary could do so. A little later on, however, the League of Friends paid to have a telephone line installed from the ground and provided headsets for the hospital beds. This meant that commentaries could now be done “live” and it proved to be a service that was much appreciated by patients. It is not clear whether or not John Tock took part in those early “live” commentaries.
The following is· an extract from a booklet commemorating ‘Over Thirty Years of Broadcasting to Scunthorpe Hospitals’: “The plaque is fixed to the wall on the right of the entrance to the out-patients department and it gives some indication of the beginnings of football commentaries from the Old Show Ground. Certainly John Tock was a pioneer in this field and his contribution was invaluable, yet he was not spared to see the full fruits of his initiative. Others who gave support in the 1950’s were Arthur Sharp, who was then Secretary of the League of Friends and John Price, who shared commentaries with John Tock. They were real enthusiasts and it was unfortunate that they ceased to operate as a team when John Tock first became ill. At this stage John Price enlisted the aid of his brother Basil Price, a local schoolmaster, who is still a member of the team of commentators having now completed over thirty years of service.
It would be impossible to list all those who have helped over the years. Suffice to say that help has come from many different quarters including a number of local schoolmasters, many friends of regular commentators and lots of the footballers whilst on the injured list. Even the club physiotherapist has been known to help out when emergencies have arisen!
From among the commentators, special reference should be made to the late Ray Prigmore, who used his undoubted talents as a hospital commentator for many years before being elevated to a similar role with Radio Humberside. Facilities for the early commentators were fairly primitive, with a commentary box out in the open, fully exposed to the electric and sometimes explosive atmosphere of the terraces, not to mention the influx of samples of unparliamentary language. Such was the enthusiasm of the commentators and the interest shown by patients that even reserve team games were covered. During the early 1950’s tape-recorders were coming into the market and one was used to record commentaries of away matches. The tape was then played back that evening or the following day over the hospital network. Things have changed greatly. The commentary box is now neatly enclosed at the top of the West Stand, direct lines can be booked if required for very important away matches, tape-recorders are so much more compact and technically efficient and the support service from the comparatively new studio based at the hospital is of the highest order”. It is thought that the live commentary service started in late 1952 or early 1953. Until 1979 the service was relayed to only the Scunthorpe General Hospital, the landline then being expanded to include the Maternity Home in Brumby Wood Lane, the Brumby Hospital and the Glandford Hospital in Brigg.
In January 1990 Alan Ellis (not related to W E Ellis) of the Scunthorpe Hospital Broadcasting Organisation reported that Basil Price was in his final year of commentating and was retiring after more than 37 years of service in this field. To mark his contribution the Yorkshire and Humberside region of the Sports Council recently awarded him a special “Service To Sport certificate”. Alan added: “Scunthorpe United no longer play at the Old Show Ground. In 1988 the West Stand was bulldozed with the rest of the buildings and the site sold to a supermarket concern. Strangely enough, however, our stalwart commentators are back in the open”.
- Burnley (1951)
Very little historical information on the football commentary service in Burnley has been uncovered whilst researching this subject.
“The station first broadcast in 1951 after solicitor Colin Sanderson and a fellow Round Table member saw a similar operation in Birmingham when following the Clarets”.
“It was funded by The Round Table until the 1970s when volunteers took it over. At one stage, it was listened to by patients in the Victoria, the General, and the Marsden, in Burnley, Reedyford, at Nelson, and Hartley Hospital, in Colne”.
A letter dated 5 August 1968 from Colin Sanderson, of Reedley, near Burnley, to Mr Parker of the Nottingham football commentary service read: “Your letter addressed to the Burnley Football Club has been handed to me on behalf of the Burnley Round Table who look after the broadcast of football matches to local hospitals. I have made arrangements for the GPO to pick up your commentary on the Nottingham match and your broadcast will be heard by five hospitals in this area”.
In 1990 a football commentary service was being presented by Hospital Radio Burnley.
- Plymouth (19 January 1952)
A TOC H article of March 1952, read: “Every Saturday since 1948 a little procession, consisting of two TOC H members of Crownhill Branch (Plymouth District) and two blind members of TOC H, had been threading its way through the crowd to its customary place at the Plymouth Argyle Football ground. There, week by week, those two blind members had been given a running commentary on the game. The crowd was always willing to stand back to make sure that the commentators had a good view of the game. In fact, when the play was in the near corner of the field those standing close used to give up their tip-toed attempts to see, and relax to listen to the TOC H commentary. When it was learned that commentaries on matches at Portsmouth were being relayed to the local hospitals the two commentators began to wonder if TOC H would sponsor a similar experiment in Plymouth. Enquiries were quickly made, and they enlisted the cooperation of the Plymouth Argyle Football Club, the Post Office, and the local Rediffusion Service. For a short period, prior to the connection of a land line, commentaries were recorded and then played that evening in various hospital wards”.
The TOC H article continued: “The result of a lot of hard work was in evidence on January 19th, 1952, when the first commentary was relayed live to four of the Plymouth hospitals. The commentary was preceded by a few words of explanation, to the hospital patients, by the TOC H District Chairman and an appreciation by Sir Clifford Tozer, the Chairman of the Plymouth Argyle Football Club. By March 1952, now comfortably housed in a former press box, with the blind members alongside, the commentaries were being relayed at all home games. Records show that letters of appreciation indicated that the broadcasts were as popular in the women’s wards as well as in the men’s. Negotiations are under way to relay to several more hospitals next season. In the meantime Plymouth is pleased to think that a new ‘job’ has been started, and a new service for the sick begun”.
The original hospitals who received the TOC H broadcasts were the Prince of Wales Hospital Devonport, Greenbank Hospital, Freedom Fields Hospital and Mount Gould Hospital. At a later date the Royal Naval Hospital and the Royal Eye Infirmary were added to the landline system.
As a result of the Plymouth service TOC H were to play a very important part in the development of Hospital Broadcasting, spreading the idea rapidly throughout the United Kingdom by word of mouth and through their widely read magazine ‘TOC H Journal’. The TOC H Journal of December 1961 included a photograph of the Deputy Lord Mayor (Coun. Thompson): “Talking to hospital patients on the TOC H broadcast system during an interval in the local football match”.
In 1991 Bob Banister, Station Controller and Chairman of Hospital Radio Plymouth wrote: “With the creation of Hospital Radio Plymouth in 1969 the commentaries were then relayed to all the other main hospitals in Plymouth. The current hospitals taking the service are – Freedom Fields Hospital, Greenbank Hospital, The Royal Eye Infirmary, The Royal Naval Hospital, Derriford Hospital, Mount Gould Hospital and St Lukes Hospice. There are three long serving commentators – Alf Williams (34 years), Ray Rose (20 years) and Arthur Grant (8 years). The commentary service covers all Plymouth Argyle home matches. The service has run continually since its inception, and forms a major part of Hospital Radio Plymouth’s 4 hour sports and magazine show. The commentary service is also relayed to other hospital radio organisations on request”.
Bob added: “The man who originally escorted the blind and commentated to them on the terraces was Arthur Bush. TOC H also provided a commentary on the Plymouth speedway team, broadcasting from the Pennycross Stadium from the 17th April 1953“.
An article about Ray Rose in a Plymouth Argyle programme included the following statements: “Ray Rose is the headmaster of Tamar High School in Plymouth. One of his diversions is his devotion to Argyle. An ardent fan he has organised for many years the commentaries on all Argyle’s first team home matches. These are relayed to local hospitals and form part of the programmes put out by Hospital Radio Plymouth. In the early years the commentaries were given from below the old Directors building, now the Chisholm Lounge, at the Peverell end. The blind sat on either side, and behind the commentator, and as Ray recalls were never short of caustic comment if one didn’t paint a complete and clear picture of what was happening on the pitch. Indeed Ray reckons it’s the ideal test for any budding commentator”.
The commentators in 1991 were Ray Rose, Arthur Grant, Alf Williams, Norman Pointer, John Riggs and Gordon Sparks.
2.7 Sheffield (15 March 1952)
In late 1951 Fred Walters, Sports Editor of The Star (Sheffield’s evening paper), and Mr A K Forbes, a civil servant, approached two people who had worked together on various charitable events in the city, Abe Silver and Bryan Dunthorne Uournalist on the Star). They explained to Abe and Bryan what had recently occurred at Portsmouth and suggested that live eye witness accounts of football matches could be relayed to hospital patients in Sheffield.
Very quickly provisional approval was given by both Sheffield United and Sheffield Wednesday, followed by a feasibility study instigated by Post Office Telephones. An approach was also made to Sheffield Royal Hospital and the Royal Infirmary to see if they would provide the necessary facilities. The administrative and medical staffs immediately welcomed the idea. An open meeting was called at which the football clubs, the City Council, Sheffield Works Sports Association, and people known for their benevolent attitudes were present. As a result ‘Sheffield Sports Commentaries Committee for Hospital Patients and the Blind’ was set up, with Abe Silver as chairman and Bryan Dunthorne as secretary, to organise and provide a service to the Royal Hospital and Royal Infirmary by means of Post Office landlines from Bramell Lane and Hillsborough.
The Post Office provided a cost estimate of £30 for the necessary lines. In addition other items of equipment were identified which would have to be hired separately from a private firm. All these formalities having been completed, the first broadcast, from Sheffield Wednesday FC, was made on 15 March 1952. A week later the first broadcast took place from Sheffield United FC. Prior to this broadcast the Sheffield Sports Commentaries Service was officially opened by the then Lord Mayor, Alderman Tom Bridgland. Sheffield Wednesday’s broadcast point was considered by Eric Taylor, Wednesday’s manager, as too difficult to reach by the Lord Mayor from the directors seats.
It was not long before other hospitals in the city, and the Blind Institute and blind homes, were asking for the service to be extended. By 1956 thirteen such centres were connected to the system with a network of landlines covering almost fifty miles in total, at a cost of just over £1000 per year; at that time one of the largest services in the country. Other towns and cities in the area were soon following Sheffield’s lead and the service helped to set up similar services in Leeds (with Aid Blenkinsop, the blind director of the Leeds Football Club at its head), Rotherham, Barnsley, Scunthorpe, Grimsby, Wakefield, Hull, Dewsbury and Batley (the last three being rugby commentary services). It was from Batley that the Sheffield service inherited Iris Bettney, the first known woman commentator.
Over the years the Sheffield service was concerned in many firsts: the introduction of ball-by-ball cricket commentaries to all the Yorkshire commentary organisations from Sheffield, Leeds, Bradford, and relaying the first public comments from Len Hutton on his knighthood. Alderman Mrs. Freda Cox of Birmingham and Tom Winterflood of London Central organised the relaying of Sunday night concerts from the metropolis (including the Palladium). In addition, in 1966, the service broke new ground when it covered the Sheffield Wednesday Cup Final from Wembley.
The service lost its founder Chairman, Abe Silver, in July 1974, but in 1989 Bryan Dunthorne, at the age of 84, was still carrying on as Secretary and, elected in 1987, as Senior Life Vice President. Bryan recalls: “It has not always been easy, particularly in finding the funds. We could never persuade Whitehall that hospital landlines deserved a special rate. Abe Silver always said the contribution to our funds he treasured most was from a boy whose eyes were covered in bandages who was photographed with his hand aloft when a goal was scored during our first broadcast. He sent a postal order for 6d. Abe never cashed it”. The boy is part of the logo on the services letterhead.
- Birmingham (May 1952) – The First Cricket Commentary Service
In Birmingham a service was to start seemingly independently of the expansion stemming from the Portsmouth football commentary service and was to develop into one of the largest organisations in the country.
In the early 1950s a group of friends in Birmingham decided that something should to help relieve the boredom of patients in hospital, especially long-stay patients in hospitals like Yardley Green Sanitorium, a TB isolation unit, where patients were likely to months rather than weeks. The group, who included Councillor Freda Cox (who VI on to become Lord Mayor of Birmingham) began meeting at ‘The New Inns’, Mosek where Freda was landlady, and they formulated the idea of relaying cricket commentaries to Yardley Green Sanitorium. The group, which included League of hospitals for the Sanatoria hospitals, was known as the ‘Friends of Birmingham Sanatoria H Commentaries Association’.
The first match was broadcast from the Warwickshire County Cricket Ground at Edgbaston in May 1952, with a programme of about one hour per week, and by the autumn of that year it included live football commentaries from Birmingham City and Aston Villa. By 1953 the hospital network had grown to three hospitals; Yardley Green, West Heath and the Elizabeth, and the service had expanded to include plays and short stories. In 1955 the Skin Hospital and St Chads Hospital were receiving programmes, and Romsley Hill (a mental hospital), the General Hospital and The Woodlands (the Royal Orthopaedic Hospital) had requested the service but had not yet been connected.
The Friends of the Birmingham Sanatoria Hospitals Commentaries Association, in the words of the 1955 report, stated: “The potentiabilities of the service were then realised and after consideration the Sanatoria League of Friends came to the conclusion that the administration should be covered by a body outside the League of Friends, thus enabling the ‘League“ to devote the whole of their funds and energies to other activities”. At a formal AGM in Birmingham City Council Chambers, on 25th April 1955, the Association was hand to the ‘Birmingham Hospitals Commentaries Association’.
The Birmingham sports commentary service was both large and very well organised. In early 1961 Sidney Rogers, The Programme Controller, wrote to Bob Parker in Nottingham about relaying the Nottingham Forest v Birmingham City match to hospitals in Birmingham: “I am enclosing a copy of our programme schedule to which we hope to be able to work on Saturday. As you can see we are looking forward to having the complete match from the Forest Ground – we shall go down to Bristol during the half time period in your match and then return back to you at 3.09pm. My colleagues assure me that your kick off is 2.15pm – hence my planning accordingly. Barring injury time your game should finish at 3.55pm – the same time as the second half should start at Bristol where Aston V playing – hence I am afraid it will have to be a quick switch from one to the other if to satisfy the Villa fans in hospital. We shall be synchronising our timings with the Post Office T.I.M. and we shall try to work as close as possible to the scheduled times”.
John Allison, who joined the commentary service in 1961 wrote: “To the best of my knowledge the earliest commentators were Sidney Rogers, Hal Cohen, Dr Gordon Percy *Jim Cotterill, Lt Col Miles Thomas, * Geoff Hollyhoke, * Clarrie Newell, Norman Power, * Cliff Davies and * Geoff Pook”. The names annotated with an asterisk were the early football commentators. John added: “It was quite a large team because every ball was covered for every home match. Miles Thomas almost invariably did the afternoon/evening of the 3rd day, often on his own. There was no football at the very start, only cricket spoken into an ordinary telephone! Amplifiers, etc, came later”.
In 1991 the longest serving members were John Allison (1961), David Wigley (1966) and John Arnold (1966).
Three services were to start with the opening of the 1952-53 football season, in Manchester, Bristol and Rotherham (the latter two by TOC H on the same day).
- Manchester (23 August 1952)
The first meeting to discuss the formation of a hospital broadcasting organisation in the Manchester Area was held in February 1952 when TOC H initiated a meeting with Rediffusion and officials of Manchester United and Manchester City football clubs. It was agreed at this meeting to broadcast commentaries of soccer from the grounds of the two Manchester Clubs. There would be ball-by-ball commentaries and these would be relayed to the Private Patients Home of Manchester Royal Infirmary and the Stretford Memorial Hospital. The relays were to commence at the beginning of the 1952-53 football season.
The first commentary took place as planned, using borrowed equipment, from Old Trafford on the opening game of the 1952-53 season. It was broadcast to the Stretford Memorial Hospital and the Private Patients’ Home at the Manchester Royal Infirmary. Records show that a crowd of 41,805 saw Manchester United beat Chelsea 2-0 on Saturday 23 August. The commentator on that day was Roy Chisnall and within weeks of that first broadcast Les Burges, Dick Roberts and Ernest Freeman had joined the commentary team.
It soon became apparent that, to formalise the growing operation and to involve influential and charitable support, an association would need to be arranged which was divorced from any kind of commercialism. For this reason the Manchester Salford and District Hospital Commentaries Association was formed. Within the first 2-3 years the network expanded rapidly, covering 16 hospitals, expansion that was to continue until eventually 35 hospitals were linked to the commentaries (in size only surpassed by Liverpool).
Just after the terrible Munich disaster in 1958 the Daily Sketch and the GPO arranged a link up with the hospital in Munich where Matt Busby was lying critically ill in the hope that listening to a football commentary from Old Trafford would lift his spirits. TOC H wrote in February 1959: “January 29th was the Hospital Commentaries Dinner. A good ‘do’ this, with special guests, Ivan Sharpe, President of the Football Writers’ Association, and Joseph Richards, Chairman of the Football League. Supporting them were various folks from the civic life of Manchester, the press and television (both channels). As well as the football commentaries and record request programmes three times every week, the Commentaries’ Team has branched out in other directions, by keeping patients in touch with local events. A Harvest Thanksgiving service was broadcast, and an evening’s boxing at the Free Trade Hall. The latest idea is a series of one-act plays by leading Amateur Dramatic Clubs”.
A newspaper reported in 1963: “A select and selected body of some forty men is split up into groups and they cover Association Football, Rugby League, County Cricket at Old Trafford and boxing. Of the original members who attended the inaugural meeting in 1952 only three are still on the active list; Messrs R Roberts (Secretary), E G Freeman and R C Chisnall”. Over the years the football commentaries have included interesting half time interviews with celebrities including The Rt. Hon. Harold Wilson, The Rt Hon. Edward Heath, Jimmy Tarbuck, Arthur Askey, Mike Yarwood and Ronnie Corbett to name but a few.
In 1973 the football commentary service celebrated its 21st birthday. Among those who attended the celebrations was Tommy Docherty, Manager of Manchester United. A birthday cake was cut by Joe Cox, Chairman of the Manchester and Salford Hospital Commentaries Association. A report at the time read: “The Association broadcasts regular commentaries from the Manchester United and Manchester City grounds, cricket commentaries from Old Trafford during the summer and record requests and other musical programmes. The programmes are relayed to a total of 33 hospitals and Dick Roberts, the Secretary, reckons that something like 4 million people have tuned in to them over the 21 years”.
Peter Dawes, Secretary of Manchester Hospital Radio, wrote in January 1991: “The boxing commentaries that we did make were from The Free Trade Hall Manchester and Belle Vue Manchester. That was in the middle fifties but never on a regular basis. Coverage of Lancashire County Cricket started Whitsuntide 1958. Our presenter on that occasion was Ron McCormick who still does football with me. Our regular cricket presenter is now David Hooton and we have extensive cricket coverage. In 1958 at the opening of the service Ron introduced Cyril Washbrook and Freddie Trueman. I think the match was Lancs v Yorks”.
In 1992 the commentary service covered football from both Manchester City and Manchester United, and Lancashire County Cricket.
- Bristol (23 August 1952)
Hospital broadcasting in Bristol was started in 1952 by TOC H under the title of The Bristol Hospital Broadcast Society. Members of TOC H, led by Lauri Lucena (Chairman from 1952 until 1975), went cap in hand to the two local soccer clubs and managed to come away with not only facilities at the respective grounds, but also with a donation of £50 from each club.
The first programme broadcast was the match between Bristol Rovers and Shrewsbury Town on, like the service in Manchester, 23 August 1952. The commentary was relayed on Post Office landlines to five hospitals, with a further hospital joining the network the following week.
The Bristol Evening Post on Monday 25 August reported: “While more than 23,000 spectators at Eastville cheered Rovers to a 2-1 victory over Shrewsbury Town, hundreds listened in to a full 90 minutes commentary over the new local broadcasting system. This radio audience was not confined to men only. In several of the five hospitals – Cossham, Homeopathic, Bristol Royal Infirmary, Bristol General and Southmead – a number of women had the loudspeakers on”. The article went on to say: “All patients praised the efficiency of the commentators – J P Hare, Rovers Director and member of the Frenchay Hospital Group Board, Bob Moore, Evening Post staff reporter and Bill Mountjoy local schoolmaster, who has worked for the BBC. Some of their colleagues on the commentator’s panel – there are eleven of them – listened in at local hospitals to pick up a few hints and learn how the broadcast was received. Next Saturday Snowdon Road, Stapleton and Bristol Mental Hospitals will be on the circuit when Bristol City versus Brighton and Hove Albion is covered”.
A TOC H Journal of November 1952, recorded that the commentators included the Rev Vyvyan Jones, Jim Brady and Scott Hardy. Eight Bristol hospitals were receiving the service, with a further eight waiting for Post Office Telephone lines to become available.
The mid week football match between Bristol City and Southend played on 2-3-1955 was recorded as well as broadcast to 10,000 Bristol Hospital patients. The recording, made by Rediffusion Ltd, was flown to Singapore and heard by Bristol servicemen patients in Singapore Hospitals on the following Monday. In July 1958, TOC H reported: “Bristol Hospital Broadcasts Society have this year added broadcasts of local County Cricket matches to the several other items of interest and entertainment to local hospitals”.
The Hospital Broadcasts Society (Bristol Area) Handbook and Programmes, 1959-60, summarised the Society’s history as follows: “The beginning was modest – only six hospitals at first being linked with the Eastville and Ashton Gate Stadiums and the administration was handled by the then Western Area Secretary of TOC Hand Mr John Gummow, Secretary of Bristol rovers Football Club. With assistance of inestimable value from the Bristol Rediffusion Service Ltd and the GPO, and with the aid of the small team of commentators the first two years were spent in consolidation and quiet progress. Gradually the scope widened to such an extent, with more hospitals being included, that a properly constituted Society was formed in 1954 with Committee representatives from the major organisations in Bristol connected with Hospital Broadcasts. Today there are twenty-one hospitals linked with the exclusive Hospital Broadcasts’ Network in Bristol and District, and patients are able to hear regular commentaries on Soccer, Rugby, County Cricket, Boxing, Wrestling and other sporting events”.
The 1959-60 sports commentary programmes were: Association Football – Full 90 minute commentaries on all the home matches played by Bristol Rovers and Bristol City Football Clubs; Rugby Football – Full commentaries on all mid-week home matches played by the Bristol Football Club; County Cricket – Extensive ball-by-ball commentaries on all matches played by Gloucestershire CCC at the County Ground, Bristol; Wrestling – Regular fortnightly commentaries on the Wrestling Matches staged at the Colston Hall. Special commentaries on other sports were arranged whenever possible.
Ian Elliott, Chairman of Bristol Hospital Broadcasting Service, wrote in 1991: “We have in our studio a photocopy of a letter from Rediffusion suggesting that TOC H set up a hospital radio station and offering help and cooperation. The date of the letter is early 1952. The longest serving surviving members are Bert Hooper, one of the original three TOC H members who set up the project in 1952 (the other two were Lauri Lucena and Ray Wilton) and Brian Powell. Brian was our main commentator at Bristol Rovers home matches, for over thirty years, until they moved from their ground at Eastville to Twerton Park in Bath. The Landlinesto Twerton Park are sponsored on a match to match basis. 22 local businesses each sponsor one match commentary and thereby raise the £1,100 needed to pay for this our most expensive line”. 15 hospitals were receiving the commentary service in 1991.
- Rotherham (August 1952)
A Rotherham newspaper reported in 1970: “Millmoor matches from start to finish are on the air again this season for the 18th successive year. It was in August 1952, that Mr Walter Hesling, of Far Lane, Rotherham, sent out the first minute-by-minute commentary. It has been going, on match occasions, ever since. For most of the 18 years Mr Eric Elwiss from Doncaster has been helping Walter. For many years the broadcast trio has been completed by Barry Nelson, former General Secretary of the Steel, Peech and Tozer Social Service Organisation.
Like every other organisation the ‘Rotherham Hospitals Commentaries Committee’ has had to face rising costs. The generosity of Rotherham United has been an important factor in the continuance of the service. ‘We have just had a very substantial donation by Millmoor and we are extremely grateful to Mr Eric Purshouse, their Chairman, and his colleague directors’ said Councillor Jack Ford, founder Chairman of the commentaries committee. Quick to respond to a recent appeal for financial assistance were the Rotherham Lions Club. Said the commentaries committee Hon Sec Mr John Piper ‘It does seem that whenever a good cause is in need the Lions Club can be relied on to lend a hand’. Anyone wishing to have a message put across during the matches to relatives or friends who are patients in the four Rotherham hospitals should contact Mr Hesling, Mr Piper or the Star Office”.
In 1974, in the face of rising costs and limited interest, the service ceased operating.
- Batley (9 September 1952) – The First Rugby Commentary Service
The idea of broadcasting to local hospitals in the Batley and Dewsbury area was first thought of when some members of the West Ardsley branch of the Batley Rugby League Supporters Club were talking about the services that they had heard about in Portsmouth and Sheffield. An organisation called the ‘Sports Commentaries for Hospitals’ was founded in late 1951 to broadcast commentaries from the Batley and Dewsbury Rugby League grounds. Directors of both clubs, Dr John Walker and Jack Barrett of Batley and John Crimshaw of Dewsbury, gave their full co-operation, club co-operation that was to continue throughout the existence of both commentary services.
At Mount Pleasant, the home of Batley RLC, a commentary box was erected on top of the popular stand and was reached by ladder. It was situated at the centre line and gave a magnificent view of the ground. Built by Clement Quirk of Batley in the 1952 cricket season it was wired up and ready for use for the Batley v Keighley Cup Tie on 9 September 1952.
Commentating on that first game were Bill Ellis (a Director of the club), George Brown, Tom Westmoreland, John Bryan and Sgt Parkin. The Dewsbury commentary box was built at Crown Flatts and was officially opened on 22nd November, 1952, for the fixture between Dewsbury and the Australian touring team (Australia won 22-7). The hospitals on the network were Staincliffe, Dewsbury, Batley and Beech Towers Old People’s Home. Later on Whitley Grange Hospital, Highfield Home for the Blind at Soothill, Batley, and Ravensleigh Annexe were added.
Stan Webb, a member of the commentary team 1963-1988, commented: “After the Bradford fire disaster we lost our Batley box through demolition and the Dewsbury box through arson! A new stand is nearing completion at Batley with a commentary box. A new ground is being prepared for Dewsbury, also with a box”.
- Liverpool (18 October, 1952)
A meeting was held in February 1951 of eight interested people to discuss the formation of a League of Friends for Walton Hospital in Liverpool. It was decided to proceed and this became the first League, as such, to be constituted in the Liverpool district. A short time after its formation the League was asked if it could provide, as one of the amenities provide, broadcast commentaries on the football matches at the Everton and Liverpool grounds to the tubercular patients at Walton Hospital – and so was born the idea.
On the 18 October 1952 broadcasts were commenced from the Liverpool Football Club to Walton Hospital, followed the following Saturday by one from Everton Football Club. The late Alan Clarke of the BBC gave the first football commentary, and although he was also doing an overseas commentary for the BBC, he did not interrupt the hospital broadcast. His producer wanted a clean start, and Alan was so professional that as soon as he was given the cue he welcomed overseas listeners and continued with commentary to both audiences. These commentaries proved such a success that other hospitals were brought in, and on the 5 December 1953 the circuit was enlarged to cover 21 hospitals on Merseyside.
In 1991 Joe Palmer wrote: “The first boxing commentary was made by the Rev. David Bevan who was Padre to Walton Hospital, on 26 August 1954. David got this job not because he knew a lot about boxing but because whilst on his rounds of the hospital the patients had said why not include boxing on the network. He suggested this to Jack Worthington, who replied, a good idea, you do the commentary. He became known in the hospital as the pugilistic vicar. Ken Martin assisted but when David took his stipend in Wales he found the journey during the winter nights a bit much, so Ken Martin and myself took over. I was later assisted by Ken Head. One of the finest nights (and there were many) was on Saturday 5 March 1977 when Liverpool’s John Conteh retained his Light Heavyweight World title beating Len Hutchins after 1 min 5 sec of the third round. The last programme was a Chris Moorcroft promotion which featured Noel Quarless v Norice Notice in a British Heavyweight eliminator which Notice won in a 7th round KO”. The commentaries were broadcast from the Liverpool Stadium and covered every professional promotion, plus many top amateur boxing championships. They continued until 3 October 1985. Shortly afterwards the stadium was pulled down”.
In 1982, when the service celebrated its 30th birthday, Charles and Mike Atkinson wrote: “Since we took over the promotion of boxing at the Stadium we have been pleased to welcome the Merseyside Hospitals Radio Network to take the atmosphere and excitement of fight nights into the wards of the various hospitals and we congratulate them on completing 30 years of continuous broadcasting”.
Other statements made on the service’s 30th birthday include those from the respective Chairmen of the Everton and Liverpool Football Clubs. “At Goodison we certainly appreciate the valuable work done by the Network, well knowing that from their own special commentary box high up in the stand, they get a first class view of the match”. And from Liverpool: “The commentary box which the club was pleased to have built for them high up on the television balcony gives a perfect view for them to continue the work they have so ably carried out for so many years!
The circuit was been extended time and time again until at its peak there were 37 hospitals receiving the broadcast as far apart as Wrexham, Chester, Ormskirk and St Helens. This is the largest known service to have existed. For many years the Controller of the Merseyside Hospitals Radio Network was Mr Jack Worthington, MBE, who guided it through its early stages to put it on a firm footing. The Merseyside Health Benefits Council wrote in 1986: “In 1953 the council, as part of its distribution expenditure, agreed to fund the service. A great deal of work was undertaken by the officers of this council, but mainly the inspiration came from Mr Jack Worthington”.
Joe Palmer, who first broadcast on Saturday 4 November 1961 wrote: “In the early days the number of hospitals taking our broadcasts went up to some 30 plus, but with rising costs for landlines, and that being pro-rata with distance, the further afield hospitals could not afford the costs and the number went down, and further diminished with the closing of many of the smaller hospitals. Over the years we built up a working capital and have recently bought our own 10 line switchboard and with the availability in Whiston Hospital, where this is sited, we can accommodate some 14 hospitals at any one time. Quite often we are asked to supply commentary to the hospitals in the area of the visiting teams. Some hospitals run a sports programme and are especially interested in the Liverpool games, even if their team is not in operation”. Joe’s last broadcast in charge was on 26th May, 1989. He recalls that at his first broadcast, 28 years ago: “Everton beat Spurs 3-0, Wignall and Bingham were the scorers and Everton leapfrogged over Spurs into second place”. For many years Joe was also Chairman of the service.
To celebrate 21 Years of Broadcasting a Variety Spectacular was held at the Philharmonic Hall on 25 October 1973. Tom O’Connor headed the bill. The souvenir programme included a message from Mr Ralph Whitehead: “The Merseyside Hospitals Council (Penny in the Pound Fund) has been very happy to pay for the cost of the GPO landlines to the hospitals and offers congratulations to all concerned in the broadcasting of the football commentaries” .
Over the years many personalities from the world of sport have said hello to the patients over the network including Tommy Farr, Jack Solomons, Bruce Woodcock and Terry Downs (Boxing) and Tom Finney, Bill Shankley, Frank Swift and Ian St John (Football).
There have also been many references to the work of the network in the newspapers, both by pressmen and by people writing to the papers. Peter Farrell, the former Everton FC Captain, wrote in the Liverpool Echo: “On visiting a hospital last week with some of my colleagues and those good people who give up their time to broadcast the games from Anfield and Goodison and the boxing from the Stadium each week to patients in hospitals on Merseyside, I fully realised how much the patients look forward to the broadcasts. One of the staff told me there is a terrific air of excitement in the hospital on a Saturday as they listen to the game. Certainly the broadcasting of football and boxing brings joy to them”.
- Southampton (18 October 1952)
The start of the service at Southampton was closely linked to events in Plymouth. For many years, at numerous football grounds around the country, small numbers of blind football fans had been receiving a running commentary on the play from willing helpers, often from staff of the blind schools and such organisations as TOC H. They enjoyed all the atmosphere of the game by standing or sitting together on the terraces or stands.
Such a service was being provided by Leslie Sullivan, a member of TOC H, and a friend at the Plymouth Football Club. His listeners became so enthusiastic that Leslie and his friend searched for some way to reach a larger audience. Some thought was given to arranging a direct line to the local hospitals but before this could be done Leslie had to move to Southampton. In 1952 he heard that the football service in Plymouth had been taken a stage further by taping the commentary and then visiting hospitals in the evening and playing it in various wards. Leslie, by now also aware of the service that had been started by TOC H in Bristol, made arrangements for Post Office lines to be connected from the Southampton Football Club to the South Hants, General, Chest and Eye Hospitals. The first commentary, under the simple title of the ‘TOC H Football Commentary Service’, was made by Leslie from the Dell on 18th October, 1952.
In December 1954, Ron Else had an article entitled “Confessions of a Commentator” published by TOC H. The following is an extract: “I am privileged to be among those who bring football to the hospitals by broadcasting the first team matches of the “Saints” every other week or so. We started off last year in a reasonable enough way. Southampton played at home, and TOC H members were there to commentate. Winter came with a vengeance. During the day it was bearable, but, at night, it was bitterly cold. Finally the snow thawed, and we thought we were in for a slightly better time of it. Not a hope. Southampton had arranged an evening match against Pegasus, the famous amateur club. We thought the hospitals would like to hear about it. We said we would be there. That afternoon the temperature crashed to a point it had not previously reached, and snow began to fall once more. By five o’clock it lay on the ground to a depth of three inches. “Surely”, I said to myself, “surely no one will be mad enough to play in this.” But nobody phoned me to say that the game was off. I had always been schooled to turn up for a sporting event unless previously told not to do so. Much against my better judgement, therefore, I donned three pairs of woollen socks, two pairs of trousers, four pullovers, two scarves and a thick raincoat. One pair of gloves, one hat, and one pair of shoes, unfortunately, were all I could fit to my extremities”.
The article continued: “I noted, on entering the stand, that the spectators had all gravitated to the rear, to escape the biting wind. Our place was, naturally enough, right down the front, and, with the limited amount of electric cable available, we jolly well had to stay there. The wind blew directly into our faces, and, every time we opened our mouths, we swallowed vast quantities of snow. In short, it was uncomfortable. Our spells at the microphone were short that evening. After ten minutes we would be relieved by the one whose hands were warmest. He would then prise iced fingers from the microphone holder and begin his agonised spell of commentary. True to the Bulldog Tradition we stuck it to the end. Who would be a TOC H football commentator? Personally speaking, I wouldn’t swop”.
In March 1963, Leslie Sullivan wrote to Bob Parker in Nottingham: “Notts Forest v Saints- Cup Tie – March 30th. Reference the match. Would you be kind as to permit TOC H in Southampton to arrange for your commentary to the local hospitals to be relayed live to the Southampton Hospitals. If so, we will go ahead with GPO arrangements and, of course, meet the cost. Needless to say, should a replay be necessary, you are very welcome to make the same arrangements in reverse. A prompt reply would be appreciated as I have taken your name from a list which is almost five years old.
One of the founder members of the Southampton Football commentary service was Ken Flood, still actively involved in 1990. In addition to Leslie and Ken regular football commentaries have been given by Ken Fielder, Bryan Dowding and “Inky” Bean.
In 1967 a cricket commentary service was started. Commentators over the years have included Rupert Robinson, John White, John Young, Lee McKenzie, Ken Maxted, Bill Shepheard, Jimmy Woods, Jim Saunders, Freddie Odds, Brian Dowding, Ken Fielder, Desmond Eagar and Neville Desmond (the latter two being former Hampshire players).
At its peak 13 hospitals received the commentary service. In 1991 the cricket and football commentaries were being relayed to 6 hospitals in Southampton; Southampton General, Royal South Hampshire, Southampton Eye, Princess Anne Maternity, Fred Woolley Horne of Recovery and Southampton Western.
- Derby (October 1952)
At the same time as the service in Liverpool started so too did the commentary service at the Derby County Football Club. The Football Telegraph published an article one Saturday evening asking for volunteers to do the commentaries.
Roy Christian was one of a number of applicants who responded: “I was asked to attend the Baseball Ground one Saturday afternoon for a trial commentary on a Central League game between Derby Reserves and Preston Reserves. I think about 18 of us turned up and were given perhaps 4 minutes each”. Four were chosen: including Roy, John Angus, Bob Lyndall (all school teachers) and Bertie Mee (later to become the highly successful manager of Arsenal). He was to be succeeded by Graham Clarke, who had been chosen as first reserve at the initial trial. Before the Derby commentary team was actually chosen John Arlott and Harry Walker of the BBC did a specimen commentary (to, it is thought, three Derby hospitals) and for the first two weeks of the service Harry carne over from Birmingham to see the service safely launched. When the service started in October 1952 the commentaries were sponsored by Derby County and Telefusion Ltd., who also looked after the technical side. When, in 1987, Vision Hire Ltd. took over Telefusion Ltd. they continued the sponsorship and technical support.
The commentary service established a special relationship with the Norwich Hospital Service. For over 30 years, whenever both teams were in the same division, Norwich City matches were relayed from the Baseball Ground.
An important feature of the service has been the number of foot-balling personalities who have spoken to the patients. These have included Sir Alf Ramsey, Don Revie, John Harris (the manager of Sheffield United) and Bill Shankley, as well as a few players who gave expert comments from time to time.
Nick Allen of Radio Link (Derby Hospital Broadcasting) wrote in 1991: “In 1988 we realised that the technical reproduction of the commentaries reaching the hospitals was approaching the unlistenable, due the age of the electrical equipment at the Baseball Ground. Radio Link approached Derby County Secretary Michael Dunford, who after some time managed to obtain a grant of around £2,000 from the Football Grounds Improvements Trust. With this money Radio Link engineers were able to purchase and install new commentary equipment at the ground, which improved reception immeasurably. Just before the equipment was commissioned however, Telefusion withdrew their sponsorship of the landlines. With BT threatening to disconnect the lines, Radio Link paid the £450 to secure the service for a further year. Roy Christian then sent out a press release to the local papers, and the result of this was that Brian Douglas of Centracom Ltd., a message handling service, came forward to sponsor the service for an indefinite period”. Nick added: “Radio Link also broadcasts commentaries on cricket, Carlsberg League Basketball and British Open Snooker. In addition we have reporters at local league football and rugby matches”.
In 1991 the football commentary service was being relayed to the Derbyshire Royal Infirmary, Derby City Hospital, Kingsway Hospital, Derbyshire Childrens Hospital and the MacMillan Continuing Care Unit. Long serving commentators have been John Angus and Bob Lyndall (about 35 years) and Roy Christian who completed 40 years broadcasting in 1992.
In 1992 Roy wrote: “Both John Angus,and Bob Lyndall retired from commentating five or six years ago, so I am the last of the original commentators here, at age 77. I shall give it up when somebody tells me that I’m no longer any good, but I might review the position at 80. My colleagues now are Keith Selby (a retired teacher), Mike Wilson (Derby County’s official statistician) and Phil Matthews”.
- Hull (8 November 1952)
The story of hospital broadcasting in Hull dates back to when Hull City Football Club, Kingston Upon Hull City Telephones and Rediffusion all got together to discuss the possibility of relaying football commentaries from Boothferry Park to local hospital patients. Landlines were installed to the Old Royal Infirmary and the Sutton Annex and the first “Tigerfusion” commentary, which was presented by Stan Hall, Eric Rackley and Stan Richards, went out on 8th November 1952. In addition to the three commentators, the other founder members of the service were Ken Fulstow, Minnie & Rodney Buckingham, Alan Adams and Elliot Opplell.
A newspaper article of September 1961, on the unique telephone service run by Hull Council, included the following statement: “They relay Hull City home matches to eight different hospitals in the area and do not charge a penny. Also supplied free is repair and maintenance of the lines”. Over the years the commentaries expanded to cover Rugby League (early 1960s), Hall Larda Vikings Speedway (for about five years in the 1970s), County Cricket, (started by Mark Antony in 1977) and Ice Hockey (mid 1980s).
In 1993 football and cricket commentaries were being relayed to six hospitals, in Hull, Coningham and Beverley.
- Dewsbury (22 November 1952)
See 12. Batley
- Oldham (29 November 1952)
The minutes of a meeting of the Oldham Athletic Football Club on 1st October, 1952, record: “That permission for a broadcast relay of one of our matches to Boundary Park Hospital and annex be granted to Mr J Wright”. It is thought that this statement was the go ahead for a trial broadcast that went out later that month.
A report in the Oldham Evening Chronicle ‘Green Final’ of Saturday, November 29th, 1952 reads: “This afternoon the Scunthorpe match at Boundary Park was on the air but only for in-patients at Oldham Royal Infirmary and Boundary Park Hospital. Headphones connected them to the commentary from an Oldham school master, Mr Joe Wright, at the ground. Each patient was issued with a team programme before the match. Months of hard work by the Boundary Park electrical and maintenance staff went towards the success of the hospitals broadcasts which had an official opening before the match today. It is the first time that Oldham Royal Infirmary has been able to listen-in to the football commentaries. Patients reactions to the broadcast-which are to become a regular Saturday afternoon feature-were highly favorable as the next best thing to seeing the match. Now the Rugby League enthusiasts among them are hoping that they will soon be hearing a first-hand story from Watersheddings”.
Within one year of the start of the football commentaries the service expanded to include rugby league commentaries from Watersheddings, the home of Oldham Rugby League club. Three of the early rugby commentators were Ron Marlor, Fred Howarth and Joe Derby. In the mid 1960s the rugby league service ceased but was restarted in the early 1980s.
NAHBO’s 1974 Directory of Hospital Broadcasting Organisations recorded: Radio Cavell. 20 members. Serving 3 hospitals (Dr Kershaw’s Cottage Hospital, Royal Oldham Infirmary and the Oldham & District General Hospital). Sports commentary service from Oldham Athletic.
An important landmark was achieved in 1991 when the Wembley Cup Final, between Oldham and Nottingham Forest, was relayed to the patients in the Royal Oldham Hospital. In 1992 the football and rugby commentary teams included Jim Barrett (about 32 years service) and Tom Hill (over 25 years).
- Barnsley (26 December 1952)
On Boxing day 1952 a football commentary service from the Barnsley Football Club was relayed to Becketts, St Helens, Wath Wood, Mount Vernon and Stanhope hospitals. A rota was prepared each season and two commentators relayed each match through a GPO line using rented equipment. The arrangement hardly altered in some 20 years. The commentary box was a tiny affair at the end of the press row, at the front of the main stand.
Len Squires and Colin Wilkins were two of the organisers and along with some of the directors they would take turns in commentating. One of the directors who used to take his turn was Arthur Raynor (in 1986 he was to become the longest serving club director). The fIrst Secretary of the Commentaries Committee was Billy Heald and he also participated in the broadcasts.
Unfortunately the team’s fortunes declined in the 1960’s, the equipment became old, interest waned and the football broadcasts ceased for a short time before restarting with totally new equipment. Ian Potter, who was asked to organise the commentator’s rota at that time, recalled in 1986: “I became associated with the broadcasts when I was about 15 years old, in or around 1966. At that time Colin Wilkins, who also had links with the Supporters Club, was organising the rota. The club’s fortunes revived, a new press box was built and the commentary arrangements went from strength to strength. A four person’s stand for the disabled had been built at the ground and commentaries were relayed to it for the benefit of the blind. When I took over the rota organisation names such as Paul Greenfield and Les Eagle, who went back many years, still appeared. The only original name now is Colin Wilkins. My own father, Ralph Potter, participated for many years”.
In the late 1960s a local newspaper reported: “Hospital patients in Barnsley will be able to tune in to a ball-by-ball commentary of cricket from the town’s Shaw Lane ground on Monday when Yorkshire meet Essex in a Benson and Hedges Cup game. Radio Barnsley, the voluntary hospital broadcasting network based at Barnsley YMCA, will relay the full day’s play direct to patients headphones”. John Fisher, a member of the service, stated: “This is our first venture into cricket broadcasting, but if it is successful further matches may be relayed from Shaw Lane. The main problem is the cost of the telephone line – £30 for the one day”. It is thought that only one cricket commentary took place.
In 1991 D Richardson, the Station Secretary of Radio Barnsley, wrote: “Beckettshospital has now been demolished and Wath Wood and Stanhope hospitals no longer exist. Mount Vernon no longer receives the commentaries. St Helens hospital has been completely rebuilt and is called the Barnsley District General Hospital and is the only hospital receiving the service. ‘Radio Barnsley’ was started in 1958 as the YMCA Tape Recording Club. In 1974 we took over the football commentaries”. NAHBO’s 1974 Directory of Hospital Broadcasting Organisations recorded: “Radio Barnsley, contact name J Fisher, separate sports service, serving 6 hospitals in Barnsley and Rotherham”.
Colin Wilkins, along with another long serving member, Austin Turton, was still providing a football commentary service to the Barnsley District General Hospital in 1992.
- Norwich (1952)
In 1952 a football commentary service started in Norwich which was to expand over the years throughout Norfolk. In addition to Norwich the service was to cover hospitals in Cromer, Holt, Great Yarmouth, Lowestoft, Thorpe, Hellesdon, Attleborough and Dereham. One of the largest to have existed in terms of towns and cities served.
The founder members of this service belonged to the Sprowston & Norwich branch of TOC H. They included Cyril Robinson (who after 18 years as secretary became, at the age of 82, Vice Chairman of the service in 1989), ‘Kipper’ Grenville, SW Springall, F Orvice and Arthur Smith who, in 1973, wrote the following article looking back on the past 21 years:-
“Twenty-one years ago the Sprowston branch of TOC H had reached that important item on its agenda, ‘Any Other business’. This item belonged almost exclusively to ‘Kipper’ Grenville and true to form he sounded forth! ‘Why’, he demanded, ‘can’t we do what the Norwich branch used to do; when each member who watched Norwich City took along with him a couple of fans from the Institute for the Blind and gave them a running commentary of the match?’ It just so happened that the previous week a Sunday paper had carried a tiny paragraph about a police officer at Portsmouth who had gone one better and given a commentary to patients in Portsmouth hospitals by using a telephone link. When I told the meeting this I found myself landed with the job of finding out if a similar scheme would be possible in Norwich and ‘Kipper’, who worked for the Post Office, agreed”.
“From this tiny beginning was born the Norwich Hospitals Sports Commentary Service. Encouragement from the hospital management committee, practical help from the Post Office, permission to proceed from the football club, a wonderful response to a collection for funds, and technical advice from Willmotts, a local radio store, all added to one thing – we were in business! Everything except a vital item – commentators; but there was no lack of volunteers. The inevitable committee was formed, with our skipper, Ken Clare, as chairman, Fred Orvice as treasurer and me as secretary”.
“We borrowed a tape recorder and gave every volunteer commentator a chance. A letter in the local paper attracted talent from outside TOC H. ‘Inky’ Ingram Johnson who had done tennis commentaries in India, Bob Brister who had compared sports events such as speedboat racing, and Peter Roberts were but a few of those to respond. Within a couple of months we had no less than four four-member teams which covered all first and reserve team home matches. However, we found that with four teams the gaps between duty were too long and so we dropped to three teams and eventually to two. Our vantage point for the commentary was a tiny window cut in the score board, with a minute cabin in which to work. At first we served just the local hospitals and the Institute for the Blind but soon had requests from hospitals at Attleborough and Kelling, and later from Bishop Herbert House for the disabled, which we gladly met”.
“It is difficult to crowd into one short article all the happenings of two short decades, which include a brief flirtation with County cricket, the use of our network for relaying chapel services, a Christmas pantomime, and even a commentary on the opening of an operating theatre by Her Majesty The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh”.
The ‘Hospitals Sports Commentary Service’ not only broadcast from Carrow Road in Norwich but frequently relayed away matches. On two occasions FA Cup Finals were relayed from Wembley. In December 1964, prior to the FA Cup tie between Norwich and Nottingham, Arthur Smith wrote to Bob Parker in Nottingham: “We would very much like to link up the Norwich Hospitals to your commentary on that day (at our expense) and I have made provisional arrangements with the Post Office, subject to your approval. Would you have room for a Norwich commentator? If you could squeeze one in I am sure one of our lads would like to take a small part in the proceedings”. Arthur added: “I found your name in the list of secretaries of commentary schemes prepared several years ago by Mr Dent of Stockport”.
In 1992 the commentary service was being relayed to approximately 20 hospitals in Norwich, Great Yarmouth, Lowerstoft, Cromer, Beccles, East Derham and Kings Lynn.
- Nottingham (3 January 1953)
Credit for proposing, in 1952, that a football commentary service should be started in Nottingham, goes to Charles Barnes, Chairman of Notts County. Very quickly arrangements were made for services to start at both Notts County FC and Nottingham Forest FC. The services at both these football clubs had one unique feature: from the day they started to the day they ceased there was but one commentator and his name is Bob Parker.
Bob Parker auditioned for the BBC after the war and was contracted to broadcast eye witness accounts of first class matches, doing so on the London programme “Sports Report”, the Birmingham programme “Sport In The Midlands” and also “Welsh Magazine”. As a result of these broadcasts Bob became well acquainted with club directors, managers and players. When on assignment at Notts County, Charles Barnes revealed his intention to investigate a hospital broadcasting scheme and Bob immediately offered his services.
Bob tells what is his story: “It was eventually arranged that the inaugural broadcast should be performed on the first Saturday of 1953 (3rd January) when Forest were at home to Notts County and I accepted the invitation to give the commentary, Rediffusion of Nottingham setting up the communications equipment, etc. As the inaugural broadcast proved successful I was invited to continue the commentaries and I decided to do so, although unfortunately I had to inform the BBC that my services would have to be terminated. The commentaries continued unbroken (except for two or three games due to personal reasons, as I was the sole commentator) until October 1971. The last match being Forest at home to Derby County. It had regrettably been decided that the scheme would be terminated due to the opening of the local radio station at Nottingham.
On many occasions arrangements were made to relay my commentary ‘live’ to visiting clubs’ hospitals. As the Nottingham Clubs alternated their fIxtures there was always a match to be covered each week. On three or four occasions when both clubs were drawn at home in the FA Cup and due to the close proximity of the two grounds -separated only by the river Trent – I was able to give a commentary of the first half at one ground and then hasten over to the other to broadcast the second half.
I believe the inaugural commentary was relayed to three Nottingham hospitals and went eventually to some ten or eleven at the conclusion of the scheme. The round trip from my home to Nottingham was approximately 120 miles. More than 900 commentaries were performed so some 110,000 miles were involved. On the occasion when I was required at my place of employment I would fly from Wolverhampton to Nottingham. On the occasion of my concluding commentary in October 1971, the Forest Club was kind enough to devote a full page of their official programme to me, including a photograph of me in action, giving a commentary”.
Over the years Bob also gave commentaries at Wolverhampton, Derby, Leicester and West Bromwich Albion.
- Warrington (28 February 1953)
On 6 December 1952 Jack Steel of the Warrington Guardian reported that rugby commentaries had started at Oldham. He wrote to Fred Davies, Chairman of the Warrington Rugby League Club, asking for permission to do the same. At the same time he contacted the Warrington General Hospital, who were favourably disposed. On the 13 December the Warrington Guardian reported that the Warrington Football Club had agreed in principle and that a committee of six from the Sports Department of the Guardian would get down to formulate the scheme.
In January 1953 Mr A K Forbes from Sheffield Hospitals Broadcasts had called at the Guardian to offer advice. By the end of that month Jack Steel had reported that the Board of the Warrington RLC had approved the scheme through various stages. Club Secretary Leslie Hockenhull said the board were to pay the initial annual landline rental fee of £24. £15 for the General Hospital and £9 for the Infirmary. By February 21st Post Office engineers had completed the line link up from the stadium to the two hospitals. It was decided that the Chief Commentator would be George Duckworth, a regular BBC Sportscaster and that he would be assisted by one or two members of the panel being formed. Jack wrote at the time: “George’s assistants will be chosen from a group of volunteers- in point of fact everyone will be giving their services gratis – at an audition to take place in my office on Tuesday prior to the Cup tie”.
Club Chairman Fred Davies, supported by Alderman James Poole Chairman of the Hospitals Management Committee, Club Directors and members of the Broadcast Committee, arranged to send over the first message from Wilderspool to the patients. The first broadcast went out on 28 February 1953 and assisting George commentating were Ossie Roberts and Paul Cowell (Warrington 10… Workington Town 2… attendance 19,723). The following Saturday Jack reported: “The first hospital broadcast from Wilderspool on Saturday, to twist an old newspaper phrase, did not go off without a hitch. The problems are slight and can be quickly overcome. One of the snags was the continual roar from the crowd which at times drowned the voice of the commentator. It was a particularly noisy crowd and naturally so in view of the vital issues at stake”. On a technical point John Kemp reported: “The reason for a battery operated amplifier is that it eliminates any possibility of hum and is much easier to operate by the non-technical commentators”.
In the mid 1970s the ‘Warrington Rugby Commentators Association’ merged with ‘Radio General’. In 1990 the commentary service was still being relayed to the Warrington District General Hospital.
- Colchester (Jan/Feb 1953)
The football commentary service in Colchester was started by members of the Colchester United Supporters Club, initially relaying the matches to the Essex County Hospital and possibly to some wards at St Mary’s. A founder member, Eric Southernwood, recalled that the first commentary was in January or February 1953.
An interesting article on hospital radio in Colchester, written in 1974, implies a start date prior to 1953: “The life of Hospital Radio Colchester is an interesting one. It was shortly after the second world war that the programmes were broadcast to hospitals in the Colchester area, these were in the form of commentaries of home football matches from the Layer Road ground of Colchester United. These commentaries were broadcast to two hospitals in Colchester and across to Notley. During half time and after the game, comments were given on the match and the style of football played”.
By 1963 the commentaries were being relayed through the newly formed Hospital Broadcasting Service that had been set up in the supporter’s clubroom at Layer Road.
A local newspaper reported in 1968: “Colchester United Supporter’s Club commentators keep the “bedded-down sport lovers” in touch with move-by-move descriptions of home games and, by arrangements with other towns where a similar service exists, relays reports of some away games”. By 1976 the service was being received in nine hospitals in Colchester, Braintree and Notley.
In 1992 the commentaries were being relayed to the Colchester General, Essex County and the surgical wards of Severalls Hospital. The commentators included one of the founder members, Eric Southernwood, and Godfrey Thomas, the son of another founder member, Arthur Thomas.
- Grimsby (February, 1953)
In February 1953 football broadcasts were started in Grimsby which were relayed to three hospitals; Scartho Road, Grimsby and District, and Springfield (where, as mentioned in Chapter One, a request programme had started in 1951.
The commentators on that day, a match in which Grimsby beat Accrington Stanley 3-0, were “Ab” Thompson, Roy Line (the Sports Reporter for the local paper) and Jack Swain (a former Grimsby Town player and League Referee). Very soon Win Williamson took over from Roy Line, and in about 1957 “Ab” Thompson retired to be replaced by Frank Mitchell. In 1984 Win Williamson retired and was replaced by Jack’s son, Howard. Jack remembered that the ‘originals’ included Post Office engineer Gilbert Rimmington (who was the organisation’s engineer throughout the period) and that the entrance charge was 1I6d!
Very few records have survived. One that did was found in the Annual Financial Statement of the Grimsby Hospitals Welfare Society: “For the year ended 31st December 1953. Purchase of Football Commentary Equipment: £l55.16.6d. and Telephone line rental: £22.1O.0d”. Throughout its existence financial support for the football commentary service was to be provided entirely by the Welfare Society.
Since that first broadcast the service has been continuous although Frank Mitchell reported in 1986: “Two years ago we had a vital Cup match against Watford and owing to a telephone fault the hospital did not receive the commentary. But, by that time we had extended our commentary facility to a row of blind supporters who sit alongside us, each with earphones, so the commentary went on as usual!”. By the end of the 1980s Jack Swain had completed 36 years, Frank Mitchell 32 years.
Frank Mitchell added later: “In previous years we certainly broadcast to other towns. Some of these sent a commentator to join our team e.g Wrexham and Scunthorpe. On occasions we have travelled to commentate from away, especially in Cup games e.g Ipswich and Coventry. We have always called the football broadcasts ‘The Hospital Football Broadcast’. Very original!”
By 1989, owing to the amalgamation of hospitals, the broadcast was only being received in the Grimsby District General Hospital.
- St Helens (About March, 1953)
An article about hospital broadcasting entitled “Talking of Football … Bristol” that appeared in the TOC H Journal of November, 1952, included the following statement: “We have had enquiries from St Helens in Lancashire”. A TOC H “Branch Briefs from all quarters” article of May 1954 reported: “St. Helen’s (Lancs) have completed a scheme for relaying Rugby League football commentaries to patients in five local hospitals”. Also pointing to a start date between November, 1952 and May, 1954 is the Tanyo Sound Amplifier that was used as part of the equipment that relayed the rugby commentaries to the hospitals. A plate fixed to it read “For TOC H. St Helens Branch. March 1953“.
This analysis of the start date is however in conflict with information from a long standing former commentator, Joe Webb, who started broadcasting just after the start of the service and who continued until 1988. He recalls: “In 1949 or 1950 I had a seat in the best stand and I can remember a Mr Owen and Mr T Brooke of TOC H taking turns to commentate in the small sentry type box adjacent to the press box. Money was raised by TOC H to provide a GPO line from St. Helens Rugby League ground to the then St. Helens Cottage Hospital at the request of patients who were then able to enjoy the excitement of the game captured by Radio Saints”. Joe added: “In 1952 TOC H asked Mr Brookes, who by now had become Chairman of the Supporters Club, to take over the responsibility of match commentaries. The commentary position was then moved to an open section of the stand, situated just behind the Directors Box, so as to accommodate three people. To our dismay this was quite unsatisfactory as we had to do battle with the public address system. We duly purchased our own box and sited it at the rear of the terrace Kop where we remained until the new stand was erected in the 1960s. In 1956 St. Helens RFC Supporter’s Club took over from TOC H, absorbing the running costs. The official notepaper of that time had the new title of ‘Broadcasts To Hospitals Service”’.
During the 1960s the GPO landlines feeding the commentary service to the hospitals started to malfunction due to lack of funds. Only two major hospitals, St Helens General and Whiston remained on the network.
For the first thirty three years, since their inception in 1953, the rugby commentaries were run by the Broadcasts to Hospitals Service. In 1986 the responsibility for the commentaries was transferred to the Prescot based “Channel Broadcasting (Sports Service)”.
In 1992 the commentaries were being presented by John Evans and Stewart Whitfield to St Helens Hospital and Whiston Hospital.
- Huddersfield (4 April 1953)
In Huddersfield John Roberts, the Secretary of the local TOC H branch, heard about Bristol Rovers matches being relayed to hospitals in the Bristol area. When, as luck would have it, Rovers were drawn against Town in the Cup, the manager of Bristol Rovers told John how they had started.
A meeting, to make arrangements to start a similar service in Huddersfield, took place in early 1953. On April 4th of that year a football commentary service was opened from the Leeds Road ground in Huddersfield by Amos Brook Hirst, the Chairman of the FA and President of Huddersfield Town. The first match broadcast was against Leicester City with a commentary from the director’s box provided by Stan Dalton and Brian Rhodes. Soon afterwards John Tracy and Clifford Brook joined the commentary team (both actively broadcasting over 35 years later).
The match was relayed to The Holly at Lindley (then a home for the blind) and to Bradley Wood Sanatorium. A newspaper report of 6th April 1953 stated: “At Bradley Wood twenty patients were listening to the commentary with the help of headphones. Although things went without a hitch at Bradley Wood, at the Home for the Blind the loudspeaker apparatus failed to function at first. However, Mr J T Thornton, who had been responsible for installing the equipment at Leeds Road and Fartown, soon puts things right”.
The first football commentary was followed a few days later by the first rugby broadcast from Fartown. The start of the cricket season saw the first cricket commentary on 20 May 1953 York against Worcestershire. Shortly after the Royal InfIrmary, St Luke’s, Storthes Hall and fourteen homes for the elderly were able to listen. An old diary records that the first inter-town rugby match was broadcast from Leeds on 20 March 1954 and the first inter-town football broadcast was from Sheffield Wednesday on 6 September 1954.
The Bradford GPO Journal reported in 1953: “It was decided to start the scheme with commentary points at the Association and Rugby Football Grounds and with receiving points at two hospitals. Due to the splendid co-operation of our Engineering Division, circuits were ready by the end of March. From the small beginning the two broadcasting points and two receiving points the scheme has grown and threatens to become a colossus. Up to 15 receiving points are to be anticipated before the end of next season covering Hospitals, Homes for the Aged, Blind Institutions and Club Rooms and a very large Mental Hospital. The number of weekly listeners is already estimated at several thousand”.
The minutes of the 4th AGM, held under the Chairmanship of the Mayor, Alderman H A Bennie Gray, CBE, JP on 27 March 1957 stated: “The Secretary reported further extensions to the Association’s network at Moor View Hospital, Meltham and Thorpe Grange Welfare Home, Almondbury and a Broadcasting Studio for the association at 24 Queen Street, Huddersfield. This made a total of four broadcasting points and fourteen receiving centres. He stated that the Association had recently received an enquiry from the Welfare Department to extend the broadcasts to their new home for men and women at Leldergate, Bradley.
It was reported that the Commentaries on Association and Rugby League Football from Leeds Road and Fartown, on local League Cricket from Fartown and on County Cricket from Leeds, Bradford and Sheffield, had continued to be the main features of the Association’s broadcasting”. The minutes also recorded that the commentators representatives were J Hutchinson (Association Football), E Darwin (Rugby League), J Robinson (Cricket) and H White (Bowling). The idea to present reports on crown bowling was proposed a number of years after the start of the football, rugby and cricket commentaries.
Clifford Brook wrote in 1990: “Bowling commentaries never materialised mainly due to the cost. We also did county matches from the cricket ground which backed onto the rugby ground. The Rugby League Club fell on hard times with poor results. The state of the stand and the cost of the line at the time made us feel that we just had to cut this off. The cricket ground also went into decay and cricket is no longer played there. There was a bowling club attached and I think this is where commentaries were to be done. Jack Tracey, assisted by Frank Lockwood, used to do wrestling commentaries from the Town Hall”.
The Treasurer’s report submitted at the 1958 AGM showed a total landline rental cost of £448.4.0d. The TOC H magazine ‘From All Parts’ reported in January 1959: “On a visit of Princess Margaret to Huddersfield her speech was relayed over the Hospitals Football Broadcast Service which was started with the initiative and efforts of TOC H”. The service, by 1963, was being received in five Hospitals, one Sanatorium, seven Welfare Homes, two Blind Homes and a Blind Social Centre.
In 1985 two commentators, John Morgan and Roy Jepson, were commended to NAHBO for 25 year Long Service Awards. Others who have received this award are Clifford Brook, Jack Tracey and Jack Roberts.
The rugby commentary service ceased in about 1986.
- Leeds (16 May 1953)
In the early months of 1953 the Leeds RL Supporter’s Club, the Hunslet RL Supporter’s Club and the Leeds United AFC Club were all exploring the possibility of broadcasting their home matches to Leeds hospitals.
Mr J W Maddock, Area Secretary of TOC H, made himself responsible for coordinating the activities of all interested parties. He convened a meeting at which the association called the ‘Leeds Cricket and Football Hospitals Relay Association’ was formed. This inaugural meeting was held at the Headingley Grounds on Wednesday, April 15th, 1953. The chair was taken by Mr J H Nash, Secretary of the Yorkshire Cricket Club. The first full meeting of the Association was held at Town Hall Chambers, Leeds, on Wednesday, April 29th 1953. Mr S L Blenkinsop (Leeds United AFC) was elected Chairman and Mr J W Maddock (TOC H) was elected Secretary and Treasurer.
The first live broadcast was arranged from the Headingley Cricket Ground over May 16, 17 and 19. 1953 on the county cricket match between Yorkshire and Somerset. Broadcasting time was 1.5 hours play each day. Before the commentary, on the morning of May 16th, the fIrst broadcast was formally opened by the Lord Mayor of Leeds, Alderman Frank Burnley, JP. The five hospitals that received that first broadcast were: Leeds General Infirmary, St James, Chapel Allerton, Seacroft and Killingbeck. The second meeting of the Association was held at Town Hall Chambers on Wednesday, July 22nd 1953, when a provisional programme was approved for the 1953-54 football season.
The first football broadcast took place on Saturday, August 22nd 1953. This consisted of a double commentary, of the soccer match at EIland Road, between Leeds United and Rotherham, and the Rugby league match at Headingley, between Leeds and Doncaster. Two of the commentators on that day were Barney Colehan at EIland Road and Harry Falkingham at Headingley (who were still broadcasting in 1987). The first rugby commentary from Old Parkside, the home of Hunslet RLFC, took place during the 1953/54 season. The exact date is not known.
Other founder members of the service include Reg Watson, Edgar Meeks and Clifford Rostron (Leeds RLC), Harold Hepworth (Cricket) and Jack Charlton. A message from Stanley Blenkinsop, Chairman of the Leeds Cricket and Football Hospitals Relay Association, in 1958 included the following statement: “We have made many friendships with similar associations as near as Sheffield, Bradford, Wakefield and Huddersfield, as far away as Cardiff, Manchester-Salford and Sunderland. We have exchanged commentaries both ‘In’ and ‘Out’ with them”. Commentaries, mostly Leeds United games, were to continue over the years to and from grounds as far away as Norwich, Southampton and Swansea. Cricket, rugby and football being relayed to York.
In September 1956 the Leeds United Football Club had their main stand at EIland Road completely destroyed by fire. Before this happened the broadcasting point had been on the stand, directly above the tunnel from which the players came out on to the field. For the rest of that season the commentaries took place from a small wooden hut erected on the touch line. It was exposed to the weather and often made commentating a very hazardous occupation. When the new stand was built for the commencement of the 1957-58 football season the directors of the Club incorporated in their plans a magnificent box for use of hospital broadcasting and the BBC.
Stan Dawson, who started commentating in 1975, wrote in The Northern Cricket Society Annual of 1984: “Who are the group of people who gather together in one of the boxes at the back of top balcony of the main stand at Headingley whenever Yorkshire have a game there? They are members of the commentary team of the Leeds Hospitals Broadcast Service (or to give its correct title The Leeds Cricket and Hospitals Relays Association) who are giving a full ball-by-ball commentary to patients in some of the Leeds hospitals. The commentators, as you can imagine, are very enthusiastic and their occupations are diverse, including a schoolmaster, journalist, students and some officially retired persons whose interests and sporting links are still quite phenomenal. During a 15 minute stint at the microphone, each has his own style of commentary. The order of speaking is on a rota system arranged before the start of play. The Leeds Hospitals Broadcasts not only cover cricket but live Rugby League from Headingley and Soccer from EIland Road and when the Association first came into being Rugby League was also covered from the old Parkside ground at Hunslet”.
By 1987 the sports commentary services were still being relayed to the Leeds General Infirmary, St James, Seacroft, Killingbeck and Chapel Allerton hospitals. In 1989 Chapel Allerton was disconnected from the service due to pending closure of the hospital.
In November 1995 Stan Dawson reported: “Our current President is Mrs Stella Hirst who was the wife of George Hirst, a long time treasurer of the Association as well as in the past being the secretary of Leeds Rugby League Football Club and of the Yorkshire Rugby League. With the deaths of Barney Colehan and Harry Falkingham it has left your truly as the longest serving member. Also our operations have changed slightly. We still do the commentaries of Rugby League and Cricket from Headingley, Association Football from Elland Road but we have added Rugby League from the new South Leeds Stadium from Sunday November 19th. 1995. This being the new home of Hunslet Rugby League Football Club. As you can imagine costs are escalating; to do the commentaries from the various stadiums in Leeds costs us in the region of £4.000.
Stan added: “We still run the hour long sports magazine programme ‘Sportscene’ every Friday night from studios of ‘City Sounds Hospital Radio’ in the Leeds General Infirmary (LGI) and we also have an extended sports programme on a Saturday afternoon, again via LGI. Local nonleague football games, local rugby union and rugby league games are covered with reports and commentaries over a telephone link up. These are given mainly by the people (including me) who are covering the games for the early evening local sports programme ‘Sports Extra’ which is put out by BBC Radio Leeds between 6 pm and 7 pm every Saturday. The list of sports now includes ice hockey (again usually me and Roger Corrie) and which mainly comes from the Sheffield Arena on the games featuring Sheffield Steelers”.
- Blackpool (August, 1953)
The service in Blackpool was the brain child of Harry Alker, a local solicitor, and Wilf Wells, who were both committee members of the Blackpool Football Supporters Club. The football commentary service commenced at the start of the 1953/54 season. The commentary team at that first match consisted of Harry, Wilf and Rex Hunter and it was relayed to the Blackpool Victoria Hospital. After the untimely deaths of both Harry and Wilf in the mid 1960s, a new panel of broadcasters was formed. Rex Hunter was joined by Derek Alker and George Butterworth.
Berni Dunn, of Blackpool Hospitals’ Radio, wrote in 1991: “In the mid 1960s the football commentaries were extended on a landline paid for by the Blackpool Football Supporters Club to Devonshire Road Hospital, to the South Shore Hospital (then known as La Sagesse) and the Princess Alexandra Home for the Blind, as well as the existing service to Victoria Hospital. When Radio Victoria started broadcasting in 1967 the football commentaries were also received at Lytham Hospital. In 1986 the service was extended to include patients at Trinity, the local hospice”.
In 1986 all home league and cup games were being broadcast to the whole of the Blackpool Hospitals Group. Broadcasts were also being taken by the hospital broadcasting organisations of some of the visiting clubs.
- Northampton (3 September 1953)
The idea for broadcasting commentaries from the Northampton football ground to the hospitals in the area came from Stanley Hill. One of the original members of the commentary service, Frank Yates, recalled in 1990: “In those days attendance at the County Ground was several times higher than it is today and the performance of the local club, then in Division 3 South, was the main topic of conversation. We had every cooperation from the club directors and from Bob Dennison, the then manager. My main difficulty was to find a firm to do the installation -electronics was then in its infancy”.
The circuit connecting the County Ground to the hospitals was completed on 3 September 1953, literally minutes before the match against Bournemouth kicked off. Frank added: “The only hitch was when the Cobblers scored. I was so excited I pulled out the plug and we went off the air for a few minutes until one of the hospitals phoned to say we had gone silent. We broadcast to five hospitals: Northampton General (600 beds), Manfield Orthopaedic (200 beds), St Edmunds (250 beds), Harborough Road Hospital (100 beds) and Creaton Hospital (100 beds).
Our Hospital Committee willingly provided the funds which were surprisingly light. The installation was only £200-300. The main cost was for the rental of the landline for Creaton some nine miles from the ground. Stan was on holiday for the first two matches and I needed a second commentator so I enlisted the help of Rev John Ashplant, who was one of the part time hospital chaplains. John was very enthusiastic and the three of us shared the commentaries for many years. John transferred to Corby some twenty miles away, but he came over regularly and said anyone wishing to be married in his church on a day when the Cobblers were playing at home had to do so before 1pm. John was appointed to the Central Methodist Church at Tollcross, Edinburgh, in the 1960s and I believe he participated in commentaries from the Hearts and Hibernian grounds. Our most famous interviewee was Stanley Matthews (subsequently Sir Stanley) who was a very kindly and modest man”.
On one occasion, thought to be during the summer of 1954, the first and last a cricket commentary was carried out (the football club and cricket club shared the same ground). Frank Yates arranged for the cricket club to provide the commentators. One was Arthur Mailey who at the time was a journalist with the visiting Australians. But, due to the lack of patient interest, no further cricket commentaries took place.
Frank Yates retired in 1974 but continued as a stand-by commentator for several years after. He was succeeded by John Halliwell, a hospital officer. Stanley Hill carried on until the mid eighties when the Bradford fire led to the football ground’s stand being condemned, including the only available broadcasting accommodation.
Stanley Hill wrote: “I was the Hospital’s Authority Chief Officer and Frank Yates was my deputy. Planning and operating a commentary service at that level was in itself unique. Continuity and longevity were our main features: throughout the service (1953-1985/86) only four commentators were involved from the hospital service (Stanley Hill, Frank Yates, John Halliwell and John Ashplant), supplemented for the last 12-15 years by a Radio Nene Valley representative. I, with Frank’s help, set up the service which involved some finance but mainly consisted of persuading doctors and nurses and committees that it was a good thing. I missed the first commentary being on holiday, but I did the last one and almost all of the others, being the “common denominator” of the commentary team permutations over the entire 32/33 years. I don’t think we missed a league or Cup match over that period and I did them all (with one of those named above as partner) except 2 or 3 each year when on holiday. I interviewed George Best (late 1970s) when he scored 6 goals in Manchester United’s 8-2 Cup defeat of Northampton Town, and though he was entitled to be elated with his achievement, I found him a very charming and modest man”.
The hospitals receiving the commentaries remained the same until the closure of Creaton (late 70s) and Harboro’ Road (early 80s).
Mark Parish, Chairman of Radio Nene Valley, reported in 1991: “When Radio Nene Valley was first formed (in the early 1970s) it was realised that the existing football commentary service was obviously well established. Stan Hill was the Hospital Administrator and actually became, and still is, one of Radio Nene Valley’s Trustees. In the early days of the partnership we had no communication between the County Ground and the Radio Nene Valley studio at all although we shared a radio channel on the hospital system. The switch-over, which had to be carried out in the Radio Room some 50 yards from the RNV studio, was therefore done at a predetermined time, usually about 10 minutes before the match. Initially, because the programmes were generated from the County Ground, all the landlines were terminated there. During a rationalisation of lines in about 1977 we managed to introduce a control line and terminated all landlines in the Engineering Room of RNV. We were then able to speak to Stan and his colleagues on the phones connected to the control line and actually cue them in. This was when Mike Cox started to become a regular part of the team. We subsequently managed to introduce them to a mixer (the commentary had previously been carried out on a single microphone) together with two lip mikes and an effects mike. We also introduced them to headphones”.
Mark added: “Although our original commentary position was demolished (I think in 1985) our service has never been interrupted. For the following season Radio Nene Valley took over the commentary job and the first few matches were reported on from our commentary box in the cricket side of the County Ground. This led to a few problems, however, as the commentator required binoculars to see the game. We did receive some publicity on Central Television who reported us as having the furthest commentary point from the game in league football. British Telecom took pity on us and loaned us, free of charge, a cellnet telephone. The commentaries were then conducted from the touchline. We were then allocated two seats in the new stand and diverted our landline and control line adjacent to our new home. We now have a raised platform near the touchline. The Radio Nene Valley representative is Mike Cox, he was the man that took over the service from Stan Hill and is still our main commentator.
Incidentally, St Edmunds hospital was disconnected from the service in the mid seventies because of the poor state of the listening equipment. It was felt then that the hospital would shortly close, it’s actually still open”.
- Luton (1953)
A service called “Luton Hospitals Commentary Scheme” started broadcasting from Luton Town Football Club in 1953. A letter dated August 1958 listed G R Green as the service’s contact. By 1974 there were seven members and the commentary was being fed to five hospitals. The Secretary at this time was Robert H Barrett.
Frank Yates, who used to do the commentaries at Northampton Town Football Club wrote in 1990: “In January 1961 we were drawn against Luton Town in an FA Cup Tie. For the first time we did a commentary to our hospitals from an away game thanks to the help of the hospital commentary people at Luton”. Frank added: “Sadly Northampton Town lost 3-0!”.
The service was still operating in 1993.
- London (About 1953)
Crystal Palace: A football commentary service was started at the Crystal Palace Football Club in the early 1950s. It was called “Croydon Hospital Broadcasts” and the commentaries were relayed to four hospitals in the Croydon area; Mayday Hospital, Croydon General, Queens Hospital and Warlingham Park Hospital.
Roy Topp wrote in 1995: “The service was started in the early fifties, although I cannot specify an actual date. It was, I believe, the brainchild of Roy Preston and Gordon Jago (an ex-player, later manager of Fulham FC). The operation consisted of two plugs in front of four seats leading to a switching device under the, then, only stand at Selhurst Park, the home ground of Crystal Palace FC, who were then in the Third Division of the Football League. Because there were no two way communications at that time, commentators had to rely upon the porters at the various hospitals, switching their equipment to receive the broadcasts, so that they were played over the hospital system.
When I joined this service in 1964, the commentators were John Henty, Steve Stewart (a local Councillor at that time) and myself. Roy Preston did not commentate but handled the basic organisation and the technical side of things. We broadcast from the back of the stand with a small hand mike, and a set of bakelite earphones which we passed along as it became our turn to commentate. During the close season of 1965 we had enough money to buy a hut with glass windows which was erected on the embankment on the other side of the ground. This was high enough up to give us a superb view. We also had, for the first time, proper microphone points, two mikes and proper earphones. In addition, we had a record deck and during the week we would collect record requests, which would be played for half an hour or so before the game over the hospital systems. This was very popular. The records were scrounged (or borrowed) by Roy Preston.
At this time we were joined by Jimmy Diplock, an ex referee (like myself), to bring the commentary team to four. Later John left to take on professional radio journalism with Radio Brighton, leaving us with three commentators. Sometimes when personnel were short, one commentator might commentate on a whole match, especially lonely during an evening stint.
When Arthur Wait, the Chairman of Crystal Palace, decided to build a new stand on our embankment, we moved to the Holmesdale end, behind the goal. .. not a particularly good vantage point, but we did see Palace win promotion to Division One (as it then was) for the first time in their history, in 1969.
Money was tight, but the local Rotary Club provided us with enough people to take tins round the ground twice a year. This just about kept us going, but the landlines to Warlingham were expensive. When the new stand was erected, Mr Wait generously built us a commentary box into the stand. This was sheer luxury for us and we celebrated with more up to date equipment. Money got really tight and in 1972 we abandoned the line to Warlingham. However in 1972 Radio Mayday was born, broadcasting from the studio in Mayday Hospital. After some discussion we linked up with them and later became an integral part of Radio Mayday, dropping the name Croydon Hospital Broadcasts. Roy Preston left at this time leaving the three of us still together to carry on the commentaries. This combination was excellent, and Radio Mayday put in two way lines to the ground, giving us a professional style facility to mix with the studio chat and to talk to the studio presenter.
Although Jim and Steve departed, I went into the studio to present after about 17 years in the commentary position. The present team of commentators that now commentate on both Crystal Palace (Roger Dickson, Chris Winter and John Lauchland) and Wimbledon (John Lauchland and Graham Kendall) games do an excellent and very professional job, as indeed do hundreds of similar teams throughout the country”.
Chelsea: During the summer of 1955 arrangements were being made by TOC H for the start of a football commentary service from Stamford Bridge, the home of the Chelsea Football Club. The first broadcast is thought to have taken place in August of that year to the patients in the Fulham and St Mary Abbots Hospitals. At a later date it is thought that the service was also provided to St Stephen’s Hospital.
In 1956 a sponsored concert programme entitled “Melody and Mirth”, by the London TOC H Male Voice Choir, was held in the Fulham Town Hall to raise funds for the football commentary service from Stamford Bridge. Another concert to raise funds was given at the Chernl Galleries by the Acton Male Voice Choir. In February 1959 the TOC H magazine carried the story: “Chelsea need more volunteers as commentators”.
Arsenal: Regular commentaries on Arsenal FC matches from the ground at Highbury to the Royal Northern Hospital, Holloway, were started by the Whittington District branch of TOC H on 28th January, 1956. Before the FA Cup match against Aston Villa, the Area Secretary of TOC H introduced Mr S Langford (Vice-Chairman of the Northern Group Hospital Management Committee) who then formally inaugurated the scheme.
By December, 1956, TOC H were reporting: “Patients at the Highlands Hospital, Winchmore Hill, can now tune in to the commentaries organised by Whittington District on Saturday afternoons from the Arsenal Football Ground. The first match they heard was the traditional clash with Tottenham Hotspurs. The Royal Northern Hospital have been receiving commentaries from Arsenal since last February”. A further TOC H report dated February 1960 read: “Whittington District Football Commentaries Scheme, which operates at Arsenal Football Club ground, adds another hospital – University College Hospital, 700 beds, bringing the total number of beds connected up to 3,200”.
Fulham: By November 1960 the commentaries that had started at Stamford Bridge in 1955 were extended to Craven Cottage, the home of the Fulham Football Club. A publicity leaflet of that time records: “Since Fulham play away when Chelsea are at home we are able to cover all of the home games of both clubs”.
TOC H reported in November, 1960: “The football commentary scheme begun by Chelsea continues to expand. Arrangements have now been completed to cover the home games of Fulham FC in addition to those of Chelsea FC, which means that a First Division game is put over to the hospitals every Saturday instead of fortnightly. Some Fulham members have come in to reinforce the panel of commentators. Royal Marsden and Brompton Hospitals have been linked up making a total of seven hospitals in all”.
In November 1967, because of an increasing financial burden, the broadcasting commentators formed a new independent organisation “Fulham and Chelsea Hospital Broadcasts” under the sponsorship of the 17th Fulham Pioneer Scouts Parents Association. Four of the commentators in those days were Barney Patient (Group Scout Leader), John Parker, Bert Woodbridge and Eddie Amos. Bill Gould joined the sports team in 1963.
In 1974 Springfield, St James’ and St George’s Hospitals, at the time receiving a music based service from “Radio Nine”, were added to the network. The commentary was also connected to Queen Mary’s Hospital, later to be disconnected and replaced by St John’s Hospital. Battersea Hospital also received the commentaries until 1981 when the broadcasts, because of a further increase in running costs, ceased. Peter Dixon, a member of Queen Mary’s Broadcasting Service, made a portable battery set and this allowed Bill Gould, who was provided with free seats by Fulham FC, to continue to give a commentary to three blind people.
Millwall: TOC H started a football commentary service at Millwall in, it is thought, August, 1957. The first reference by TOC H to a service at the Millwall Football Club is made in their magazine in October 1957: “Shooters Hill District are sponsoring broadcast commentaries of the Millwall Football matches to patients in the New Cross General Hospital and St Giles, Camberwell. These broadcasts began with the opening of the season”.
In October, 1958, TOC H reported: “Commentaries on Millwall’s first team home matches will again be broadcast to patients at St Giles’ Hospital, Camberwell, this season by members of the supporters’ club and local TOC H Branches in Shooters Hill District. This service is also given to New Cross General Hospital, and it is hoped that it can be extended to St Olave’s, Rotherhithe”. In 1958 the Millwall service was approached to join the proposed “National Association of Hospital Broadcasters”. It is not known when this commentary service ceased.
Other Sports Services In London: It is almost certain that football commentary services started in London sometime between 1951 and 1958 at the following locations:- Brentford, Charlton, Leyton Orient, Queens Park Rangers & West Ham.
- Hunslet (1953/54)
The first rugby commentary from Old Parkside, the home of Hunslet Rugby League Football Club, took place during the 1953/54 season. The exact date is not known. For further details see Section 2.30 (Leeds).
- Sunderland (February 1954)
Sometime during 1953 an advertisement was placed in the Sunderland Echo calling for volunteers to broadcast football commentaries to hospitals in the town. These commentaries started in February 1954 and were run by the League of Hospital Friends.
At a meeting held in the offices of Rediffusion (NE) Ltd on 26th April, 1956, a properly constituted body called “The Sunderland Hospitals League of Friends Commentaries Association” was formed on the proposal of Mr T Taylor and seconded by Mr E Gilby with Mr R Spencer in the chair. Also present were Mr A Forman and Mr T Graham (Football Commentators), Mr J Anderson (League of Hospital Friends) and Mr R Anderson and Mr R Larson (Rediffusion Ltd). Minutes of this meeting also recorded: “It was agreed that representation be made to Ashbrooke Cricket and Rugby Football Club and to the GPO for permission to transfer the telephone line from Roker Park to Ashbrooke in order to commentate on events from that venue”. The meeting also decided that an approach to the Sunderland AFC concerning the relaying of commentaries to Newcastle Hospitals be left to a later date.
Later minutes, of 5 July 1956, recorded that a GPO line had been installed at Ashbrooke as from Monday 11 July. The Treasurer also reported: “That as a result of the appeal for financial assistance he had received £14.16.0d to date”.
At the Annual Meeting, held in Sunderland General Hospital on 29 January 1957, the Secretary reviewed the year’s work noting that two of the main items were: “Football Commentaries from Roker and St James Park, and Cricket, Tennis and Athletics from Ashbrooke”. This is the first known instance of tennis and athletic commentaries being relayed by a hospital broadcasting service.
By the early 1960s “away” commentaries of the Sunderland matches were being received from as far afield as Tottenham, Port Vale, Southampton, Preston, Coventry, Norwich, Aston Villa, Luton, Huddersfield and Swansea. Closer to home commentaries were being received (and relayed to) Newcastle, Middlesbough and, later on, Shotley Bridge. By July 1968 agreement had been reached to provide a tape recording of all home matches to the Worcester College for the Blind.
In 1992, after peaking at about 8 hospitals in the early 1970s, the commentary service was being received by patients in the Sunderland General, Royal Infirmary, Eye Infirmary, Ryhope General Hospital and Monkwearmouth. One of the longest serving commentators has been Tom Smith, who in 1992 had completed 20 years service.
- Lincoln (14 April 1954)
An association called “The Friends of Lincoln Hospitals” was formed during 1947 “To provide comforts for the Lincoln County and it’s Maternity Wing, St George’s, St John’s, Bracebridge Heath, Harmston Hall, Branston Hall and Lawn Mental hospital”. Among the comforts provided was radio, provided through the Lincoln Radio Relay Co, followed later by TV paid on a rental basis by The Friends. Later these facilities were taken over by the hospital authorities. In 1954 arrangements were made with Lincoln City Football Club to transmit commentaries, by GPO landlines, direct to Lincoln County Hospital and from there to St George’s Hospital by switching over one of the BBC radio channels on match day. The cost of the line being met, as it still was in 1990, by The Friends. The first commentary, on a match against Carlisle, was made on April 14th, 1954.
Les Priestley recalled in 1986: “I have been in action continually since that first broadcast. The secretaries of the football commentary service have been Walter Kealey, Cliff Garner, Syd Hardwick, Bob Ashford and, at present, myself”.
- Bradford (June 1954)
Notes kept in a log book by a member of the Huddersfield Hospitals Broadcasting Association make the first known reference to a sports commentary service operating in Bradford. The notes say briefly: “Bradford Scheme, June 1954, Mayor AId H White, York v Pakistan 26th June“.
It is known that a sports commentary service called ‘Bradford Hospitals Broadcasting Service’ started relaying Yorkshire cricket commentaries during the 1954/55 season and was linking up with other services in Leeds, Sheffield and Huddersfield. It was still in existence in 1963 being mentioned in a Huddersfield booklet covering the 1963/64 cricket season. The same service was also giving football commentaries from Bradford City and Bradford Park Avenue pre-May 1957. Mr D R Teague, Town Hall, Bradford 1, is mentioned as the contact in a letter dated August 1958 concerning a proposed National Association of Hospital Broadcasters.
It is not known who started the service, which hospitals were served or when it ceased.
- Wigan (August, 1954)
Rugby League commentary to Wigan Infirmary started in August 1954 from a commentary box, situated on the popular side terracing (a box still in use in the late 1980s), provided by the League of Friends at Wigan Infirmary, The “Wigan Hospitals Sports Commentary Service” was later extended to cover hospitals in Billinge, Atherleigh, Leigh, Whelly and Wrightington.
Harry Carey, who joined in 1954 and who was still broadcasting in the late 1980s, recalls: “Initially it served three local hospitals and was staffed by three local school teachers; Jack Keane, John McDermott and myself. Initially the Club Directors also did some of the commentaries. We even did commentaries on ‘A’ team games, but as TV made its inroads into the hospital wards these were dropped and concentration was focussed on the 1st team only. As we were the only three who ever turned up for the original auditions this trio continued for some 7 or 8 years when Jack Keane left to take over the newly formed Wigan Colts. At this time another local school teacher, Ray Unsworth, joined us. Numerous other clubs had similar hospital rugby commentaries so when ‘A’ team games were dropped arrangements were made for the local hospitals to be linked to commentaries on whichever grounds Wigan played and occasionally one or other of us would join in from Oldham, Wakefield etc. This continued until around 1970 when local radio started to cover rugby games”.
Football commentaries from Springfield Park were not a regular feature until Wigan Athletic joined the Football League in 1978. The actual start date is not known. Equipment was installed once Wigan Athletic had established themselves in the Football League. Prior to this time lines had been organised for special matches, starting in about 1970. Commentaries were also carried out from Wembley on two occasions – the FA Trophy Final in 1973 v Scarborough (a match that was covered solely, including extra time, by Harry Carey), and the Freight Rover Trophy Final v Brentford in 1985.
In May 1990, Harry Carey stated: “I would like to pay tribute to the dedication of my colleagues. John McDermott and Ray Unsworth are still with me on the Rugby League side and Mike Carrington, who I was fortunate to ‘pick up’ at Springfield Park, is still there and virtually running it on his own at the moment”.
- Accrington Stanley (8 September 1954)
In October 1954, TOC H reported in their magazine: “Broadcast commentaries of football matches at Peel Park (the home of Accrington Stanley) to patients in Victoria Hospital commenced on 8th September”.
Mr E Clegg recalled in 1986: “Some of my friends started doing this. They were sponsored by the local branch of TOC H. We decided around 1958 to join TOC H. In the early 70s the cost of the telephone lines became too expensive to us, who relied on our own subscriptions and also collections to keep going”. The original commentaries are thought to have ceased at about this time.
Keith Ward, Chairman of Radio Hospital’s Blackburn, wrote in 1991: “A number of ex-servicemen, members of the Accrington branch of TOC H, would record football commentaries at Peel Park and relay them over the internal radio network of the Accrington Victoria Hospital”.
- Cambridge (1954)
Tape recorded football commentaries were initiated in Cambridge in 1954 and played to the patients in the Old Addenbrookes Hospital in Trumpington Street.
The man most closely involved with the service was Don Hale of the University Engineering Department, which gave him much support with the project. Don first became involved when he went to a Cambridge City match to hold the microphone for a tape recording. He later became the regular football commentator. At some time between 1954 and 1956 live broadcasts were started.
Don was later to be awarded the BEM for his work with the service. When he died in 1980 his work, which is also covered in Chapter 3, was carried on by his colleagues at work. Graham Nurse was one of the football commentators.
- Watford (1954)
The Watford football commentary service, from Vicarage Road to the Memorial Hospital, began in 1954.
Harold Cook, a member of the Peace Memorial Hospital House Committee, was a patient in the Memorial Hospital. He wrote: “Upon my discharge I was asked to report on my stay to the House Committee from the patient’s viewpoint. I mentioned the shortcomings of the valve radios (always out of order) then used as a form of patient entertainment. One Committee member, who I suspected had donated some of the radios, suggested that I if I could better it I should get on with it – and the committee agreed! Subsequently Bill Graver, then a Director of Watford FC, approached the Committee with the idea of football broadcasts, which a club in the Midlands were already doing. So we began by recording commentaries on a reel to reel machine and playing them back to the patients on the Sunday after the match. The following year Reg Stacey and Lionel Wright joined the team and the first ‘live’ broadcast went out in March 1955“. Records show that the first live broadcast was a Division Three (South) encounter between Watford and Gillingham that ended in a 1-1 draw.
In 1957 the service was extended to cover Shrodells, Holywell and Bushey Hospitals. The commentary team was also expanded to include Ron Longthorne and Alan Hart (who went on to become the editor of BBC grandstand and Controller of BBC 1). Harold Cook was at that time responsible for monitoring the broadcasts and keeping all the equipment in working order.
The fIrst ‘live’ broadcast was done from the front row of the old, open, press box, which was then halfway up the main stand. In 1958 the commentators moved to the back of the stand where a commentary box was built (and which was eventually added to the press box). This location was used until the beginning of the 1982-83 season when more space was needed to cater for increased press facilities. As a result the commentary position moved to a new location, alongside Radio Hornet. TOC H reported in February 1957: “Peter Piper, a blind member of Watford, is active in arranging for the relay of football commentaries for a local hospital”.
The 1970s saw the arrival of a new commentator, David Roberts, and at the football club, the arrival of a new Chairman, Elton John. Reg recalls: “If the Chairman was away he’d phone our number and he would listen through a feedback speaker in the commentary box. He’s been in touch with us from as far afield as Hawaii or New Zealand”.
In 1981 patients in Hemel Hempstead joined the service and in 1983 Peter Munroe and Roy Catton joined the team. Celebrating their 30th anniversary the service wrote: “Overall, it has been a privilege to work with the Football Club over the past 30 years and to share and feel part of their recent successes. They’ve given us tremendous support and encouragement and that in itself has been a source of constant motivation to those of us involved in football broadcasting”. The commentary team in 1985 still consisted of the two original commentators, Reg Stacey and Lionel Wright. Ron Longthorne, who had joined in 1957, was also still a member. Other commentators were Roy Catton, David Roberts, Peter Munroe, Ken Felton and Brin Weare.
- Whitehaven (5 February 1955)
The official opening of the rugby commentary service in Whitehaven was on Friday 4 February 1955 in the Rehabilitation Centre of the Whitehaven Hospital. Mr Peter Kelly, Chairman of the Hospital Broadcast Committee introduced Mr J B Smith, Chairman of the League of Friends who officially opened the newly installed equipment to relay the games from the Recreation Ground to the hospital. The first rugby league match to be broadcast was on Saturday 5 February 1955 between Whitehaven and St Helens. The chief commentator on the day was Peter Kelly. Other members of the commentary team were Jim Pearce, David Wallace, Tom Herdman, Ted Benson and Bill Jackson.
In 1991 Jonathan Parr, programme controller and rugby league producer of Hospital Radio Haven, wrote: “Tom Herdman must have been a long serving contributor having stayed with the organisation until his death in the early eighties. Bill Kerr, a former chairman, had also become involved with commentaries until his death in the mid eighties. During this period Les Barber and George Chare had been contributing and then maintained commentaries through until the end of the 1987/88 season. I took over as producer/presenter at this point with commentaries being provided by Jim Hunton (1988/89), Trevor Coiles (1989/90) and currently Derek Thompson.
Commentaries were initially relayed to the Whitehaven Hospital, an old ‘castle’ like building in the town centre which was formerly the residence of the Lowther family. In 1964 a new West Cumberland Hospital on the outskirts of Whitehaven, in Hensingham, was opened and commentaries diverted to this site. These have continued to the present day with broadcasts, I presume, halted to the old Whitehaven Hospital soon after the new hospital was opened. There have certainly been no broadcasts of any sort to the old site for a number of years. The Whitehaven Hospital has now closed completely and is being converted into residential units. Our studio broadcasts commenced soon after the opening of the new West Cumberland Hospital”.
Originally the organisation was run by a group known as ‘Hospital Broadcast Services’ and following the switch to the new hospital and start of studio broadcasts, used the on-air name of ‘Channel Two-Hospital Radio’. This referred to the channel allocated to hospital radio on the hospital internal system. the organisation was renamed and re-Iaunched as ‘Hospital Radio Haven’ in January 1984.
- Wakefield (12 March 1955)
On 12 March 1955 a group of Rugby League supporters started a commentary service at Wakefield Trinity. They decided that patients in Wakefield Hospitals might be interested in hearing how the local team was fairing when playing at home in Belle Vue. From these successful commentaries sprung a committee and Wakefield’s Broadcast to Hospitals Service was born. Three months later, on 8 June, a joint meeting was held between the Wakefield Trinity Supporters Club Committee and ‘independent bodies’ of the City of Wakefield at the White Horse Hotel, Westgate.
Under the Chairmanship of Mr S Hatfield the “Wakefield Trinity Supporters Club Committee for Broadcasts to Hospitals” decided to transfer the broadcast service to an independent body. The following organisations were present: 41 CLUB (Mr Stead), Round Table (Mr Young, Mr Foster), Knights of St Columbia (Mr Price, Mr Rowan), Wakefield Council of Social Service (Miss Holland), Ladies Circle (Mrs Lambert), Rotary Club (Mr Philips) and Supporters Club Committee Members. After much discussion it was decided to name the new service ‘Wakefield’s Broadcast to Hospitals Service’. Mr F Haigh, who was elected Chairman of the newly formed commentary service, put forward a scheme: “Whereby a set time should be fixed for every Saturday afternoon from 2pm to 5pm, during which commentaries would be broadcast to the various hospitals, subject to the consent of the hospitals concerned. In the event of there being no match at Wakefield arrangements to be made to link up with the Leeds Broadcast Service to receive their commentaries”.
Wakefield’s Broadcast to Hospitals Service commentators were Mr Howell, Father Finn and Mr Price and they began their broadcasts at the start of the 1955/56 Rugby League season. Records do not however reveal who carried out the first commentary in March 1955, which is thought to have been received by four local hospitals; Clayton, Pinderfields General, County General and Stanley Royd. Minutes of the meeting held on 8th June also record: “It was agreed that an account owing for the Warwickshire V Yorkshire broadcast would be met by the new committee”. In addition to rugby, cricket commentaries were also being relayed from other organisations.
The following meeting, held on 20 June, records: “A letter was received asking for permission to use the broadcast equipment installed at the Wakefield Trinity Ground for the purpose of relaying a half hour’s programme of hymn singing. The request was granted by the committee”. The Treasurer also reported: ” A total; sum of £116.0.11 d comprises as follows was handed over. Cheque £105.7.2d. Cash in Hand 13/9d as per balance sheet dated 18th May 1955 and a further cheque for 10/-“.
Steve Davies, Chief Executive of WHBS Radio, wrote in 1992: “The commentaries have ceased but an exact when date is not known. It was however, run by local qualified Rugby League referees”.
- Port Vale (8 October 1955)
In October 1954 TOC H organised an appeals committee to raise funds to provide bedside radio and broadcasting equipment to relay commentaries from the grounds of Port Vale and Stoke City football clubs. The money for installing the equipment being loaned by the Hospital Management Committee.
A year later, on Saturday October 8 1955, the ‘North Staffs Hospitals Broadcasting Service’ relayed a commentary of the game at Vale Park between Port Vale and Stoke City to three North Staffordshire hospitals. Records show that immediately after the game the service was able to pay back the first loan instalment of £500. The following week, on October 15th, the first commentary took place at Stoke City FC. The hospitals that received the first commentary are thought to have been the City General, the North Staffs Royal Infirmary and the Orthopaedic Hospital. For many years, until it closed, the service was also relayed to the T.B Hospital at Loggerheads. A landline map, circa 1970, shows the service being fed to North Staffs Royal Infirmary, City Hospital, Haywood Hospital and Hartshill Orthopaedic Hospital.
In 1993 Peter Haynes, who was a commentator with the service for 35 years, wrote: “Originally there were three commentators all of whom participated in the first transmission from Vale Park. They were Barney Bamford, Derek Harris and myself. Barney was a perfectionist who set and demanded the highest standards. We had to attend on Sunday mornings for an analysis of the recording of the Saturday match. This was an ordeal as Barney maintained that if you volunteer to do anything you should adopt a totally professional attitude because you have chosen to undertake the task and are probably keeping another volunteer out. He never allowed you to think that you occupied a permanent position unless you attained his standards. The other long serving commentators were Joe Hill, Dudley Kernick and Gus Gallacher, who ran the organisation for many years. Commentaries were relayed on every match that was played at Vale Park and the Victoria Ground (the home of Stoke City FC). We quickly began relaying commentaries from away whenever an exceptional game was played, such as cup ties, etc”.
In addition to the football commentaries the service has, over the years, included live coverage of professional boxing from Trentham Gardens and the Mayfair at Burslem, and wrestling from the Victoria Hall. Peter Haynes added; “The boxing commentator, with whom I worked, was Sam Paterson. Sam was awarded the M.B.E for his work with the disabled and wore it with pride on formal occasions”.
- Stoke-On-Trent (15th October, 1955)
See 42. Port Vale.
- Wolverhampton (1955)
In late 1955, initiated and masterminded by Selwyn Kelly along with other members of the local TOC H branch, a football commentary service was set up at the Wolverhampton Football Club. A member of the Aston Villa hospital broadcasting team did the first commentary and gave the six new Molineux commentators some useful tips. It went out to three hospitals; The Royal Hospital, The Eye Infirmary and Parkfield Hospital. Bill Keysell was the engineer in charge of Rediffusion (West Midlands) Ltd at the time and recalls: “I personally carried out the installation, landline connection and testing to keep the costs down to a minimum. The first broadcast commenced after a brief opening ceremony and speech by Billy Wright, the Wolves Captain”.
TOC H reported in January 1956: “Patients in Wolverhampton hospitals can now hear their own private broadcasts of the home matches of the world famous Wolves. A Wulfrun District sub-committee headed by ‘Ned’ Kelly of Codsall are responsible. The Club has been most generous, covering the costs of installing lines and their rent and maintenance. Indeed local co-operation has been of the highest order. The panel of commentators are all, except one, members of TOC H”.
One of the original six commentators, Eric Smith, recalled: “We were situated in the press box and over the course of the next twenty odd years I rubbed shoulders with all the top press writers. A great character who stands out was Desmond Hackett of the Daily Express. His copy was never too urgent to prevent him giving colourful summaries of the match concerned to the hospitals”. Another commentator, Bernard Beavon, remembered visiting the hospitals after the match and how well the commentaries were appreciated. Over the years the service grew steadily expanding to cover five hospitals in the Wolverhampton area and later still to one in Stafford. A commentator and organiser from 1955 until the service closed in 1979 was Tom Clucas.
In 1991 Peter Richards of Radio Wulfrun wrote: “The service started up again in December 1990. The first broadcast was on a game against Millwall. It is not as yet a full commentary service, but reports on matches from Molineux. Myself and Bill Hutton report from the ground, with occasional help from John Sharkey and Mark Billett. The studio is manned by Paul Smith with occasional help from Alan Thomas”.
- Southend (1955)
In July 1956 TOC H reported in their magazine about a scheme for broadcasting football matches to the hospital in Southend and further reported in December 1956: “S E Essex District have embarked upon football commentaries from the Southend United ground to Southend and Rochford Hospitals. The commentators, neither of whom had done the job before, broadcast from the open and reception was described as excellent”. The two original commentators were Bert Hayho and Ken Golding and the match was relayed to the Southend General, Westcliffe and Rochford Hospitals.
During the 1957/58 football season Southend completed a 250 mile hook-up when the team played a Liverpool side in the third round of the FA Cup. Their commentary was heard by no fewer than 29 hospitals in the Liverpool area as well as the local Southend hospitals. By November 1958 TOC H were reporting that the S E Essex District were extending their broadcasting service and that arrangements were going forward for a new landline to all the hospitals in Southend. Ten minutes before kick-off time the commentators would call each hospital in turn to ensure that the lines were open. When all had acknowledged the call the main hospital in the group would give a countdown from ten and at zero the commentary would begin with: “Good afternoon everyone and welcome once again to Roots Hall Football Ground”.
An article in the TOC H magazine entitled “Landline Links” dated March 1959 reported that the Post Office had provided a permanent TOC H cable around the Borough, linking up the hospitals and homes receiving the football commentaries. In addition to the home games many important away matches have been covered since the start of the commentary service in Southend, typically FA Cup and league games when promotion or relegation issues have been at stake. The service has also been relayed on numerous occasions to hospitals in towns and cities of visiting teams. The TOC H group commented: “All we ask of them is that they advise us they wish to take the commentary so that we can welcome their listeners to our service, and give us an opportunity to research the area to which we are also broadcasting”. TOC H continued to finance the service until the commencement of the ‘Southend and District Hospital Radio Service’ in 1975. As more sophisticated equipment became available so the actual presentation and reception improved.
The main commentator of the ‘Southend and District Hospital Radio Service’, Alec James, wrote in 1986: “Certainly one improvement is that at half-time we can now hand back to the studio for a couple of records or a local news summary, instead of having to talk through several minutes of nothing happening. This also gives the commentators the opportunity to have a cup of tea or coffee. At each game we try to ensure that at least two commentators are available from our team of three. Since the inauguration of this service in 1956 there have only been eight regular commentators. The present team consists of Wayne Gollan and myself, who have both been commentating since 1972, and Mike Abrahams a local Chief Inspector of Police who we recruited last year”.
In the mid 1980s, provided jointly by the Football Club and the hospital broadcasting service, headphones and sockets were installed in the main stand for blind supporters who can now take the commentary whilst enjoying the atmosphere by actually being at the game. This facility is proving very successful. Alec added: “This service to hospital listeners has certainly flourished since its inception. The TOC H service is to be commended on its foresight, and long may it continue. We make the proud boast that since its opening every home game at Southend has been covered”.
- Blackburn (1955)
In 1955 a recorded football commentary service was started in Blackburn. The commentary was taped at Ewood Park, the home of Blackburn Rovers, and later in the week played back to the patients in Blackburn Royal Infirmary. It is thought that live commentaries commenced about 1958/59. Alderman Whitehead was one of the early commentators.
An article written in 1992 by Keith Ward, the Chairman of ‘Radio Hospital Blackburn’, on the history of the service stated: “Further expansion was to take place when the service started broadcasting to Withnell Hospital and Park Lee Hospital around 1968. Sports coverage was forever expanding and the long established live football commentaries were complimented by the inclusion of cricket commentaries from Alexandra Meadows, the ground of East Lancs. Cricket Club”. It is thought that cricket commentaries started in the late 50s/early 60s and ceased about 1979. Jim Hargreaves and Frank Tanner were two of the commentators.
Keith added: “In November, 1990, Radio Hospitals Blackburn (RHB) installed facilities at Ewood Park to enable a number of partially sighted football fans to hear Radio Hospital’s football commentary whilst attending the match. These facilities were designed, built and installed by members of RHB and have been much appreciated by the people involved”.
In the early 1990s ‘Radio Hospitals Blackburn’ installed a device that connected the station’s studio mixer to the telephone system. This allowed, for the first time, the service to link up to football commentaries being relayed by other hospital radio services. The facility proved particularly useful in late 1991 when Kenny Dalglish became manager of Blackburn Rovers. The live interview with the manager by BBC Radio Lancashire was relayed via RHB’ s studio to numerous other hospital radio services in the country.
In 1993 the football commentary service was being relayed to the Blackburn Royal Infirmary, Queens Park Hospital and Accrington’s Victoria Hospital. The commentators were John Aitken, Mal Evans, Barry Illsley and Garry Woodworth.
- Swindon (1955)
In 1955 a football commentary service, financed and run by the local branch of TOC H, was started in Swindon. TOC H reported in ‘Branch Briefs’ of December 1953: “Harold Fleming, former England international, appealed for Swindon’s live match commentaries to local hospitals and raised £129. 4s”. In May 1958, TOC H reported that the Hospital Broadcasts scheme had now given the 300th commentary from Swindon Town.
Swindon’s football commentaries were not just limited to home matches. In May 1969 the League Cup Final at Wembley, between Swindon and Arsenal, was broadcast to an Old Folks Home. The matron of the Hermitage, the old people’s home at the back of the Mark, approached the Warden, Graeme Parfitt, to see if anything could be done about relaying the hospitals’ broadcast of the match to The Hermitage. TOC H were able to run a line from the monitoring set in the studio in the Mark cellar all the way down to The Hermitage and the broadcast came through loud and clear. There was a moment of panic when the line went dead with the score 1-1. A hasty search for the fault drew a blank but the broadcast was resumed moments later and it was found that the commentator in his excitement had kicked a switch and cut himself off!
By the late 1980s the commentaries were being relayed to the Princess Margaret Hospital, Victoria Hospital, Seymour Clinic, St Margaret’s Hospital, The Hermitage and the MACA Hostel.
- Leicester (About 1955)
The earliest written reference to a football commentary service being heard in a hospital in Leicester is found in a letter written on 28th March, 1961, from S Tipton (Hospital Secretary for the Leicester Royal Infirmary) to Mr Bob Parker: “This is to say a very sincere thank you for your ready help and cooperation in enabling our patients to receive the broadcast of the semi-final replays between Leicester City and Sheffield United. On both occasions the reception was extremely good, and I received some very favorable comments from the patients”.
It is thought that a football commentary service, with funding from the football club, started at Leicester City circa 1955, initially broadcasting to the Isolation Hospital, Grouby Road and extending to the Royal Infirmary in the late 1950s. During the 1960s the number of hospitals on the circuit was extended to include the City General, Fielding Johnson, Markfield Isolation and Hillcrest.
It is not known when the original service ceased operating.
- South Shields (November 1956)
The minutes of the Sunderland Hospitals Commentaries Association, dated 6 December 1956, include the statement: “It was announced that commentaries had begun from the Simonside Ground in South Shields. The South Shields hospitals would also be able to listen to commentaries from Sunderland and Newcastle”. Records show that the original hospitals that received the service were the Ingham Infirmary, General Hospital (including the Maternity Block), Deans Hospital and Cleadon Hospital.
The football commentary service from the Simonside Football Club, which commenced in November 1956, was actually started by the Sunderland Hospital Commentary Association. Commentary on that first match being given by Bob Spencer and Rev John Chapman. Also present was John Tyzack and he, along with Cllr Ken Sketway and others from Trinty House in South Shields, later developed their own commentary service. On each occasion that a football commentary was relayed from Simonside Rediffusion supplied, at their expense, an engineer to switch the hospital network from the normal source of programmes being received from Sunderland to the commentary service at the Simonside football ground.
In June 1957 a service called the South Shields (Trinity House) Hospitals Broadcasting Group was started by members of South Shields Amateur Radio Club (a music based service from Trinity House social centre).
Live cricket commentaries originated from Westoe Cricket Ground for three seasons but were disconnected due to lack of interest by the patients.
A newspaper reported on 23 September 1961: “Over the Shields network are broadcast commentaries on South Shields’ home games and when they are not at home there is a link up with either the Roker Park or St James’s Park broadcasts”. Another newspaper report of 21 November 1968 read: “Four hospitals in the town receive the service – the General, the Deans, Cleadon Park and the Ingham Infirmary- and it goes through on channel D of the Rediffusion network. Last night among other programmes patients heard a live commentary on the Newcastle United V Sporting Lisbon Inter-Cities Fairs Cup soccer match from St James’s Park. Up to October 1st the total layout for the circuit for the previous year was £135 – the next year will cost the group £200. For instance, said Mr Tyzack, our contract for the circuits from Roker Park, Sunderland, for Saturday soccer matches was £34. Last month the GPO put up the price to £76”. Regular relays from the Simonside Football Ground continued until the ground was sold for housing development.
The rental of permanent land lines between South Shields and Sunderland became too expensive but the commentaries from St James’s Park, Newcastle and Roker Park, Sunderland continued for another two years. By then local radio was in operation, with coverage of local sport and, because of poor reception in many hospital wards, the response declined to almost nil.
- Halifax (9 March 1957)
On 9 March 1957 the Leeds Cricket and Football Hospitals Relay Association broadcast from Thrum Hall, Halifax, a commentary on the 3rd Round Rugby League Cup-tie between Halifax and Leeds. Considerable interest had been aroused in this match and because Halifax had no broadcasting organisation of their own, arrangements were made for the supply of equipment and commentators from Leeds.
The first football commentary service took place on a limited basis for about six months during late 1958 and was heard by patients in the Baldwin ward at the Royal Halifax Infirmary. It was presented on Saturday afternoons by members of the Halifax Tape Recording Society. The broadcasts, relayed via a GPO line from the Halifax Football Club, were combined with tape recordings taken during the week. It was not until the early 1980s that the next known sports commentary service to hospitals in Halifax, Radio Calderdale, took to the air.
Martin Harrison, the Public Relations Officer of Radio Calderdale, wrote in 1990: “Radio Calderdale first went ‘on air’ in December 1981. In January, 1982, Radio Calderdale started a football commentary service from the Shay ground, the home of Halifax Town Football Club, and in the same month a rugby commentary service. Radio Calderdale’s football commentators have included Trevor Simpson, Jim Hallett, Steve Corcoran, David Keitch and John Mitchell.Rugby League commentaries have been presented by Martin Harrison and David Keitch. We broadcast sport throughout the football and rugby season on Saturday and Sunday between 3pm and 6pm”.
In 1990 the service was broadcasting to the Halifax Royal Infirmary, General and Northowram Hall Hospitals.
- Bournemouth (27 March 1957)
In the early 1950s, based on a service just started after the war, an association was established known as the ‘Bournemouth Voluntary Cinema Unit’ (at the time the second largest of its type). George Eldridge was Chairman and Charles Richards, Operations Manager – both members of the Winton Branch of TOC H. Up to 24 shows per month were presented in hospitals and old people’s homes as well as to some bedridden patients in their own homes in Bournemouth and district.
By 1956, the demand for shows had dropped dramatically due to the introduction of TV sets in most homes. Consequently the Winton Branch members were seeking a new community job and considered the idea of football commentaries from Dean Court football ground. The Bournemouth Football Club was interested and provided the necessary accommodation and with a generous donation of £250 from the proceeds of the 1956 Rag Week held by the students of the Bournemouth College of Art the ‘South Wessex District TOC H Football Broadcast Committee’ was formed. George Eldridge was elected Chairman. Arthur Bush, who had been connected with the TOC H football broadcasts at Home Park, Plymouth, and Ron Else, who was a Southampton TOC H commentator at the Dell, gave the first commentary to the Royal Victoria Hospital, Boscombe. The broadcast took place from Dean Court on 22 March 1957 with a game against Queens Park Rangers.
By 1970 commentaries were being provided to four local hospitals. When ‘Radio Bedside’ was formed in the early 1970s, the football commentaries were incorporated in the station’s sports programmes and the number of hospitals, in Bournemouth, Poole, Christchurch and eventually as far away as Wimborne in Dorset, increased to eight. Having been Chairman of the TOC H Football Broadcast Committee, and commentator since 1957, George Eldridge was presented with a plaque by the Bournemouth Football Club on 16th march 1985 for completing 28 years service.
As part of the service, commentaries have been given from football grounds as far away as Burnley, Bristol, Swindon, Norwich and Northampton. Live commentaries have been supplied direct from Dean Court to patients in hospitals in Norwich, Wrexham, Burnley, Walsall, Swindon and Colchester. In addition to hospital patients, there has been provision for blind supporters to take part in the hospital commentaries by listening on headphones in reserved seats adjoining the commentary box.
- Reading (7 September 1957)
The idea for a service in Reading was conceived by Capt. Les Warth whilst he was in Oxford’s Churchill Hospital. “I was hospitalised there in 1954 and between treatment periods and operations I came to thinking wouldn’t it be great if I could listen to something local? However, on my discharge and return to Reading I thought that something should be done to this end”.
Les borrowed a type of Army Transmitter/Receiver with built-in loudspeakers. With it he was able to actually transmit from Elm Park Football Ground commentaries to a few of the wards in both the Blagrave Park and Peppard Hospitals which Les had supplied with the special. “This used to take all weekend, collecting the sets, distributing them, doing the commentary, returning them to the HQ”.
The first transmitted commentary went out on 7 September 1957. Les recalled in 1982: “Reading beat Aldershot 3-0, the Reading Football Club giving me space in ‘The Stand’ to use my transmitter. Over the next three years or so I had talks with the then hospital Management Committee with a view to broadcasting to all patients in the local hospitals instead of the few wards that could listen to the sets being used. The Football Club gave permission for me to build a commentary box in the rear of the stand and it is still being used today”. This facility was brought into use at the start of the 1959/60 season.
It was not until 1960 that Les was given permission to broadcast over the network of receivers within the hospitals. By then these included the Royal Berkshire, Battle, Blagrave and Park Hospitals (during 1962 Delwood Hospital, Parkhurst and Alice Jenkins Old Person’s Homes came onto the network). Les went on to say: “This was a big challenge and of course could not be achieved without assistance. I recruited five other persons who were interested (Hedley Cowell, Don Cox, David Rose, John Alderton and David Shute) and the service took another step forward. We had two long lockable boxes (affectionately known as coffins) down in the basement of the then Reading Standard Offices in London Street and from there over a network of telephone lines we started to broadcast to the local hospitals. It was on 20 October 1961 Reading played Crystal Palace and the start of the commentary was given by the late Raymond Glendenning”.
It is thought that the service was first called ‘Reading Hospitals Broadcasting Service’ – ‘Hospital Radio Reading’ being used as the service’s identity for publicity purposes. Over the years commentaries have been relayed to and from Oxford, Aldershot and Swindon. In 1987 the original commentary box that had been moved several times to accommodate the football club’s executive box development was replaced within the executive box at a cost of £1,000.
Other commentators over the years have been Les Lewendon, Arthur Bint and Ian Savin.
- Weymouth (1957)
In 1957 Eric Walbrin went with other members of TOC H in Weymouth to Southampton, to see Weymouth play in the 2nd round of the FA cup. There they discovered that the local TOC H branch relayed the game to hospitals in Southampton and they decided to do the same for hospital patients in Weymouth. A tape recorder was soon purchased and later that year it became a regular sight to the football fans at the “Rec” to see two figures, Tony Biles and Jack Morgan perched high on the war damaged grandstand, bravely coping with the weather, taping commentary on the football game to play back to the patients of Westhaven Hospital.
Not only did the idea for a football commentary service in Weymouth come from Southampton but so to did the first live commentary. In August 1958 Tony and Jack travelled to Southampton and, using post office landlines connected to hospitals in Weymouth, relayed commentary on a game between Southampton and Weymouth. The following month Eric Walbrin joined the commentary team. Paul Parker of Radio Shambles, Weymouth, wrote in 1991: “I believe the Weymouth commentators used facilities provided by TOC H in Southampton to provide live coverage. At this time all Weymouth could do was provide a taped coverage of Weymouth home games”. No records exist to establish when the first live commentary took place from the Weymouth Football Club.
In the early 1970s live football matches from York, Preston and Bournemouth were relayed to Weymouth & District, Portwey Maternity and the Royal Eye Infirmary hospitals. A TOC H article dated April, 1973 read: “The fortunes of Weymouth’s soccer team in the Southern League are keenly followed and all the home fixtures are relayed live from Weymouth’s Recreation Ground. The action is described from Radio Weymouth’s special commentary box by four expert broadcasters”. Due to increasing costs the landline between the hospitals and the football ground had to be disconnected in 1983.
In September 1988 a sports service on Saturday afternoons was started by Radio Shambles with half time and full time reports being phoned into their studio from the local football ground. In 1992 the service was being received by the Weymouth & District Hospital.
- Ipswich (About 1957)
It is thought that the football commentary service in Ipswich started some time between 1957/58. Three of the four original commentators were George Hubert, Bill Jarrett and Dick Ransby with Roger Ruffels joining the team very soon after the start.
An undated copy of “The Football League Review” magazine asked its readers where and when the first hospital broadcasts were made. A reply from L J Godbold in London read: “The first could be Ipswich or Arsenal. We went into it after first finding commentators at Ipswich and received great help from Arsenal who had also started”. The football commentary service that L J Godbold belonged to is not known.
Charles Watson, who became a commentator about 1960, wrote in 1990: “When I joined the four man team consisted of Bill Jarrett, Roger Ruffels, the Rev Ken Glass and myself. Bill died about 1975/76 and Ken had to give up for medical reasons about 1980/81. Ken’s replacement for a time was Philip Houseley. Terry Betts (ex-Norwich City Hospital Broadcasting) then joined the team. Roger left about 1987 and was replaced by Peter Hands”. Charles Watson retired in 1988. He added: “I’m still available if required (at 71 I hope I’m not!). The late John Cobbold was very keen on the system as is his brother Patrick, the Chairman of Ipswich FC. They were also keen that our blind supporters should be catered for and it continues to this day. Each is given a headset, plugged into the back of the seat so they can enjoy the game more”.
In 1986/87 a new hospital was built in Heath Road, Ipswich, and was the only hospital receiving the commentary service in 1990.
- West Bromwich (Pre 31 January 1958)
The exact start date of a football commentary service in West Bromwich has not been exactly established.
On 31 January 1958 Mr Roy Biddle, Admin Officer for the West Bromwich and District Hospitals Group (No. 18), wrote to the football commentary service in Nottingham: “On Wednesday last you kindly allowed both West Bromwich and Birmingham hospitals to take your broadcast of the Albion v Forest replay”. Mr Biddle went on to say: “This letter by the way is at the request of patients at two of our hospitals. They are now becoming very relay conscious and are also becoming critical of the commentators, as I know full well”. Mr Biddle commented in the letter that he was a part time commentator with the West Bromwich Association, so clearly the commentary service in West Bromwich had been established prior to his letter of 31 January 1958.
A letter from Mr Dent dated August 1958 included A Weller of Erdington, Birmingham as the person to contact in connection with the broadcast of the West Bromwich football commentary service. In 1991 Ian Shorthouse, Station Manager of Sandwell Hospital Radio wrote: “Since 1959 live commentaries have been provided from West Bromwich Albion’s home ground, the Hawthorns, for patients in local hospitals. Initially these commentaries were provided by West Bromwich Round Table. One of the Round Table’s football commentators in 1984 was Keith Butler. Ian added: “When the new Halfords Lane stand was completed in 1985, the commentaries became the responsibility of Sandwell Hospital Radio. 1959 is the estimated year, it could have been 1958“.
It is thought that the first football commentary was heard by patients in the Hallam Hospital and the General Hospital. Unfortunately the names of all of the original commentators are not known.
Sandwell Hospital Radio’s 1988 magazine recorded: “Besides the latest sporting results, Sandwell Hospital Radio also has it’s own commentary position at West Bromwich Albion’shome ground, the Hawthorns, where our own commentary team provide exclusive, live, full match commentary of every home game. Sandwell Hospital Radio also uses its network, to obtain commentaries of all away games, courtesy of the local hospital radio stations in that particular area”. Other sports services covered include crib, darts, dominoes, pigeon flying, Sunday league football, local cricket leagues, etc.
Sandwell Hospital Radio’s football commentary service is also connected to a dozen special positions in the Halfords Lane Stand, each having a set of headphones. This arrangement allows the blind fans to hear the commentary being relayed to the hospital patients.
By the early 1990s, due to the high cost of the British Telecom landline links to other hospital radio stations around the country, the away match commentaries had to be discontinued.
In 1991 the sports service was being broadcast to the Sandwell District General Hospital, Sandwell Maternity Unit, Heath Lane Hospital, Moxley Hospital and Midland Centre of Neurology and Neurosurgery. The commentary team consisting of Graham Wharton, Brian Hunt, Rob Hewlitt and Roger Gardner.
- York (About August 1958)
In the late 1950s ‘The Friends of York Hospitals’ had landlines installed from the ground of York City Football Club to some local hospitals. Mr C L Cuthbert was the commentator at the first match and in 1987 he recalled: “I believe it was at the start of the 1958/59 football season. The rugby commentaries started one or two years afterwards”. Two other members of the early commentary team were Ted King and Cliff Fowler. Mr C L Cuthbert is listed as the person to contact in connection with the ‘York Football Commentary Service’ in a letter dated August 1958.
The hospitals that received the service in the late 1950s and early 1960s included the Bootham Park, County, City, Grange, St Mary’s, Fulford General, Fulford Maternity, Naburn and Fairfield.
Some doubt does exist about when the first rugby commentary broadcast took place. Mr C L Cuthbert’s recollection that it was a few years after the start of the football service does conflict with the recollections of York Hospital Radio. Alan Hays of York Hospital Radio tells the story: “Our historic memories of our rugby service at Clarence Street are a bit more recent but rather more confused. I gather that originally the club contacted us about providing the commentaries. The lines were installed at the start of the 1970s and funded by the Rugby Club. A few years later interest dwindled amongst the Directors and the lines were taken out of service. By 1977 or so we had contacted the club and the service was restored”. NAHBO’s 1974 Directory of Hospital Broadcasting Organisations records that a rugby service was being provided at that time: “York Hospital Broadcasting Organisation. Sports coverage: York City, Leeds United and rugby”.
In 1966, two years after it was formed, ‘York Hospital Radio’ took over the responsibility for the commentaries. A few years later, in the late 1960s, the service made an arrangement with the ‘Leeds Cricket & Football Hospitals Relays Association’ to relay all Leeds United football matches when York City was playing away. In about 1980 this service was discontinued because of rising costs.
In 1992 rugby and football commentaries were being relayed to the City, District, Bootham Park and Clifton Hospitals.
- Other Locations (1950s)
Between 1951 and 1958 football commentary services are thought to have started at ten locations for which only limited historical information was uncovered whilst researching this book.
A Mr S Dent in Stockport, in a letter dated August 1958 proposing a National Association of Hospital Broadcasters (see Part 5.1), wrote: “The following is a list of the names and addresses of the people to contact in connection with the broadcasts of the clubs concerned”. The list included: Barrow – A Cummings, Barrow-in-Furness. Mansfield – G Bunting, Mansfield.. Walsall – Harold J Hunter, Walsall. Torquay – C F Smith, Torquay”.
Mr Dent’s letter also included a list of 20 football clubs: “From whom a reply has been received – but no information from the broadcasting organisations”. Football commentary services at 17 of the clubs listed are known have been in existence (their histories are featured in this chapter) and it is almost certain that similar services existed at the other three clubs: Coventry, Middlesboro and Newport.
NAHBO’s 1974 Directory of Hospital Broadcasting Organisations makes reference to: Coventry – Coventry Hospitals Broadcasting Service, including a football commentary service (Coventry City), serving 7 hospitals. Swansea – Swansea Hospitals Radio Service (Radio City), including a sports service, serving 2 hospitals.
Very little is known about the football commentary service that Mr Dent is thought to have been involved with at Stockport. It is likely to have started some time before May 1958 when he first wrote to all the football clubs in the English football league proposing the national association. The only other known reference to the service is found in a letter dated 13th April 1959. Mr Dent wrote to Mr Parker, the commentator of the hospital broadcasting service in Nottingham, after the Stockport game was relayed from Nottingham: “I have made enquiries in the appropriate places to find out how the reception came over on the Saturday and have heard very good reports. We may be able to do the same thing next season and perhaps you might be able to take the Notts County broadcast from Stockport”.
At five of the ten locations listed above, Barrow, Coventry, Newport, Swansea and Walsall, a football commentary service was still operating in 1990.
- Crewe (About 1961/62)
A commentary service was started at Crewe Alexandria Football Club in about 1961/62 through the efforts of Tom Mainwaring and Harold Hipwell. They recorded a commentary and played it back to some residents in one of the Old People’s Homes. From there it developed to embrace the Crewe Memorial Hospital, via a landline, in 1966. In addition to Tom and Harold two of the early commentators were E Pointon and R Spencer.
“The association started in 1966 when Mr Gallagher, the secretary of the North Staffs Hospital’s Broadcasting Service, arranged with Crewe Memorial Hospital’s Secretary to make an experimental broadcast from Crewe Alexandra F.C. to see how it would be received by the Patients in the Crewe area. The experiment was a success and a second broadcast was made of a F.A. Cup Tie”.
On 4 May 1967, resulting from the success of the Crewe Alexandria football sports commentary service, a meeting took place in the Mayor’s Parlour that resulted formation of the Crewe and District Hospitals Broadcasts Service.
“Mr Gallagher’s second broadcast commentary of a Crewe Alex Match was on the 7 January 1967, when he was joined by Harold Hipwell and Tom Mainwaring from Crewe. With the continued interest in these commentaries others joined the team including Mr J Wilkes & Mr Caine”.
“After a successful appeal for funds it was decided to equip the Coppenhall Hospital with an individual bed-head radio service as at the time the hospital only had transportable radios in some of the wards. In May 1967 Mr Frank Home handed over equipment to the hospital to start a hospital radio football commentary service in the Coppenhall Hospital. In March 1968 equipment was installed at the Coppenhall Hospital to equip the new facility allowing the society to start broadcasting the commentaries to patients at Crewe’s hospitals”.
“Up until this date the society had used equipment borrowed from the North Staffordshire Hospital’s Broadcasting Service however on the 20th April 1968 the first football commentary using the societies own equipment was broadcast to the wards”.
In 1991 the service was being relayed to the Leighton Hospital, opened in 1972 when the Crewe Memorial was closed down.
A long time Director of Programmes was Reg Jenkins who oversaw much of the service’s expansion. Technical work was carried out initially by J Coyle and then by John Epps, who was still a member in 1991.
The football commentary service was still operating in 2016.
- Shrewsbury (1962)
The ‘Shropshire Hospitals Broadcasting Association’ held its first meeting in 1961, a meeting that was called by Dr J W H Foy, Consultant Radiologist to Shrewsbury Group Hospitals Management Committee who was also the doctor to Shrewsbury Town Football Club. With him was Mr Frank Leath, JP, Chairman of the Group Hospitals Management Committee. They met four Directors of Shrewsbury Town Football Club and the then Player Manager of the club, Mr G A Rowley. The purpose of the meeting was to establish a broadcasting service from the football ground, Gay Meadow, to one of the oldest hospitals in the country, The Royal Salop Infirmary (established in 1724). The meeting was successful and arrangements were made to connect Gay Meadow to the hospital.
The first football broadcast commentary, which was made by Harold Fletcher, went out in April 1962. Assisting Harold were Dick Tanswell and Frank Leath. During that month a Broadcast Committee was established with Dr Foy becoming Chairman. Frank Leath was to remain as the Secretary of the organisation until 1986 when he became the Chairman.
Between 1962 and 1973 a total of 13 hospitals joined the service. Four in Shrewsbury, one in Ironbridge (16), two in Telford (18), one in Ludlow (30), one in Bishops Castle (29, one in Whitchurch (21), one in Oswestry (21) and two others, the Cross Houses Hospital (8) and Robert Jones & Agnes Hunt Orthopaedic Hospital (21). Distances in miles are given in brackets and reveal one of the widest spread services to have existed. In 1964 the football commentaries were being heard in the Copthorne Hospital. Thirteen years later the now named Royal Shrewsbury Hospital, built on the Copthorne site, started to receive the service. Hospitals in Bridgnorth (22) and Shifnal (17) were connected in 1975.
The football commentary team from 1962 to 1988 (located in a ‘Broadcast Room’ at the Gay Meadow ground), consisted of Frank Davies, Dick Tansell and Frank Leath (all three being Justices of the Peace for the Shrewsbury Division!).
In 1990 Frank and Dick were still carrying out the commentaries for all Shrewsbury Town FC games.
- Hereford (About 1964)
The Hereford Radio Red Lions Commentaries were launched circa 1964. Very little is known about the history of this service.
George Burton, an ex-chairman of the ‘National Association of Hospital Broadcasting Organisations’ (NAHBO) wrote in 1987: “The original commentators have moved on. The most senior commentator (in terms of service, and the only ‘Lion’ actively involved) is a local chap Roy Williams, who was a member of the famous Hereford United giant-killing team of the fifties. I have been commentating for seven years and Paul Sheath, who travels down from Stoke-on-Trent, has been with us for three years. We also have another ex-footballer, Charlie Thompson, and he acts as the football analyst”.
- Oxford (September, 1967)
The idea for a football commentary service in Oxford originated in the early part of 1967. The Reading Hospital Broadcasting Association contacted the Oxford Telephone Relay Office to arrange a line in order to carry out a commentary when their football team played at Oxford. The man who handled the enquiry was Cyril Gardener, an Oxford United fan. He began to wonder why this service could not be provided in Oxford. As a result a group of about eight people was formed to consider the possibility and in a very short time an association was formed and premises arranged.
The ‘Oxford Hospitals Broadcasting Association’ took to the air in September 1967. Under the guidance of a small group of Post Office engineers and local radio enthusiasts it relayed football commentaries from The Manor, the home of the Oxford Football Club, to the Churchill and Nuffield hospitals. In 1968 the Radcliffe Infirmary and the Eye Hospital were connected to the service (the newly built John Radcliffe Hospital joined the service in two stages, part 1 in 1974 and part 2 in 1978).
Within two years of starting the football commentary service arrangements were being made to receive commentaries on away matches. A letter from the Oxford service to Bob Parker of the Nottingham Football Commentary Service stated: “I would like to receive your commentary of the Football League Cup match, Forest V Oxford United on 15-10-69“. The letter added: “The hospitals receiving our programmes are:- The Churchill, The Radcliffe Infirmary and The Wingfield. Also on this occasion the commentary will be relayed to the United Supporters Club which will increase the audience by several hundred people”.
Peta Simmons of Radio Cherwell, Oxford Hospital Broadcasting, reported in 1990 that the Oxford commentary service had been taken or received by about half the clubs in the league, with particular close contact with Reading and Swindon.
The members of the original group were John and Liz Simpson, Dave Weaver, Ralph Porter, Brenda Knight, Derek Turner, Clive Walton and commentators Mick Alsworth, Jim Hall and Cyril Gardner. Both Mick and Jim were still commentating in 1990, joined by Gerry Cadle who started in 1969. Dave Weaver, the original Chief Engineer, was also still a member in 1990.
- Chertsey (1970’s)
Pete Bray reported in 2017. “Radio Wey’s Sportscene programme has been running for over 40 years and has developed from humble beginnings to our most technologically complex and exciting shows”.
Sportscene started in the 1970s when Alan Timbrell, one of the founders of Radio Wey, said to Brian Mott: “You’re a Walton & Hersham supporter. How about doing a commentary for Radio Wey?”
At that time football teams like Walton, Staines and Woking were struggling; The Addlestone football club was around then so we went there, and the Leatherhead football team were doing well too, so that became the best club to follow “albeit that on big match days commentary was done from the roof of the club house!”
During the 1980s Saturday Sportscene was hosted weekly mainly by Pete Bray, providing updates and results on the major sporting events (football and even racing) gathered from a TV in the studio displaying the BBC’s teletext service “Ceefax”.
Pete Bray, who was still presenting the programme occasionally in 2017, recalls: “We also had our own telephone line installed to the Woking ground so were able to provide first half-reports and second half commentaries from that ground with relative ease.
Other grounds required us to ‘tap-in’ to their phone system to connect our O/B unit to them, but luckily we had a number of BT staff on our membership to help us with that, so we were able to provide commentaries from other local grounds like Chertsey and Walton & Hersham too”.
“Clive Stevens joined the team of volunteers at Hospital Radio Wey as it was back then in 1990. Having watched non-league football at Staines Town FC since he was 9 years old, he was keen to get involved with the station’s local football coverage.
At the time there were 2 studio presenters with just one match covered live with first half reports and second half commentaries”.
“As Brian was a BT phone engineer by trade, he was able to ensure we had a land line available by hook or by crook! Putting up temporary lines by clambering over the roof of the main stand was an all too familiar event.
Clive realised that as we had two land lines connected to our studios at St Peter’s, we had the potential to develop our service. After a year or so, he managed to persuade a close friend and fellow supporter of the Swans to report for us when we were commentating at other matches. Initially he had to use a pay phone from the old Staines club house, but it wasn’t long before the task was made easier with the arrival of mobile phones”
The 2000s “really opened up the opportunity to further extend our service, and over the next few years we managed to get other friends involved too. We also found that press officers of some clubs were happy to put their team on the map by reporting via mobile phones for home and away matches.
Landlines were slowly phased out at the grounds as we found ways of getting reliable connections from our Outside Broadcast kit to our mobile phones. We were now commentating on both halves of our main match with the studio presenter anchoring the programme”.
“We developed a studio rota of half a dozen presenters which took the pressure off finding one or two people to be in the studios on a Saturday afternoon every week for 8 months of the year.
We also started broadcasting Radio Wey on line 24 hours a day 7 days a week. For some big matches, we had listeners on line from Spain, Sweden, Japan and Australia! Our peak on line audience was in excess of 900 for a promotion play off final in then what was the Ryman Premier Division”.
“By 2010 the ever growing coverage was testing our ageing equipment and our mobile connections too so we successfully applied for a grant through the National Lottery. This allowed us to invest in specialist sports commentary equipment including a supply of wireless headphones for supporters with visual impairments to sit in the main stand and listen to our commentary.
We couldn’t afford even a single ISDN line so we purchased some netbooks capable to connecting to the internet using a dongle or wi-fi if the clubs had that set up.
Our studio engineer and IT man installed Skype in the studios and on our new netbooks too which we used to connect not only to our main match commentary team but also to a couple of reporters on the same group call.
The arrival of all this technology has also totally changed the way we manage the show in recent years”.
In 2017 Pete Bray wrote: “You will hear live full match commentary from the top local football match of the day plus reports from matches involving Woking, Staines Town, Ashford Town, Hanworth Villa, Walton & Hersham, Brentford, Hampton and Richmond Borough, Bracknell Town, Molesey & Dorking Wanderers”
“The commentary is not always from Chertsey. Excluding Brentford, it is from one of the eight grounds on the above list, and the Sportscene producers decide which one to make the main match each week. It depends who is at home of course and who they are playing, and the importance of the game.
Quite often we cover Woking, but Staines Town, Hampton & Richmond Borough are other favourites. For really important matches, we may even travel to an away ground .FA cup and end of season for example”.
“We use a Skype link via a 3G dongle to cover the main match and call reporters at each of the other games for pre-match news, ~20 minutes in to 1st half, end of first half, part way through second half and full-time.
Our reporters are often either very keen fans or associated with the club in some way. Many either live close to their ground or are happy to travel. One of our reporters is even a referee!”