Monday, 27 June 2016

#Wimbledon - A Fan Letter To #SueBarker @clarebalding #McEnroe & @BBCSport

DC Editor Adam re-blogs his love letter to the BBC Wimbledon coverage (updated version, first posted 2012)

It’s a London Thing is our series in which we turn the spotlight on a unique aspect of London – perhaps a curious shop, sometimes an eccentric restaurant, a hidden place, book or oddity. The subject matter will be different every week. The running theme, however, will remain constant: you have to come to London to enjoy it. It’s A London Thing.

Wimbledon. It’s A London Thing.

So why do I, a Londoner, end up watching it on TV every year?

Okay, tickets are tough to come by and the annual ballot is vastly oversubscribed. And summer is a pretty busy time for leading you folks on London Walks tours!

But even if I were to acquire tickets for Centre Court to see my countryman Andy Murray lift the title (three LONG years since a Scotsman won Wimbledon! Three years of hurt!) I’d still feel as if I were missing out. For as long as I can remember I have watched Wimbledon on TV. 

It has become an annual ritual.

As a sports-mad child, I followed every major sporting event – even golf, an aberration that, as an adult (and a Scot) I find stultifying in the extreme. So much so that I firmly believe that Nicola Sturgeon as leader of the nation should issue an apology for inflicting that infernal game on the world

(Like she hasn't got anything better to do with her time at the moment. Ahem.)

As my old pal Ian once said” “Golf? The pitch is too big and the ball’s too wee.” Like spending time with a dull tour guide (none in THIS parish, of course), golf really is “a good walk spoiled”

Suffice to say, golf is NOT a London Thing.

With every shift of sporting season, every child in my hometown (and in towns the world over) recreated the big events in the streets outside our homes. One week, in the fields of our dreams, we were Zico scoring for Brazil, then Ian Botham hitting a boundary. And every June and July we became Jimmy Connors playing at Wimbledon.

Wimbledon coincided with the start of the school holidays in Scotland, where I grew up. Getting to watch TV in the afternoon doubled the pleasure of following every serve and rally. This is back in the day when TV was switched off by the BBC itself and we youngsters at home were faced with the choice of watching the test card until the moving pictures came back on again, or going outside to run around and stave off obesity in later life. No bad thing.

In my child’s mind’s eye, I pictured Wimbledon as distant, mythical  – a special place, green and pleasant and dedicated only to tennis. A kind of sporting Brigadoon that appeared but once a year, presenting its sporting pageant to the world, then dissolving into the mist for a twelvemonth. 

That Wimbledon was simply a blameless London suburb never once entered my head. That ordinary people lived and ate and shopped there seemed outlandish. Such is the mythology of the world’s greatest tennis tournament.

For me, even now, in calloused and beleaguered mid life, on TV, the magic of Wimbledon still persists. 

On the nightly broadcast Today At Wimbledon the TV team sits high above the courts, with central London distant in the background and the greenswards of Wimbledon’s courts at their feet. Their lofty position makes them appear like the Gods of Tennis, controlling the events beneath their all seeing gaze. It thrills me every single year.

Sue Barker is the face of BBC tennis coverage. A former champion tennis pro, she has been a BBC fixture for two decades. For an entire generation of TV Wimbledon fans, the tournament just wouldn’t be the same without her. One of the BBC’s foremost sports broadcasters, she brings us her insights on the game with authority and an impressive light touch.

Clare Balding will this year front the Today At Wimbledon broadcast in the evening. It's a shame she is double booked, what with England without a government as I blog this. She is not only an expert broadcaster, sure-footed, commanding and excellent company, but I think she'd make an outstanding PM. Go on Clare, stand! Between you and Nicola Sturgeon I think these islands of ours will be in pretty good hands. 

And then there’s McEnroe – a link with those cobbled-together tennis games of my childhood. The goody-two-shoes kids wanted to be Borg and John Lloyd. The cool kids wanted to be the badass John McEnroe.

His career took place at the top of the game, he experienced the highs and lows of top level modern sport. His famous rage of yore is now tamed, the poetic Irish soul within now at peace with the machismo of the combative sportsman. Who better to unravel the psychodrama of combat on Centre Court?

And I mustn’t forget the old-time theme music for Today At Wimbledon – a march entitled A Sporting Occasion

It’s not played every day – these days the editors opt for all kinds of music for a play-out montage, always well done. But when the rumpity-pumpity brass and strings of A Sporting Occasion begin to swell, every Brit of a certain age realizes that the notes have become part of our national DNA.

What is that strange feeling in my breast when A Sporting Occasion blares out in the living room? Is it… pride

Perhaps Prime Minister Balding could arrange to have it as our new national anthem?

Our London pride can find a fitting home at Wimbledon every year regardless of results on the court. The Championships are both the most famous in the world and the tennis world’s most coveted prize. And the TV coverage is the finest there is.

Wimbledon. It’s A London Thing.

A London Walk costs £10 – £8 concession. To join a London Walk, simply meet your guide at the designated tube station at the appointed time. Details of all London Walks can be found at

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