Sport: Peter to Des via David

The Anniversary: Grandstand, the longest-running sports television programme, is 40 this week
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The Independent Online
WHAT AMAZED Peter Dimmock after he finally loosened the obligatory sober tie and relaxed after the first edition of Grandstand had been broadcast from the BBC studios at Lime Grove 40 years ago on Saturday was that the programme had been broadcast without being a total fiasco.

Dimmock, the still-suave granddaddy of anchormen, remembers now that a disaster had seemed inevitable at the time. "The equipment was so unreliable that the engineers did an amazing job just to keep the programme on the air," he said. "It worked and the only complete Horlicks was mine - I introduced the Horse of the Year Show and the pictures were of Ascot."

It will be at Ascot on Saturday that Dimmock, together with his present- day equivalent, Desmond Lynam, will help the Beeb celebrate what has become a Saturday (and now Sunday as well) afternoon fixture that even under competition from commercial and satellite television remains a thoroughly professional production.

Dimmock, then presenter of the midweek magazine programme Sportsview and simultaneously Head of Outside Broadcasts, was invited to front the new project because the founding editor, Paul Fox (now Sir Paul), saw him as "a safe pair of hands". The format of the first programme was, Sir Paul remembers, "much the same as it is today". The idea was to produce a "live" version of Sportsview, covering a variety of sports building up to the football results which John Tidy (who still works on the programme) "posted" on a huge scoreboard. It involved climbing a 15ft ladder. Today he masterminds the graphics on a computer screen.

As a former RAF Acting Squadron Leader, Dimmock was obviously seen as the ideal person to make the best out of being asked to fly by the seat of his pants. Sir Paul said: "We needed somebody who could link a lot of different items together and cope when things went haywire." And often they did.

Although the first programme went comparatively smoothly, Dimmock recalls other occasions when "you had to take it in your stride when you were expecting to go to Harringay Arena and a voice said, 'The line's down. Go somewhere else instead', and you just had to look in control." He added: "It was unreal how the engineers somehow managed to get some of the events we covered on to the air."

The first edition lasted two and three-quarter hours and covered racing from Ascot, golf for the Eisenhower Trophy from St Andrews and the Horse of the Year Show. Later rugby league became the staple diet. "Eddie Waring could make Castleford on a wet Saturday sound the place to be," Sir Paul said.

After only three editions Sir Paul allowed Dimmock to return to his other two jobs. David Coleman (ex-Stockport County Reserves footballer and Shropshire sprint champion) was brought in and remained for 10 years. "We had spotted him working for the BBC in the Midlands and it was clear that he knew his sport," Dimmock said. Despite a "Colemanballs" reputation, his ability to take in information, deal with producers' demands, pinpoint the significant moments and use his homework made Coleman one of the most admired professionals in the business.

In the early days, giving a cool and smart impression was not easy. Coleman remembers: "I had a special suit made because of all the wiring involved, and the pockets were made bigger to hold the microphone transmitter that enabled me to move around."

But at least the studio was fairly safe. On one occasion at the Arms Park in Cardiff, he was high on a scaffolding being blown about by a gale and getting soaked. "The box was shaking around. Twenty minutes after we got out, the whole thing collapsed."

As with all 1960s presenters, Coleman could be called on to cover virtually anything, including news. On one occasion in 1964 he was sent to Heathrow to report the Beatles' return from the United States. Paul McCartney saw him and remarked: "Christ, we must have arrived."

Frank Bough was the programme's longest-serving presenter, from 1968- 82. "At Cardiff Arms Park," he said, "I presented the programme from the touchline. I had to use an old army field telephone, one where you turned the handle, to get through to the gallery. They were terrific times, although in all my visits to the Arms Park I never saw England win."

Lynam confesses that when he first began presenting Grandstand in 1979 "it frightened me to death . . . it took years off my life. It's a difficult show to do."

Particularly if the studio lighting fails, as it did when Coleman was hosting the programme. He continued from a fire escape. Or when somebody reads the football results and later discovers that they were the half- times.