Wimbledon 1997: Golden days brighten the grey afternoons

Wimbledon on TV

For many broadcasting organisations the obliteration of an event for which they had paid millions of pounds by a meteorological freak would be cause for panic in the boardroom, hysteria in the production gallery and outbreaks of the vapours on the studio floor. But over many damp years the BBC has managed to turn the rainy day at Wimbledon into an art form with its own peculiar charm. While those with tickets for the tennis last week will have greeted the grey skies with dismay, many armchair fans will have been delighted.

Gone was the lottery of live action, which might serve up a five-set thriller but is more likely to provide a smash-and-grab straight sets demolition job, especially early in the Championships when the Grand Slam champions regularly gobble up smaller fry from the Satellite circuits with barely a burp. Instead the BBC can wheel out footage of the greats in their prime, and viewers can bask in happy recollection of a time when rackets were wooden and personalities weren't.

So on Thursday afternoon, while the players watched Countdown in their swanky lounge above Centre Court, the viewers at home revelled in McEnroe v Connors from 1981. Back then the SuperBrat had enough curly hair to necessitate a bandanna, and a powerful conviction that he was the victim of international conspiracy of myopic line-judges. Connors had yet to develop the wonderful crowd-manipulative skills of his twilight years, but was seen as the elder statesman who would teach the young pup to mind his manners.

To prove that he was no fuddy-duddy, Jimbo was armed with a metal-framed racket, a technological marvel of the time which to the viewer of today resembles something that might be found in a kitchen or allotment: a salad- strainer, perhaps, or a device for keeping weevils off a cabbage patch. The balls were white, and seemed to travel slowly; the play was more graceful than the attitudes.

At the end of the match we were brought back to the present, but the transition from Golden Age to grey afternoon was inevitably eased by Desmond Lynam, the masterful Master of Ceremonies.

Des was not put out that it had rained on Auntie's parade. It takes a bit more than a downpour to ruffle his demeanour. Let there be a deluge of Biblical proportions, let the winds crack their cheeks and cataracts and hurricanes spout on the Wimbledon Park Road and Des would glance out of the window, raise an eyebrow and murmur: "Nasty out."

Film buffs may recall Broadcast News, in which William Hurt played an anchor man who rose above better-informed but less laid-back rivals to front a crucial bulletin with flawless calm while chaos raged in his earpiece. Lynam could have won an Oscar in the role: could Hurt smirk and say "Barabanschikova" at the same time?

Lynam's ease was infectious. Sue Barker, who might have been expected to stiffen up a little under such challenging conditions, was at her smiley best, like the vicar's wife at a sodden but still unusually successful fete ("Indoors if wet").

Barker's party piece, in the role of Suzanne Barker, was to become a weathergirl and present a gloomy forecast from the Wimbledon studio. In an amiably amateur touch, the map of Britain was projected on to what seemed to be a green tablecloth strung up between a couple of chairs.

"Suzanne" did a fine job considering that all she could see was a tablecloth, noting a speck of summer snow in the Highlands, getting the location of Wales bang on and declaring with a fine alliterative flourish that the "spits and spots of rain will stay with us in SW19 for some time to come".

Where she came slightly unstuck was pointing out where the sunshine was, understandable given that there wasn't a lot of it about. The best of the weather, Barker said, was "where my mother lives", according to her gesture, in about 60 fathoms of water many nautical miles south-west of Land's End. But Mum, watching at home in Devon, will have been too filled with pride at her daughter's latest career move to have noticed. And Bobby Charlton will have been pleased by the geographical slip: at least his daughter won't have to give up the day job.

After that it was back to the stuff that the fans really thrill to: comedy out-takes cut together to rock music by the video-tape editors, who really have been earning their corn this week. If you come across a group of haggard individuals chanting and stomping in the technical vehicle park at Wimbledon, don't be alarmed: it will just be the boys from VT doing a Sundance.

Then it was time for Lynam to wrap up, and a 15-minute break before the rain restarted on BBC2. "It's awful, isn't it?" he sighed, wryly. But it wasn't: when it pours, Des reigns.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Technical Support Specialist - Document Management

£30000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A leading provider of document ...

Recruitment Genius: Legal Secretary

£17000 - £17800 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to work ...

Recruitment Genius: Ad Ops Manager - Up to £55K + great benefits

£45000 - £55000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is a digital speci...

The Green Recruitment Company: Operations Manager - Anaerobic Digestion / Biogas

£40000 - £45000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: Operation...

Day In a Page

Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

Why are we addicted to theme parks?

Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

Iran is opening up again to tourists

After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
10 best PS4 games

10 best PS4 games

Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent