WIMBLEDON '95: The big breakfast show

When America wakes up, it tunes in to Wimbledon. Bud Collins of NBC sweeps the cutting-room floor for memories of finals past

DURING his first Wimbledon men's final in the commentary box, Bjorn Borg looked at me and Dick Enberg in astonishment as though he were penned with a couple of loonies. This was 1983, and the man who was a hero to millions of New Zealand sheep (as well as the few scattered citizens) - Chris Lewis - was about to play John McEnroe for the singles title.

Borg, the five-times champion, was on home territory but as close as he would ever be again to Centre Court. He was flanked by me and Enberg in the NBC booth, a low-lying bunker in the arena's south-east sector. As the closing act of a brief, unwanted career (two tournaments) as commentator, Bjorn was involved in the customary shtick known as the opening stand- up, a three-way discussion on the afternoon's prospects.

After I'd rhapsodised on the unseeded Lewis's incredible odyssey to the highest level, through upset after upset, and the odds he now faced, Enberg called on Borg: "Bjorn, what does Chris Lewis have to do to beat McEnroe?"

Borg, who had lost his own Wimbledon eminence to McEnroe two years before, stared, stunned, wondering why these two madmen were applying such window- dressing to what he knew as the truth. His shocked reply, in three words: "Lewis can't win!"

Oh.

He was, of course, right on the money - 6-2 6-2 6-2. But what could our rejoinder to that expert analysis be? Enberg, the lead NBC tennis presenter for the past 16 years, got us into a commercial even as we realised that Bjorn's heart would never get into television.

That Breakfast at Wimbledon, as the productions of the men's and women's finals have been called since 1979, was a dramatic flop, - our first.

But by that time the revolutionary concept of showing the matches live at breakfast time was established. At first the idea was sneered at by the NBC executives, but thanks to the performance of Roscoe Tanner on and off court in the first live final, the programme became established.

As the climax of the men's competition approached, we received a couple of jolts. Despite our prayers, neither John McEnroe nor Jimmy Connors would be in the final. We felt that we needed one of them - or both, ideally - to spark interest in this innovation back home.

Instead, to face the invincible Borg, was Tanner. No great draw and, we believed, a certain pigeon for Sweden's angelic assassin. Further woe: the All England clubbies were not acceding to NBC's request that the final be delayed a short time, say to 2.10pm, in order that we could show the preliminary panoramic fluff and commercials prior to play when we came on air at 2pm.

"Not on," was the unsympathetic answer to the plea for a schedule alteration. "Never done it before."

That attitude would mellow in succeeding years with subsequent rises in rights fees. But in 1979 NBC was stunned. After all, wasn't the US Open schedule drawn up exactly according to the whims of CBS?

What to do? "By the time we get on the air Borg may have won the first set," wailed our commander, Don Ohlmeyer, whose feared that his brainchild of live transmission of the final might be stillborn.

Over my 24 years with NBC, I've had more partners than Elizabeth Taylor or Nell Gwynn, among them Ann Jones, Billie Jean King, Tracy Austin, John Newcombe, Jimmy Connors. One of them that year was Donald Dell, an ex- Davis Cup captain. He also happened to be Tanner's agent. Ohlmeyer had two questions for him. Did Tanner have a chance to win maybe one set and avoid a debacle?

Dell, a lawyer gifted in circumlocution, replied effusively: "No chance."

Then did Dell have any influence with the clubbies? Could he effect a delay? Ten minutes would be enough.

"No. But let me see what I can do."

Anyway, 2pm arrived - but there were no players. Was there hope? We went on the air warily. Minutes crept by. Our visuals of London and Wimbledon flooded the screen. Still no players appeared on court. Strange but good. After Enberg, Dell and I showed our faces and exhausted our wisdom in the 90-second stand-up, the all-important commercials began to roll.

Voila! As though on cue, at the first commercials' end, Borg and Tanner strode on to Centre Court and into our cameras. We gave them a more rousing reception than the multitude. "Perfect timing," the producer, Ted Nathanson, burbled into my earpiece. "We're saved."

But Part One of Tanner's NBC rescue was momentarily forgotten. Part Two was to be the piece de resistance, the match of Tanner's life, a thriller he very nearly stole from Borg 6-7 6-1 3-6 6-3 6-4 as brazenly as he had stolen those precious minutes from the traditional timetable.

Afterwards, Dell revealed that he'd asked Tanner to stall in the changing room if possible. He tried to make it sound casual, so as not to throw off his man before his career's foremost trial, saying something trivial, like the future of tennis in America depends, Roscoe, on your tardiness.

Tanner took it to heart. When Peter Morgan, the master of ceremonies, in charge of getting the combatants to the court on time, made his rounds Tanner was not in evidence. Morgan thought little of it at first, but then after a minute or so began conducting a search. Still no Tanner.

Roscoe had secreted himself in a lavatory cubicle. Morgan began knocking on doors. Reaching Tanner's, he heard a voice. "Be right out, Peter." Nerves, thought Morgan. "All right. Come along then, getting late." Tanner felt he could count on Morgan's propriety in not hauling him from the stall. Finally, waiting as long as he thought he could in good conscience, before they called in the Beefeaters to rouse him, Tanner emerged. Just right. The show went on, hardly anybody noticing the pause except grateful NBC.

Four years later, we came up with the empty Lewis v McEnroe match, which would probably have killed us had it been the first live transmission. This year we are beaming 40 hours to the US, our most ambitious production yet, and a far blab from 1972 when it started and we were reduced to airing abbreviated highlights to an audience that already knew the result. And the tape was subject to further cuts if the baseball game that preceded the tennis overran.

There was an upside to this, however. One year our camera panned over Princess Margaret in the Royal Box and inadvertently caught her making a nasal excavation. "Great forehand," analysed I. The Princess can thank a ball game that went to an extra- inning for saving her embarrassment. She wound up on the cutting room floor.

This year John McEnroe, who is considerably less reticent Borg, returns to the team and, after a year's maternity leave, so does Chris Evert. With Enberg, Hanna Stom and me rounding it out, we're proud to say that among the five of us we have six titles at the Big W (three each for Chris and John).

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Sport
CSKA Moscow celebrate after equalising with a late penalty
football

Arts and Entertainment
music
Life and Style
tech

Company reveals $542m investment in start-up building 'a rocket ship for the mind'

News
Bourgogne wine maker Laboure-Roi vice president Thibault Garin (L) offers the company's 2013 Beaujolais Nouveau wine to the guest in the wine spa at the Hakone Yunessun spa resort facilities in Hakone town, Kanagawa prefecture, some 100-kilometre west of Tokyo
i100
Arts and Entertainment
James Blunt's debut album Back to Bedlam shot him to fame in 2004
music

Singer says the track was 'force-fed down people's throats'

Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

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

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

IT Project Manager

Competitive: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Chelmsford a...

Business Intelligence Specialist - work from home

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and growing IT Consultancy fir...

Business Intelligence Specialist - work from home

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and growing IT Consultancy fir...

IT Manager

£40000 - £45000 per annum + pension, healthcare,25 days: Ashdown Group: An est...

Day In a Page

Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Let's talk about loss

We need to talk about loss

Secrecy and silence surround stillbirth
Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Women may be better suited to space travel than men are
Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

How to dress with authority

Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

Tim Minchin interview

For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album