BBC marks 80 years of televised Boat Race coverage


The Boat Race 2018 is live across the BBC on Saturday, 24 March, marking 80 years since the event was first televised by the corporation.

The iconic clash between Oxford and Cambridge Universities will play out across all BBC platforms in an event first shown on BBC TV back in 1938.

Live coverage of the 2018 Men’s Boat Race and Women’s Boat Race will be on BBC One from 3.50pm, presented by Clare Balding.

In addition to the thrilling 4.2 mile races, the BBC’s coverage will feature all the build-up, expert analysis and a look back over the history of one of Britain’s most iconic sporting traditions.

Joining Clare and offering their expert opinion will be double Olympic gold medallist Helen Glover and Olympic champion Dame Katherine Grainger.

Commentary for both the men’s and women’s races will come from Andrew Cotter and 2016 Olympic silver medallist Zoe de Toledo.

The men’s race also sees double Olympic champion and former Cambridge race winner Tom James in the commentary box with four-time Olympic gold medallist Matthew Pinsent reporting from out on the water.

Double Olympic medallist and three-time world champion George Nash and double Olympic medallist and two-time world champion Constantine Louloudis will also bring their insight from having rowed the race to the BBC team.

The women’s race sees additional reporting from Olympic silver medallist Cath Bishop, accompanied with Tom James out on the water and former Oxford rower Matthew Pinsent umpiring the race.

One of the nation’s oldest sporting events, the Men’s Boat Race first took place in 1829 and has been held annually since 1856, with 2018 its 164th year.

The Women’s Boat Race started in 1927 with history being made in 2015 when the women’s race joined the men’s on the Tideway.

The BBC holds a long tradition with the event, with the first radio coverage in 1927 followed by TV coverage 11 years later.

In 1938, most of the race had audio coverage only, using John Snagge’s commentary and illustrated in the Alexandra Palace studio with a chart of the course and the two boats being moved along it using magnets, while three live cameras covered the finish line.

It was not until 1949 that the race could be televised in full, using eight shore-based cameras and another in a launch following the flotilla.

From 1993, commentator Barry Davies became the ‘Voice of the Boat Race’ and by 2000, fuelled by Britain’s Olympics rowing success, coverage expanded from a slot on Grandstand to a two-hour programme.

The Boat Race was broadcast on ITV from 2005 to 2009, before returning to the BBC in 2010. Five years later marked an historic year when the women’s event joined the men’s on the Tideway, with crews competing on the same day and the same course for the first time in history.

The scale of the live television production has also expanded. Remaining one of the BBC’s most technical broadcasting challenges, the Boat Race team now uses 30 cameras, including 6 on the Oxford and Cambridge boats alone.

Commenting on the BBC’s 80th anniversary of its first televised broadcast of the event, Barbara Slater, Director of BBC Sport, said:

“Eighty years on from its first TV broadcast, we are immensely proud to still be bringing an event steeped in so much history and tradition to a free-to-air audience.

“Technology has moved on greatly in this time but the intense rivalry of these two great institutions’ races has stood the test of time and means it’s an event as thrilling today as it was in 1938.”

BBC Radio 5 live Sports Extra will provide live commentary for both races with the BBC Sport website streaming the race live and providing clips, the latest news and reports.

Last year Oxford won the 163rd men’s race, while Cambridge women claimed victory in their 72nd meeting.

Scroll down below for archive photographs from BBC TV’s early Boat Race broadcasts.


Men’s & Women’s Races – Oxford v Cambridge
LIVE  3.50pm-6.15pm

Women’s Boat Race – 4.31pm
Men’s Boat Race – 5.32pm














































Pictures courtesy of BBC Media Centre

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