Yet another of the sporting “crown jewels” disappears from the BBC TV this year when they cover their last Grand National. At least this time it will remain a free-to-view event over on Channel 4.
The BBC has only been covering the Grand National on TV since 1960, you’d have thought it would’ve longer somehow. Radio coverage dates back to 1927.
Here’s part of the coverage of the 1997 National, the one that didn’t happen. It was to have been Peter O’Sullevan’s last commentary on the Aintree classic. As he told David Gillard in the Radio Times “I’m 79 and this will be the 50th Grand National that I’ve covered for the BBC, so it seemed the perfect punctuation point. I think it would be almost obscene to be commentating when I’m 80.”
In this clip the Grandstand presenter is Desmond Lynam and he chats to Peter about his preparations for the race. We also learn that the binoculars that he’s used to call the races over the years originate from an old German submarine.
However, the 1997 was momentous for another reason. A coded message was received that indicated that a bomb had been placed at Aintree. The Clerk of the Course had no option but to evacuate the course, and eventually to postpone the race.
Commentator Jim McGrath takes over the coverage whilst Des and the team are relegated to broadcasting from the car park where he interviews, amongst other, former BBC commentator Julian Wilson and a very tearful Jenny Pitman. Meanwhile Richard Pitman and Peter Scudamore resort to commentating tucked away inside one of the OB trucks.
As the recording ends Des hands back to the Grandstand studio and Gary Lineker, who presumably was hanging around since Football Focus (and preparing for that evening’s Match of the Day).
The race was postponed until the following Monday afternoon when it was won by Lord Gyllene.