As much as I would have loved to have attended one of the events at this year's Olympic Games I'm fairly sure that had I have done so I wouldn't have had a better seat than the one I actually had - my comfy armchair in front of the TV at home. Not only that, thanks to the BBC I could watch any event I chose, just by pressing a red button. The 2012 Olympics turned out to be a triumphant occasion but it surely also offered the armchair viewer the ultimate in sports coverage as, at times, as many as 24 different programmes were being screened. British TV sports coverage has certainly come a long way from its first attempt in 1937 when coverage of Wimbledon was screened to about 2000 viewers. This fascinating book traces the rise and rise of televised sport from these early days and also speculates on where TV sport will go from here.
Martin Kelner does a wonderful job of guiding the reader through the history of TV sport, explaining how sport has turned from being almost an afterthought into being the bedrock on which satellite TV was built. He has obviously done his research well because the book just about touches upon everything anything of any relevance on the subject. Kelner is also a very funny writer which means that the book is always a joy to read but I particularly enjoyed the sections about the pioneering years of TV sport and the people behind them and being reminded about those much missed programmes, Grandstand and ITV's cheap & cheerful version, World of Sport.
I find it hard to fault this book. Martin Kelner is practically a cult figure in the North of England due to his radio shows and many others slavishly read his Guardian column, Screen Break, and I'm sure that this book will disappoint none of them; I just hope that non-Kelner devotees will read it as well.
The book is published by Wisden Sports Writing whose remit is "to showcase brilliant writing". They have definitely succeeded in this with Sit Down and Cheer.
on 24 September 2013
As a fan of Mr Kelner's unblemished punditry on shows like Fighting Talk and also as a fan of watching sport on TV I had to read this book. It's not a disappointment either. Stuffed full of information and interesting background detail it covers an era of TV sport which pretty much lines up with my own life time. My first memories of TV sport are in the black and white era of Grandstand, watching TV on what my mother refers to, without a trace of irony, as her nine inch Bush. Also watching World of Sport at my Nan's complete with the obligatory hour of grappling (Mick McManus and co, not me and my Nan). So the book evokes warm memories of my childhood, as well as memories of the sporting events mentioned in the book. There are some wonderful little nuggets of information to discover here.
To be honest I think watching sport in person is overrated. It's much better watched from your sofa, and Mr K describes how this boon to civilisation came about in interesting and often hilarious detail. He brings the story up to date, through the rise of Sky and now the dominance of betting funding the whole thing. And thank goodness for that. Sky Super Sunday would not be the same without regular breaks for a disembodied Ray Winstone to recommend us to 'ave a bang on something or other.
The only thing I would say is that the author probably hasn't publicised this work on social media enough. A few tweets recommending it to his followers could have got the word of mouth going. It would surely be at the top of the best seller lists by now.
on 5 January 2013
BBC Leeds and The Guardian must be mad! A brilliant book. Well worth purchasing. Martin Kelner is my favourite panelist on FT by some distance, and this book does nothing to change it.!
on 13 November 2012
Just to say that i have just finished the book and thought it was a great read - takingthe humour that is so visible each week in Martin's Sport on TV Guardian column and adding the solid research and intellectual rigour (not normally associated with Martin - especially his pocasts) and you get a full and informed guide to how sport in this country developed from a Saturday betting attraction to a focal part of our television viewing - and reasoning to subscribe
In conclusion - Its a great read ,followwing the lives and times of several sports commentators whom i grew up, with delivered in a sharply written and very funny prose
I purchased this book with the expectation that it would be full of gags from newspaper articles, radio shows and blogs; a compilation of Kelner's finest works, along with reworkings of Fighting Talk greatest hits. I was totally surprised to find myself reading an original work of great depth, insight and humour.
Most people who come across this book will know Martin Kelner from BBC Radio's Fighting Talk, and FT cronies pop up throughout the book, but its clear that this is more than a cobbled together job. Kelner has spent time with former TV executives, commentators, bystanders and decision makers to give a full account of how TV changed the way we view sport.
Understandably, the majority of the book is devoted to football, as we hear about the rivalries between ITV and BBC, Motson and Davies, Coleman and pretty much everyone, and we are reminded of the greatness of the likes of Frank Bough and Jimmy Hill, before "other things" overshadowed them.
There is much love and attention granted, copious amounts of research and references given, and I would recommend this book to anyone who has an interest in the time before Sky took over everything.
on 1 July 2014
It's rare that I read a book in its entirety in a couple of days, but - despite being factually based - Sit Down and Cheer is a real page-turner for anyone who grew up in the 60s and 70s, when televised sport was ingrained in the fabric of the nation, in the days when commentators and presenters were household names, and almost felt like one of the family - whether one was a sports fan or not (there was actually little choice, much of the time).
I can only begin to imagine the many hours of research that went into this book - it feels like a genuine labour of love. There's enough detail but without feeling like you're reading a text-book, plus - on his own admission - Martin injects his own personal experience of events in between the facts. This serves as a kind of time-warp that transports the reader back to days of studiously avoiding midweek football results before Sportsnight screened the highlights, what you were doing during the clatter tension of the teatime teleprinter on Grandstand each Saturday, or how you tried to pick up clues from Football Focus to figure out where Match of the Day was being recorded that day.
My only slight criticism is that, in his bias towards mainstream sports such as football, cricket, athletics and horse-racing, Martin can come across as a little dismissive of others that in their time (or still are) were equally popular with the TV audience. For example, motor sports scarcely get a mention (was Murray Walker not, in his own way, as great a commentator as David Coleman?), plus I take exception to speedway being lumped in with the stage-managed spectacle that was all-in wrestling. During the 1970s and 80s it was the second most popular summer spectator sport after cricket, and regularly appeared on World of Sport. Even today it commands - at the time of writing - an average of five to six hours per week on satellite TV. Hardly a minority sport.
In conclusion, this book is a social history as much as a sporting chronicle, and those familiar with Martin's radio shows will be reassured to know that he writes just as he speaks - it's as if he's sitting next to you. Highly recommended.
on 9 January 2014
An amusing and light hearted journey through television sport from the early Grandstand days to modern cut throat bidding for sporting rights via Sky and BT Sport.
Martin Kelner is a skilfull and anecdotal writer and those familiar with his Guardian columns will enjoy the extra room he has here to expand his repertoire. All the main suspects are here: David Coleman, Eamonn Andrews, Frank Bough, Dickie Davies, Des Lynam, Steve Ryder. People in their late fifties and sixties will particular enjoy the retelling of the golden days of TV sport from the seventies and eighties. The only shame is that there are not more photos to go along with the stories.
An easy, coffee table book read, that can be dipped into many times.
on 22 February 2015
Like many English sports fans, the majority of the calories I burn are used up by shouting at the TV and occasionally going to the shops for more beer and crisps. Sports books tend to be about the sport itself or biographies of those who expended great effort to reach the top of their chosen sport. But in Martin Kelner's ''Sit Down and Cheer: A History of Sport on TV'', there is finally a book for the less energetic among us.
Kelner's history is certainly comprehensive, mentioning everything from the first radio broadcasts of rugby and football in the 1920s to the BBC's plans for multiple channels to cover the 2012 London Olympics. There is much about how sports coverage helped the fledgling ITV channel and, later, Channel 4 provide services in the early days and how their coverage of certain sports helped the channels grow. Conversely, there is much about how the advent of satellite television changed the futures of certain sports in the increased revenue that they paid for coverage.
I found plenty of memories within these pages, as someone who grew up in a time when sports coverage was fairly well established and I had the choice of BBC's ''Grandstand'' and ITV's ''World of Sport'' on a Saturday afternoon. I am old enough to recall the beginning of Channel 4 and Sky Sports, but was never involved enough to realise the full impact these channels had on the sports world. Many of the commentators mentioned are familiar enough to me that I can hear their voices in my head as I read their names, but I never realised how much was going on behind the scenes between them all.
Many of these commentators and hosts, Des Lynam in particular, became popular because of their relaxed and informative, yet entertaining style. Kelner has clearly picked up much from watching them, as his writing style is very similar. He has all the details at his fingertips and is able to present them in a way that stops the reader turning off or wondering what is on the other side of the page before this one is done. Given the size of the undertaking, this is very much the edited highlights, else it would become unwieldy, but it fits together so well that I felt I was getting if not the whole picture, as much as I needed. In TV terms, this is a ''Match of the Day'' book, containing the important elements and discussion of them, without getting bogged down in the unimportant parts.
Perhaps where the book falls down slightly is where Kelner talks a little more about himself. He has been involved in some sports broadcasting on both TV and radio, but he's not been as much to the fore as most of the people mentioned here. When he talks about the minor role he played, things seem to drift away from the history a little and he gives these parts more weight and time than they seem to deserve. He does mention in his afterword that this is a memoir as well as a history, but as this isn't made clear on the cover or early on, I found myself disappointed by these sections.
The majority of the book is very engaging. The politics as well as the sport are very well covered and there are memories as well as new information for the average couch sports fan. I found I was able to overlook the autobiographical parts which, whilst slightly intrusive, were only a small part of the book and had a generally enjoyable reading experience. Although, as the credits roll at the end of the book, I can't help but wonder how an audio book version read by some of the commentators listed here might sound. This was an engaging read for me, if more for the memories than some of the content.
This review may also appear, in whole or in part, under my name at any or all of www.ciao.co.uk, www.thebookbag.co.uk, www.goodreads.com, www.amazon.co.uk and www.dooyoo.co.uk
on 2 November 2012
Martin Kelner's latest book is one of the most enjoyable books I've read and much much funnier than the Karcher Vacuum thingy. In it, (the book, not the cleaning thing) the author takes the reader through the history of sport on TV and does so in his inimitable style; one which makes this reader laugh out loud.
Readers should note, however, that the book is of very limited use if one is looking for something to help keep ones' windows clean though the pages will absorb a certain amount of liquid.
Highly recommended, (the book, not the Karcher).
on 12 January 2014
Affectionately and wittily written trawl through the history of sport on British television.
Very enjoyable from start to finish, might treat myself to a "hard" copy.