The return of the Oxford and Cambridge boat race to the BBC in 2010 continued an association that dates back to 1927. Now available on all platforms, the first broadcast race on 2 April 1927 was an event that the Radio Times trailed as “one of the biggest treats that the BBC has provided yet”.
The technical challenge of providing a running commentary over the length of the four and a quarter mile course was considerable. The commentators – Mr Nickalls and Mr Squire – described the race to listeners from a launch boat, which followed the Oxford and Cambridge crews. An aerial on the launch relayed the signal to two receiving stations in Barnes, from where it was sent by land line to Savoy Hill for broadcast. Care was taken to evoke the atmosphere along the banks of the Thames, as well as to describe the race, which was won by Cambridge.
The boat race was first televised in 1938 but cameras only covered the finish line and boat house. Viewers had to be content with John Snagge’s commentary – on radio and television – and a chart showing the race’s progress. The BBC coverage of the 2010 race used 25 cameras on land, nine on the water, and one in the air.