The funeral of Queen Elizabeth attracted a UK TV audience of circa 30 million, but the 1966 World Cup Final had an audience of 32.3 million UK viewers and is still acknowledged as the most watched live event. It was only available to view on BBC1 and ITV, while the Queen’s funeral was shown on some 50 channels available to UK viewers. The UK population at the time of each event means that the World Cup reached 60% while the funeral reached 41%.
On 30 July 1966 I was at work. I worked for BBC TV News at Alexandra Palace. I was just 20. Our office was on the 4th floor and I watched the game sitting on a window ledge in the tower under the TV mast. Little did I know that it was just the start of my connections with the match.
I moved across to the Sports Department in 1971 and in 1975 joined the newly created Sports Library. Our job was to review the sport video-tape holdings, ensuring that every tape we kept was properly documented and catalogued. Tapes no longer required could be re-cycled and the cost of the unit, important in those budget-conscious days, would be recovered.
Recording TV sport
The first TV sports coverage in the 1950s was either live or filmed. Film had to be processed and edited before it could be transmitted. Live coverage could be recorded onto film, called a telerecording, and could only be repeated once that film had been processed and edited. Then in the early 1960s came videotape.
In the early days videotape would be edited by cutting it, just like film. A sports tape could be edited for highlight versions and the convention was that it did not matter too much if some of it went into the bin because the critical materials would be in the highlights version, and there was a film telerecording anyway.
With the introduction of colour, black-and-white film telerecording became redundant and the colour video-tape holdings increased rapidly. Sports coverage in colour started in 1967 and became a major feature of the growth of TV. Videotape was now the only recording, retrievable in minutes, but what was on the tapes was badly documented and there was no central library. Hence there was an editorial imperative for the Sports Library which I joined.
Horror stories of the previous system soon became apparent. The 1969 Ryder Cup was covered in colour, recorded only on mobile video tape recorders. Sometime in the early 70s the tapes were wiped and reused. The only remaining sequence was Tony Jacklin’s putt for Great Britain to win, which had been copied onto a Grandstand tape. Other events had also lost valuable material to the pressure of video-tape reuse and that was not an issue unique to sports coverage.
Recovering the World Cup
The full horror of the previous system was revealed when we reviewed the tapes of the 1966 World Cup Final, the most glorious moment in British sporting history. We found that there was no complete version of the game.
We found paper records for tapes that had been wiped to be re-used, every videotape of the match in the BBC TV tape library had been edited and none of them had ever been properly reconstituted. Even the film telerecordings made at the time had been cut, both negatives and positive prints, with sequences removed and never replaced, or in some cases replaced with shots missing, trimmed or even put back out of order.
When the Sports Library was commissioned to produce a full replay of the match for the 10th Anniversary to be shown on BBC2 in August 1976, we had to repair ten years of damage.
The first breakthrough was finding that BBC Enterprises (the sales arm of BBC TV) had a film telerecording which was complete. The match was covered in black and white, so film telerecording had been used as well as videotape. The quality was not good enough to use for our programme, but at least we had a reference copy.
The first half of the match was quick to regenerate. We were able to identify first-generation material (made direct from the original outside broadcast) and had all the shots and commentary (score 1-1 at half-time). The second half was more than 30 minutes old when England took a 2-1 lead and didn’t present too many problems for us, or the last minute of full-time when Germany brought the score to 2-2. Chaos ensued in the stadium but again, we had all the shots and commentary. Virtually all the worst damage was in the coverage of extra-time.
The first challenge was Geoff Hurst’s second goal ten minutes into the first half of extra time to give England a 3-2 lead. This was awarded by the referee only after consulting with the linesman. Academic analysis in subsequent years has shown that it was a questionable decision. Piecing together a good quality version of those two minutes was a challenge because tapes had been played and replayed across this sequence so much that substantial wear was apparent on many of them. We used the best we could find.
They think it’s all over…
Then came the climax, the final minutes of the match. The German team were desperate to score and left their goalkeeper alone in their half. England captain Bobby Moore saw the space and set Geoff Hurst off with a long pass and his stunning shot hit the roof of the net – “…they think its all over… it is now.”
Everybody had their own way of editing this. We had tapes where the whole of two or three important minutes was missing, tapes where sequences had been reconstituted then re-cut (not usually regarded as acceptable) with just a few seconds missing or tapes where the final edit had been re-attached at the end of the trimmed material rendering them incoherent.
Our reference copy worked overtime as we pieced the best quality version together shot by shot. We were editing electronically by copying to create a new master tape. We reached the point where we knew we had everything except crowd shots which it seemed that no-one had found useful. Should we just ignore them, or maintain the principle that we were being faithful to the original coverage? We decided to be faithful, after all we were documenting a unique event. We were supported in this by Alec Weeks, who had actually directed the coverage ten years earlier.
Another discussion we had with Alec was about slow-motion replays of goals. This was not possible in 1966, the technology did not exist so there weren’t any, but many people had added them later. Should we add them? It was agreed not to, so again we decided to be faithful to the standards of 1966.
An appeal went out from BBC Enterprises to their contacts around the world. Did they have a tape (which should have been returned at the time) lingering in their tape stores? We were contacted by NZBC (New Zealand) who found videotape copy made for them in August 1966. They sent it over, it matched our reference copy and the quality was good, so there were all our missing shots.
…it is now
The final irony is that by including the presentation of the Jules Rimet Trophy by the Queen to Bobby Moore, which we could not omit, the coverage lasts 130 minutes. BBC2 refused to consider more than two hours – that was the length of the match on paper – and they would not budge. So we had to edit out about six minutes from the quieter moments of both the first and second halves, to include the presentation.
So it came together. The programme went out at 9pm on 3 August 1976 in the BBC2 Festival 40 season. Such a simple idea! As I recall, our audience was just over 1 million, good for a mid-week black and white programme on BBC2.