60 years of British Touring Cars: the broadcasting story

This year sees the British Touring Car Championship celebrate sixty years of high-octane, bumper to bumper racing. Currently, the championship, and its support package, enjoys up to eight hours for every race day live and free on ITV4. But, coverage in yesteryear was not quite as extensive as that…

For its first thirty years, under the banner of British Saloon Car Championship, the series had sporadic coverage on the BBC’s radio stations, but there was no formal arrangement, largely in part because deals back then were between broadcasters and circuits, making it impossible for a complete series to air on television.

The arrangement ended in 1987, allowing BBC television to cover every race in highlights form starting in 1988, with Steve Rider and Murray Walker fronting the coverage. BHP, otherwise known as Barrie Hinchcliffe Productions, were responsible for producing the BBC’s output.

Writing in his autobiography My Chequered Career, Rider goes into detail about the hurdles faced by the BHP. These include (but not limited to) funding, the placing of sponsors on the on-board camera angles, and a feature in the Sunday Times accusing the BBC of a “corrupt commissioning system.” Suffice to say that there were many different reasons why the BHP production deal may have fallen through.

Thankfully, the BHP production deal continued, and the series was a mainstay on Grandstand in the mid-1990s on BBC Two, becoming the starting point for many of today’s stars getting involved in touring cars. Television audiences increased, as did attendance figures at the circuit.

ITV pundit Paul O’Neill was one person introduced to touring cars thanks to Grandstand. “The first race I remember seeing was James Thompson winning in 1995 on Grandstand, at Thruxton in an old Cavalier,” explained O’Neil. “The thing that stuck out for me was the action that it has now, it’s part of its DNA, the other thing I remember was just how well it was broadcast especially by Steve Rider back then, but also with the music and everything they used just made it stand out massively.”

For the veteran racers that have watched the championship grow over the decades, things were slightly different back then, outside and inside the car from a broadcasting perspective. Triple BTCC champion Matt Neal fits in that category, having raced touring cars since the late 1980s. “I remember there being a VHS tape in the bottom of the foot well in the passenger seat!” recited Neal. Walker would voice over the races, which aired on a week delay in a highlights package.

“The production guys used to get the tapes, cut them all together, Murray watched it once, and voiced it in the week. Some of the mistakes off Murray were deliberate, he was a genius at commentary. It made for very exciting viewing, because they could pick and choose the action. We did have some boring races back then, but BHP were very good at finding gems over the weekend, piecing it all together for Murray to commentate on,” Neal continued.

“I used to go through the whole thing meticulously, making a shot list with brief notes on what was coming up next, then go into the sound booth and commentate on the tape pictures that were pumped into a monitor in front of me.

“I knew what was coming, of course, because I had practically learnt the vision by heart and also had my notes to remind me but, because I was making the words up as I went along instead of reading from a carefully crafted script, the effect was that the race was live and continuous rather than recorded and edited.

“It was long-winded and labour-intensive, but it worked well.” – Murray Walker, Unless I’m Very Much Mistaken (pages 174 and 175)

Rider believed the notion of delayed highlights was on “borrowed time”, and that the package produced by BHP was a “misrepresentation of the narrative and pace of the actual race,” even if it was “terrific television.”

With a Formula 1 shaped hole in the BBC’s schedules though for 1997, the corporation opted to increase their commitment to touring cars, with races airing live for the first time. Charlie Cox joined Walker in the commentary box, before Walker himself stepped aside at the end of 1997, John Watson filling the void.

Neal’s first race win in 1999 at Donington Park was one of the races that aired live, thanks to its Bank Holiday slot. It was a remarkable feat for Neal, the first win for an Independent driver in the modern era.

“Back then, you couldn’t compete on engines, tyres, and we ran with year old cars,” Neal recalled. “The first race of 1999, we ran with the same tyres as the manufactures, and won. That race was actually live! It’s one of the few times, I’ve heard the roar of the crowd from inside the car. It was surreal, almost like it wasn’t happening.”

“The next day I woke up, went into the office and my PR guy was on the phone to Australia doing interviews, and I thought ‘so what?’ It doesn’t change me as a person, so you’ve just got to roll with it, and try to do it again, which I’ve been doing ever since. It was a crazy time.”

After Formula 1 moved to ITV, BTCC was one of the remaining four-wheel motor sport left on the BBC, and stayed with the BBC until the end of 2001. Speaking to Autosport at the time, BTCC’s boss Richard West said that the BBC “admitted that certain things had not been to the benefit of the series, such as the inability to provide regular slots and, by their own admittance could not meet the exacting standards that we had put to them.” In other words, the championship could not grow further with the Beeb, partially due to no other motor racing complimenting its coverage.

Led by West, BTCC headed in a different direction, moving towards a deal with ITV and Motors TV. Briefly, a stint on the ill-fated ITV Sport Channel also ensued. Neal believes the move did damage to the health of the series. “The Head of ITV at the time wanted to move everything onto ITV Sport, and we were one of the first things to get drafted across. The viewing figures fell through the floor, people just didn’t know where to find it,” Neal said.

Following a rut on and off the circuit for touring cars domestically in the early to mid 2000s, the championship found its place on ITV, where it has remained ever since. Ben Edwards led the commentary line-up from 2002 to 2011, with Tim Harvey alongside him, before David Addison controlled the reigns from 2013 onwards. As in the BBC days, Steve Rider continues to host ITV4’s race day output.

In terms of television coverage, ITV4 has for the past decade provided extensive coverage of the championship, with a peak audience of up to half a million viewers watching each round. Although BTCC does not attract the audience it once did during the Super Touring era on the BBC, current ITV reporter Louise Goodman, who has been involved with covering the series since 2009, believes the championship is in a healthy position.

“The more exposure the championship can get the better, but it’s a very different media age to what it was like in the Super Touring era. You have to think about the amount of sports out there vying to get coverage. The level of coverage on terrestrial channels has become quite limited in many ways, so the fact that BTCC has six, seven, sometimes eight hours of free-to-air coverage on ITV4, is still a fantastic amount of exposure,” Goodman told this site.

“If we only offered half an hour of programming per weekend, the guys in the support races wouldn’t get any exposure,” Goodman added. “Those are the guys in two or three years’ time that may be racing in the BTCC, so the exposure has enabled them to make that progress through the ladder from a sponsorship and marketing perspective. I think we’re in a healthy position, it’s a proper career option for young and upcoming drivers.”

“You’ve still got the Plato’s and Neal’s of this world, we hope they’ll never go away because they’re entertaining, its great viewing and they still have what it takes behind the wheel. You need the next young talent coming through the ranks and there’s been an increase in that in recent years.”

And this weekend at Brands Hatch, the championship heads into its next sixty years hoping for more of the same action that has helped its popularity over the course of the last six decades.

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The evolution of the grid walk

Last year marked the twentieth anniversary of Martin Brundle’s grid walk, a much-loved segment of Formula 1’s pre-race programming. Here, we look at how the grid walk has evolved, from inception to present day.

The origins of the grid walk go back to the late 1980’s. It was the 1989 British Grand Prix, Nigel Mansell’s first season in a Ferrari, when he played a part in the first ever grid interview. But, things did not quite go to plan between him and BBC presenter Steve Rider.

Writing in his book, Rider recalled “Nigel caught my eye, winked and nodded, even though he was still wearing a full-face helmet. At exactly the same moment the floor manager indicated that Murray Walker had handed down to me with Nigel Mansell.”

“I had to go for it. I shoved the mike into his helmet and he seemed to be giving me a lucid, animated reply, although with no off-air sound I had no idea what he was saying.”

“But, suitably encouraged when he stopped talking I asked another question. It went on like this for a few minutes, and it was only later that I was told that Nigel, in fact, was talking to his pit-crew and was desperately trying to get me to shut up.”

For a variety of reasons, logistics notwithstanding, the BBC did not attempt a full Formula 1 grid walk in their original stint up until the end of 1997.

“We didn’t think of doing a proper grid walk at the BBC, and it’s also the fact that you were restricted as to where you could go by FOM,” explained Tony Jardine, who worked as the BBC’s pit lane reporter at the time.

“I was literally arrested by Pasquale Lattuneddu, Bernie’s number two man, by going over some yellow line, and had to sit outside the [Formula One Management] office for several hours like a naughty school boy!”

In the BBC’s later years, the broadcaster interviewed selected British drivers on the grid. As time went by, the gates opened to the introduction of a fully fledged grid walk, which ITV used to their advantage, starting in 1997. Louise Goodman, ITV’s pit lane reporter for the duration of their coverage, watched events unfold.

“It was ITV’s first year of covering Formula 1, and we wanted to do something special to mark our home race, the British Grand Prix,” Goodman noted. “We wanted to do something new, bringing the viewers closer to the drivers and cars, making the sport more accessible not only to current fans, but to bring in a new audience to Formula 1.”

2001 German GP - Brundle and Montoya.png
The grid walk segment shines a light on all angles of Formula 1. From the glitz and glamour, through to the technical directors, as well as interviewing drivers at both ends of the grid. Here, Martin Brundle interviews pole sitter Juan Montoya prior to the 2001 German Grand Prix.

The responsibility was placed on the shoulders of Martin Brundle, who retired from Formula 1 racing at the end of the 1996 season, having started 158 races. Being at the forefront of the sport for the previous 15 years meant that Brundle was well equipped to interview the stars of the show, even if there was trepidation to begin with.

“When Neil [Duncanson, executive producer at Chrysalis] first floated the idea to Martin, Martin wasn’t actually that keen on doing it,” Goodman tells me. “It’s an unpredictable live TV situation, and Martin was only in his first year as a broadcaster at that point, so I can understand why he was a little bit apprehensive to do it.”

Of course, walking the grid was not just a Formula 1 thing. At the same time in the mid-1990s, Jonathan Green and Steve Parrish started doing the same for Sky Sports’ coverage of World Superbikes, as did other personalities elsewhere in the motor sport spectrum, but it was arguably Brundle that took the concept mainstream.

“People think that Martin is just wandering around on the grid, but there is a lot of organisation that goes into it. You’ve got to have that knowledge to fill those moments where you are just wandering around looking for your next person to talk to,” explains Goodman, who herself has been in the grid walk role now for the past nine years with ITV’s British Touring Car Championship coverage.

“It is a daunting task to have a camera on you for five or six minutes. I remember when I first did it for touring cars, it was like ‘oh my god, I’ve got to fill all that space!’ And now, everybody does a grid walk. It was Martin’s character and personality, alongside his knowledge that made it what it was.”

“During the grid walk, you have three or four other people talking in your ears, so you’re trying to hear the driver, but you’re also hearing all the production chat that’s going on.”

“You learn to go with the flow of it, you could have had an interview set up, and when it comes to it, and this happens quite frequently in touring cars, the driver you planned to start the grid walk with, his car is not there, so you then make it up as you go along, grab somebody else, the first person that comes to mind. It’s a very fluid environment.”

For Jardine, Brundle’s knowledge and expertise shone out prior to his ITV days. In 1995, as well as car-sharing with Aguri Suzuki at Ligier, Brundle spent the remainder of races alongside Murray Walker and Jonathan Palmer in the BBC commentary box. “Martin could explain technical things in a very simplistic manner, not talking down to people, but just bringing it to a language you could understand, and maybe even have a little quip to boot.”

“Towards the end of the BBC’s tenure, Jonathan was with Murray in the commentary box and they brought Martin in as a third commentator. Brundle saw the race unfolding, and made a prediction which Palmer disagreed with, and the rest of it. But, what Brundle said was concise, he had a great idea of the strategy, and it was a great drivers’ perspective of what was going on.”

“It was a no brainer for ITV to bring him on-board. He took all that incredible knowledge, wit, wisdom, connectivity with drivers into the grid walk which we know and love. The art of good broadcasting is that you make it look easy, but believe you me, when you’re actually doing it, it’s not.”

2005 French GP - Brundle and Friesacher.png
The grid walk became an opportunity for viewers to learn about drivers’ further down the starting order. Here, Brundle interviews Minardi’s Patrick Friesacher prior to the 2005 French Grand Prix, a face and voice that was unrecognisable to the UK audience at that point in time.

Although Brundle’s first grid walk at Silverstone 1997 was prone to technical difficulties, the foundations were there for years to come. Fast-forward over twenty years, and the grid walk is now a staple of motor racing television worldwide. Imitation here is absolutely the sincerest form of flattery.

Natural progression and evolution suggests that grid interviews would have become commonplace at some point in time, but Brundle helped stamp his authority on the segment that no one else has since.

Brundle made the format his own, with memorable grid walks across his years at ITV, BBC and now Sky Sports. One of the Brundle’s more memorable grid walks that garnered attention worldwide came with the 2005 United States Grand Prix, Brundle attempting to play peace keeper whilst the Formula 1 spectacle imploded around him.

Many broadcasters have walked in Brundle’s footsteps, including David Coulthard, Jennie Gow, Neil Hodgson, Will Buxton and Goodman herself.

Because the grid walk is now so frequent across all motor racing output, it has lost some of its edge that it had in the early years. However, some of that is a result of drivers being heavily PR trained rather than anything a particular broadcaster has done wrong.

Despite the drivers being more media savvy than yesteryear, the grid walk still creates memorable, special, off the cuff moments that broadcasting rarely has in the modern age.

As for the next twenty years? The aim of the grid walk in 1997 was to bring fans watching around the world closer to the drivers and the cars, which remains ever true today. Since then, and into the digital era, broadcasters have gone beyond the grid walk.

In 2014, Sky went behind the scenes with Williams at the Italian Grand Prix, following their every movement immediately before the race, from garage through to the starting grid, removing a barrier typically there for viewers.

And as 2018 begins, fans have access to every single car through F1 TV Pro, a service that aims to revolutionise Formula 1 viewing. But, for everything that changes, the basics remain the same.

The grid walk is ingrained into motor racing broadcasts that it is difficult to see it disappearing. At least, not just yet…

In conversation with David Croft

From Three Counties radio, to travelling around the world as part of his Formula 1 work, David Croft’s broadcasting career to date has spanned 25 years.

During the Autosport Show weekend in January, I caught up with Croft (@CroftyF1) for a chat to talk about his journey from local radio through to Sky Sports F1 commentator.

F1B: How did your stint in radio begin?

DC: I started covering Stevenage Borough for the local papers in the early 1990s, but my first radio broadcast was Stevenage Borough and Altrincham in 1994. The regular reporter couldn’t make it and they called me up as a last-minute replacement. Stevenage won 2-1, Martin Gittings scored the winning goal with his hand, which as you can imagine was controversial! BBC Three Counties radio paid me £6 for covering the game.

I thought I was utterly dreadful, and I had a phone call from Ken Wilson, who was the Sports Editor at the station, the very next day saying he thought that it was really good, and asking if I’d like to cover Luton Town versus Sheffield United the next week. I got £10 for covering that, a bigger game than Stevenage! Bit by bit, I started doing more and more, I used to go into the station on a Friday night to learn how to edit, produce, write scripts. I wanted to learn so was more than happy to give up my Friday evenings.

Mike Naylor, who took over as sports editor taught me what I needed to know. In all honesty, I owe Mike and Ken, and everyone in those early years a debt of gratitude because without their help and patience, I would have never been able to take my career further. As time went on, I started to take on more gigs. My first proper commentary job though was covering the Toulon Under 20 Football tournament for their world feed. France beat South Korea 1-0 in my first match, former Arsenal midfielder Robert Pires scored the goal and I met him in Monza a couple of years ago and had a chat about the match, he actually remembered it. But the key was never saying no to any opportunity, even if deep down you didn’t really think you had the experience needed.

F1B: I guess at that point in your career, it is whatever comes your way.

DC: You want to get heard, you need to get experience. Eventually, Three Counties asked me to present the breakfast sports bulletins each morning. I initially said no, I was working full time in my day job, as a Theatre Publicity Officer and working Saturdays, commentating for West County TV. But I, rather cheekily, said that if they wanted me then they should give me a full-time job and I’d be happy to do it. Later that day, Dave Robey, the station manager phoned me up and said that if I wanted a full-time job as a BBC Sports Reporter he’d give me a one-month contract and if I was any good, there would be a chance that I’d stay on. Well one month became three months became nine months and I stayed at BBC 3CR for over three years, eventually becoming the Sports Editor there.

In December 1998 I moved to 5 Live, working as a producer via the BBC Local Radio Attachment scheme. It was a brilliant scheme as it gave those working in local radio a chance to show what they could do for BBC Sport on a national level. Once again it was initially for a month, but I stayed for much longer and managed to convince the powers that be that I was a better broadcaster than a producer and I was given a full-time contract with BBC Radio Sport.

I could be heard presenting sports bulletins for Simon Mayo or Fi Glover, covering football matches on a Saturday, and eventually presenting Sport on 5 during the summer of 2004 and 2005. I’d worked at the 2002 World Cup and 2004 Olympic Games but I wanted to specialise on a particular sport and in the Autumn of 2005, I got my chance.

As a kid, my dream job was to be a sports commentator. I was into all sorts of sports, cricket, F1, football, boxing and of course, darts! Peter Jones was my absolute idol as a commentator, this guy was magnificent in the way he could capture tension and emotion in a couple of sentences, even if your team was winning 6-0, you wouldn’t switch the radio off. I used to listen to him on Sport on 2, smuggling my old Roberts radio under the covers and hoping that Mum and Dad didn’t hear that I was still awake listening to the midweek matches.

At the weekend I’d watch Grandstand or World of Sport and dream of doing what Murray Walker or Barrie Davies, Sid Waddell or Richie Benaud did. I’d listen to Test Match Special a lot in the summer too, my Dad played village cricket and passed a love of the sport on to me. Brian Johnson had me enthralled, not only with his ability to paint pictures in my mind, but the way he would break away from the cricket and move on to random topics such as the latest goings on in Neighbours. He was a huge fan of that soap opera and never missed an opportunity to wax lyrical about it.

So, this was my dream job, still is and I pinch myself that I’m doing what I dreamt of all those years ago.

F1B: Was it an easy decision with 5 Live to travel round the world for Formula 1, or were there other factors to consider?

DC: Jason Swales, the F1 producer, asked me to audition, as he knew I liked and knew F1. When he wasn’t producing 5 Live F1, Jason would come in and produce bulletins and various other stuff [for 5 Live], so we knew each other quite well. He said that we needed a new commentator, and that the contract was going out to an independent production company. We produced a dummy commentary as part of the pitch for USP Content and they won the contract. So, on December 23rd 2005 I was told I was the new 5 Live F1 commentator by Moz Dee, who was the assistant editor at the station at the time. Moz then promptly asked when I would be leaving as I couldn’t stay on a BBC Staff Contract, the F1 coverage was being independently produced. I went freelance, another risk, but this was an opportunity I was never going to turn down.

The next challenge was to learn more about the sport, prepare for the start of the 2006 season and work out just how you commentate on Formula 1, having never done it for real before I headed off to Bahrain for the first race of the season. I spent six years at 5 Live Formula 1, and it was brilliant. Holly Samos, Jason Swales, Maurice Hamilton, Ant Davidson, myself, and Natalie [Pinkham] were a small team, bringing a great sport to people on the radio, thoroughly enjoyable and hopefully the fun we had always came across on air.

F1B: How did you find your first year, just settling into the paddock?

DC: Frightening! The paddock is a scary place at first to find yourself in. But there are a lot of genuine, lovely people in it, and once you establish a level of trust and rapport, build relationships with people and gain more and more experience, you feel less scared. I asked a lot of stupid questions along the way, apparently there’s no such thing as a stupid question but I’m sure I challenged that theory. I always remember Jason’s adage, keep it simple, don’t try and do anything complicated, leave that to the experts.

It went from frightening, to a little bit daunting and then after about three years you feel that you fit in. People to start to ask your opinion on certain subjects and you feel more qualified to give it! You spend a long time at first listening to people, and I had the likes of Maurice Hamilton, Ian Philips, and the late Alan Henry to listen to, and what a complete delight it was to listen to their stories and opinions. And I was hugely lucky to have Jason as our producer and Maurice and then Ant Davidson as co-commentators, to help me along the way.

F1B: F1 moved to BBC TV in 2009, did anything really change from a radio perspective?

DC: A little, we were able to broadcast our commentary on the red button, which increased our audience, especially for the practice sessions. But I don’t go thinking “right, there’s more people listening today, that’s brilliant.” When I’m broadcasting I imagine I’m only talking to one person. There might be a lot more of that one person, but you’re having a conversation with that person, you’re trying to imagine whatever they’re doing and hoping that you’re engaging enough to make them stop what they’re doing and focus on what’s going on. I imagine there’s an old lady sat doing her knitting, if we’re getting her on the edge of her seat, and she’s stopped knitting for a while, then we’re doing a great job!

F1B: So, you guys were doing well at the BBC, and then we come to 2011. I think people still remember that practice session in Hungary, where you and Ant were getting deluged for something that wasn’t your fault.

DC: I walked into the track on Friday morning, and got a phone call from 5 Live Breakfast, saying that the F1 TV news was the lead story at 08:00! So, as correspondent, could I come on and talk about it.

Now, the BBC decided that they couldn’t afford to continue to cover F1 in the way they were at the time and approached Sky. For me, that was an important thing, because yes, there was a strong reaction from some of the fans, but I wasn’t going to take sides and join in with that strong reaction, I wanted to present the facts as I understood them to be.

I was a massive viewer of Sky Sports at that time, and have been for many, many years, and I love what they did to football, to darts, to cricket. Actually, I thought, it might be good for Formula 1. Sky will come in, give it the Sky treatment, and the sport will become very important within the Sky stable, and I truly believe that has happened.

Yes, there was a negative reaction, but 6 years on, it’s really interesting when we meet the fans and they give us their feedback. The people we meet at races, or even randomly out and about recently, tell us they enjoy what we do at Sky F1. Have we ruined people’s love of the sport as one listener said would happen back in 2011? Certainly not, I hope we’ve proved not only how much we love this sport, but how hard we want to work to deliver a really good product for the fans.

F1B: Was it an easy decision to move to Sky?

DC: I could have stayed at the BBC, and don’t get me wrong, I loved working there. But let’s go back to when I first joined local radio, I wanted to challenge myself, I wanted to stretch myself. When Sky became interested, we had a few conversations; myself and Martin [Brundle] talked too and both said that it could be fun! I love Sky and their coverage of sport. It was flattering that they were interested in me, and in the end, for many reasons, it was an easy decision to make.

It’s a risky decision, because it might not have paid off going from radio to TV, it’s a very different job. I’ve gone from a job where I say what I see, and I paint pictures, to working for a company that provides those pictures, in glorious Ultra High Definition now. Half of what you do on radio is describing and setting the scene. You can’t really do that on TV because people can see it, so you have to find a different way to tell the story.

Luckily, I’d covered the darts on BBC TV since 2004, so I had a little bit of TV experience there, and of course my first commentating experience as such, was for television, Toulon tournament and Westcountry TV. I had that to fall back on.

And I was going from a role where at 5 Live I commentated, reported, presented, and interviewed to the role of lead commentator. So, it was an adjustment there. Martin Turner, our first Head of F1 at Sky put together a fantastic team, very different people, but all of whom fitted in with everyone else and enjoyed each other’s company. There’s no pretence, we’re just a happy bunch of people travelling the world doing something we really love. Martin and the producers brought together creative people, hard-working people, talented people. It’s the best team I’ve ever worked with. Things have changed a bit since the first race, some staff have left, some have come in, but there’s no conflict or friction behind the scenes, and I think that’s really important for the show.

And as we speak there’s not long to go till we’re all in Melbourne for the first race of the season, and I’m sure, like me, everyone can’t wait to get going again for what will be the 13th season for me as an F1 commentator, which considering my first race, Bahrain 2006, still seems like a very short time ago, is a pretty scary thought.

My thanks go to David Croft for spending the time with me on the above interview.

Behind the scenes in the BSB OB truck: the key roles and responsibilities

The 2017 British Superbike season is heading into its final stages, with the remaining three rounds forming part of the ‘Showdown’.

Silverstone was the last stop on the championship prior to the Showdown, and it was there where this writer was invited into the British Superbikes outside broadcast (OB) truck. Richard Coventry, who has been the television director for the MCE British Superbikes series for the past twelve years, is our guide to the Televideo truck. In the second and final piece, we talk about the various roles involved in live motor sport broadcasting.

As referenced in the first piece, Coventry sits on the front desk, with the monitor wall in front of him. But Coventry’s role as television director is significantly more encompassing than that. Coventry in his role speaks to all the key players around him within the British Superbikes production crew, from the producers through to the commentators, commonly known as ‘talkback’ where information travels back and forth between the various parties.

“I sit in the middle of talkback communication between myself, the Eurosport producer, the camera operators, the VT operators, the sound crew, the engineers, the presenter, the commentators, but also race control, so I can speak to the race director if I need to,” Coventry explains.

The end-to-end process between an incident happening on-track, through to the television viewer hearing the story is fascinating. Because of the communication lines that Coventry has, it means that he can gather information on a riders’ condition from the medical centre, and then relay the facts to the commentators. “I talk to everybody effectively and disseminate the information coming back.”

Sitting next to Coventry is a race producer and a vision mixer. Communication across the front desk is vital. The primary role of the race producer is to keep an eye on emerging battles, deciding with Coventry whether to switch to the battle. Following the decision, the vision mixer cuts the pictures to cover said action. The race producer sits to the left of Coventry, with multiple timing screens in front of him on the monitor wall.

“Myself and the race producer will decide whether the battle for the lead has spread out, we’ll look down for a battle for fifth or a battle for 19th. We must make a judgement call on what the best thing to follow is, it’s not always the same outcome. We’ll prioritise what battle we think is more important for the race, for the championship and we will take a view on that.”

British Superbikes - running order
The Eurosport running order for the British Superbikes qualifying programme from Silverstone on Saturday 9th September 2017.

Behind the trio on the front desk is the Eurosport programme producer and the production assistant (PA). Unlike in Formula 1 or MotoGP, the British Superbikes OB truck controls both the race feed and the Eurosport pictures, hence why there is both a race producer and programme producer. The programme producer writes the running order for the Eurosport show, whilst the production assistant at a high-level ensures the show does not fall off the air. “We do have to think on our feet, the running order has some leeway,” explains Coventry, “but everything is timed down to a second.”

“The PA tells us whether we’re over, under or on-time based on the running order and the event, whether we need to adapt the running order to keep us on-time. If there is a red flag, we might have to consider moving breaks, and it is the PA’s duty to communicate that back to Eurosport. And, to work out, further down the running order later in the day, the things that we need to change to make sure that we’re on time.”

Like with Sky’s Formula 1 programming, many other countries also take Eurosport’s British Superbikes output, and it is the responsibility of the PA to communicate any changes to the other channels. “The PA communicates with the rest of the World Feed recipients, such as Setanta Africa, Sky New Zealand, the people who are taking it live elsewhere to let them know if there’s been any changes to the schedule of the event, so they may want to change what they’re doing as well,” Coventry tells me.

Alongside the key roles, there are other important pieces of the jigsaw. Coventry also referenced the on-air presentation team, the camera operators, an editor, two assistant producers, four replay operators, riggers, amongst many more people behind the scenes. “It does go off successfully, I suppose that’s a relative term! It’s like the proverbial duck on the pond isn’t it, the legs are going ten to the dozen underneath, but the ducks are smooth on the surface!”

“It’s pretty labour intensive, you’ve got to have an operator for most cameras, if we’re live we need a live gallery PA. We couldn’t reduce this beyond where we are without affecting the output. It’s a fairly slick and tight operation. There’s a lot to consider, but fortunately there’s enough of us to think of it all.”

Behind the scenes in the BSB OB truck: the monitor wall

The 2017 British Superbike season is heading into its final stages, with the remaining three rounds forming part of the ‘Showdown’.

Silverstone was the last stop on the championship prior to the Showdown, and it was there where this writer was invited into the British Superbikes outside broadcast (OB) truck. Richard Coventry, who has been the television director for the MCE British Superbikes series for the past twelve years, is our guide to the Televideo truck.

The main component of any OB truck is the wall of video monitors, which is where most of the focus lies. At a very high level, the monitor wall is where the director can see the variety of sources. For Coventry and his team, this can consist of around 13 track cameras and two pit lane cameras.

The size of the operation massively depends on the series, those of you who read my MotoGP piece with Dorna’s Managing Director Manel Arroyo will know that Dorna have around 150 cameras per race! Nevertheless, the principles behind the outside broadcast truck are similar.

“The monitor wall is a multi-viewer, so its eight monitors split with lots of sources. Every source that’s available to me in the vision mixer is on the monitor,” Coventry explains. There is a left bank (with two monitors), the four centre monitors seen above and a right bank (with two further monitors).

The centre bank of monitors is where Coventry’s attention is for much of the time. “I’ve got 13 track cameras directly in my eye line, underneath the main programme output (PGM). Next to that is the vision mixer preview (EDT PVW – PVW) so what is coming next,” Coventry says.

As you may expect, the track cameras are ordered by their position on the circuit. So, track camera one, controlled by Phil, is positioned at Copse (identified on the screenshot above as 1 Phil). Further round the track, Matt is controlling track camera six at Club opposite the Formula 1 pit lane, and so on and so forth.

A special case is track camera eight, identified above as 8 Dodgy. The reason for this is that the camera can double up and act as two different cameras. In this instance, the camera can see the bikes entering and exiting the arena section. This is common place at tracks where there are tight complexes, or the layout is small enough to allow multiple uses of one camera (the camera high up above the start-finish straight at Monte Carlo is another example of this).

The two graphic operators (GFX and GFX 2) sit up in Race Control with the time keepers. The left-hand and right-hand bank of monitors feature repeating sources.

“I’ve got four replay machines, which are called EVS W, X, Y and Z respectively. Each replay machine can record up to six sources,” Coventry explains. Both sides also contain the off-air output for the channels that British Superbikes are broadcasting on (O/A 1, O/A 2, and Quest), the two pit lane cameras (RF1 Chris and RF2 John) and the big screen output around the circuit.

Eurosport use the two pit lane cameras for their pre and post-session presentation, controlled also from the centralised OB truck. “Because of the unique way British Superbikes is run, as well as directing the race production, we also do Eurosport’s presentation. In MotoGP or F1, you would have a BT or Sky Sports truck and then an international World Feed truck, where the UK broadcaster would sit downstream. For the superbikes, unless there is a clash with World Superbikes, we do everything.”

The most interesting part of the side banks is a camera identified as ‘Q-Ball‘. “We control the Q-Ball camera from the truck. The camera this weekend is at Woodcote, coming into the start-finish straight, it’s very close to the track so we wouldn’t place a camera operator there, it gives us a fast speed shot,” Coventry notes. The benefit of doubling some elements up is so that nothing can be missed.

Lastly, specific to the left-hand side are the raw timing screens (P1P2 and P3), and the final satellite output (Line 1). Adrian Bourne, normally sitting to the left of Coventry, will use the timing screens to keep an eye on any emerging battles and on any fallers. One thing readers may notice that is not here is any source on-board cameras. The reason is cost related: the cost of live on-board cameras for motorcycling is significantly more than their four-wheel counterparts. Some On-board footage however is produced for the BSB YouTube channel by Drift Innovation.

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Below the wall of video monitors is a series of buttons, known more formally as the vision mixer, responsible for slicing the final live product together. There are four repeating banks, each correlating to the sources in the screenshots above. On each bank, there are buttons for the 13 track cameras, the two pit lane cameras and four replay mixers. “It’s layers of vision mixer, cascading into the layer below, so we can make layered complicated effects if we wanted to,” Coventry explains to me.

Each layer also contains a variety of lime green buttons, generated before the live show. “All the green buttons here are macros, which are things written in advance, they’re complicated moves that you wouldn’t be able to build live so we build them in advance. For example the start lights animation is a macro, the team boxes, changing the name of the team boxes, these are stored in the mixer, as is the BSB bug and the timing graphics as well.”

The detail above covers the technical element, including the variety of outputs and graphics. But every television product has a human touch to it, and British Superbikes is no different. The technical side of television production is only one side of a complex story…

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