On the 80th anniversary of the first televised Test match, MCC Archivist Robert Curphey explores the history of TV at Lord's.
This month’s blog focuses on the 80th anniversary of the first televised Test match in 1938, between England and Australia, which took place at Lord’s, and was televised by the BBC.
This was a natural progression for the BBC of live outside broadcasts – the first transmission of the Wimbledon tennis championships had first been broadcast the previous year, while the FA Cup Final and Boat Race were also broadcast earlier in 1938.
Prior to 1938, MCC had already established a good relationship with the BBC, allowing them to broadcast radio coverage of matches at Lord’s, which usually consisted of Test matches, an MCC match against the touring team that year, and the varsity match between Oxford and Cambridge.
In December 1937, Gerald Cock, the Director of Television at the BBC, wrote to the MCC Secretary, Colonel Rowan Rait Kerr, asking if the BBC could broadcast footage of the Test match at Lord’s the following June, using their Mobile Television Unit. The matter was then placed by Rait Kerr for consideration by the MCC Committee. Once this was approved, BBC proposed that two cameras were established on a specially erected platform at the east end of the Mound Stand, with one camera on the roof of the Tavern looking north west.
The BBC needed to arrange commentators to cover the event, and chose three former Test cricketers, A E R Gilligan, W A Woodfull and Bert Oldfield. Woodfull and Oldfield were not members of MCC and thus were made special Honorary Members of MCC for the season by the Club, so they could then access the Pavilion in order to broadcast from the broadcasting room at the South End of the Pavilion.
(It was) the last time players from both sides scored a double century in a Test match at Lord’s
The Test match itself, between England and Australia, ended in a draw, with Wally Hammond and Bill Brown scoring centuries for England and Australia respectively; the last time players from both sides scored a double century in a Test match at Lord’s. The game proved to be a success from a broadcasting perspective; BBC wrote to MCC in the aftermath of the Test thanking them for their help with the transmission.
The archive contains many files relating to the history of broadcasting and cricket, from the first broadcast to arrangements with the BBC throughout the 1930s to 1960s, and also discussion of the impact of commercial television on broadcasting, particularly the introduction of Independent Television, commonly known as ITV, in the 1950s. MCC also provided arrangements for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation to broadcast at Lord’s and even the Danish Radio Service to broadcast Denmark’s match against MCC at Lord’s in 1954.
Not only did MCC handle arrangements for the broadcasting of cricket, they fielded many requests during the 1950s for the filming and recording of numerous programmes to be broadcast at Lord’s, such as ‘Children’s Hour’, ‘Postman’s Knock’, ‘Now’s Your Chance’ and a programme to commemorate the bicentenary of Thomas Lord’s birth in 1955.
In 1999, the Media Centre was opened at Lord’s which meant all arrangements for broadcasting at Lord’s was transferred there for both television and radio, and visitors to the MCC Museum next year will be able to see a special display relating to the Media Centre’s history and the history of broadcasting at Lord’s. Also, visitors to the Pavilion can see a special display of items in the Writing Room related to four great writers and broadcasters: John Arlott, F S Ashley-Cooper, Christopher Martin-Jenkins and Jim Swanton.