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British Open on Radio

The first live radio broadcast of squash took place on the second and third games of the Men’s British Open semi-final 1951 between Mahmoud Karim (EGY) and Roy Wilson (ENG) for a 25 min programme for the Home Service of the BBC.

In addition, a part of the final in which Hashim Khan beat Karim (pictured) was also recorded for transmission in the BBC Overseas Service.

The commentator was Max Robertson, and here is his account of the experience......

SQUASH RABBITS by Max Robertson

Squash rackets, as played by the experts, is. one of the fastest sports to follow. For this reason, and because it has been slow to gain recognition as a widely played game, it had never been broadcast in this country until I was allowed to make the attempt during the semi-finals of this year’s Open Championship.

But first a trial recording was arranged. This was done with the courteous co-operation of the Lansdowne Club and the W.S.R.A.’s executive committee after the final of their championships. The guinea pigs who kindiy consented to perform for our purpose were Brian Phillips and Leslie Keeble.

The problems that faced me were as follows: First the physical one, that of choosing the commentary position. Ideally a commentator wants to be (a) where he can see all the play without twisting his neck into knots, (b) in an enclosed box that is soundproof so that he feels uninhibited by those around him and can shout his head off when he gets excited, (c) where he does not interfere with the vision or enjoyment of other spectators, (d) where neither his speech nor his antics puts off the players.

At the Lansdowne Club (a) is impossible except in the front row, which, besides being reserved for V.I.Ps., does not overcome the other objections, particularly (d). (b) and (c) are interdependent and at the Lansdowne Club the complete solution of either would automatically create the other. In the end we tried a good old British compromise and chose a position in the high left-hand side gallery on a line with the back wall. This was well away from the main body of spectators and remote enough from the court not to worry the players. Moreover, I could see all the play at the expense of a slight crick.

The next question to resolve was how to tackle the commentary. Was I to try to follow the rallies stroke by stroke? Obviously no, for, even if I could produce the necessary speed of thought and speech, the listener would soon be dazed, both by the torrent and the boring repetition of name and stroke. Again a compromise seemed the best way out, i.e. to try to read the pattern of the rally and anticipate the winning stroke. Lastly, was I to talk to squash enthusiasts or to the listener at large who might never have seen the game, let alone played it. Once more the speed of the game dictated that in the main I must presume knowledge in the listener, but where possible throw in an explanatory remark.

The trial recording was a fair success, more so than most of us dared to hope. We found I had made a mistake in trying to use the marker as we do the umpire at Wimbledon.

Two factors in American squash which make it easier to televise—the whiteness of the floor which makes for a lighter interior, and the narrower court. We may hope, however, that the rapid progress in television technique will render possible this additional and much to be desired means of bringing squash to the notice of a larger public.

I needed desperately that second or two to finish off the rally, and it was proved more economical for me to give the score myself, using the marker only as a background effect in the same way as the sound of the ball in play. It was also decided, rather against my inclination, not to bring in a Barrington Dalby summer-up, since it was felt that the listener, having become used to my voice at speed, would be distracted by the introduction of another.

The broadcast covered nearly all the second game in the Karim-Wilson match and in this we were lucky, for I think that a good catch up in a squash match ranks with anything for sheer excitement. It seems to have gone down well in one household at any rate, for Sheila McKechnie was welcomed home ecstatically by her two-year-old daughter, who said, “Mummy I’ve been listening to Squash Rabbits!”

Clearly the technique of how to commentate on squash is by no means formed. We hope next year to broadcast during the Amateur and Open Championships and that experience should teach us more. If radio commentary has come to stay in this field the architect of any future championship court should seriously consider building in a broadcasting box—in the same way perhaps as the blister gun turret in a bomber.


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