The Sporting Class
29 Apr 2006 1 comment. tbs.pm/2100
The breakdown of traditional class distinctions since the 1970s has not only influenced politics in the UK: it has also changed the face of sport on television.
These days, sports are far less class-based than they were thirty years ago. On a recent visit to the TFM Arena to see Darlington play Carlisle United, the crowd contained a mixture of families, women, younger fans and old men, with everyone – from someone who owned his own business to a labourer – in the crowd. The old image of football being a game for largely young and sometimes violent working class men has mostly gone. Except for Rugby League, which is still a provincial working class game, and Rugby Union, which, except in Wales, is, to an extent, a middle class and public school sport, the old class distinctions in sport have become blurred and largely irrelevant – in common with society in general. Royal Ascot is now just as likely to contain barrow boys from Bethnal Green as aristocrats from deepest Berkshire and tennis, thanks to the cult of Tim Henman, has seen its popularity increase beyond its southern middle class stereotype.
It wasn’t always like this. Going back to the seventies, class distinctions were more pronounced and the rising unemployment and high inflation of the time was leading to increased class hostility that would culminate in the Winter of Discontent and the death of the post-war consensus with the election of Margaret Thatcher in May 1979. While the working class was suffering from rising unemployment and high inflation, it was also true that the middle class felt equally resentful at the high taxation of the Wilson and Callaghan governments and what they saw as the strike-happy trade unions.
Nowhere were class distinctions more pronounced than in television sport, which mirrored the class tendencies of sports fans of the times. Middle class sporting tastes thirty years ago veered towards Rugby Union, cricket, equestrianism, tennis and golf, while working class sports fans preferred Rugby League, football, horse racing, greyhounds, snooker, wrestling and boxing. (There are also distinctions in horse racing, which I will mention later.) While a slight generalisation, it would be true to say that in the seventies, BBC Sport tailored its sports coverage to the middle class, who provided the bulk of their audience, while ITV catered for the working class, who again preferred ITV to the BBC.
The main sports programmes of the time were Grandstand on BBC1, now about to be axed, and World of Sport on ITV, produced by LWT. A typical Grandstand thirty years ago would contain sports such as county cricket; three horse races from a middle class course like Newbury presented by the stuffy patrician Julian Wilson; Rugby Union; tame football chat in Football Focus; golf and equestrianism in the summer using another establishment-type commentator like Dorian Williams; and the programme was usually hosted by a presenter who epitomised safe, conservative Middle England values like Frank Bough (before he was exposed for his colourful private life).
World of Sport, in common with ITV Sport in general, was distinctly blue-collar and actually more watchable than Grandstand, as it didn’t take itself too seriously, and the debonair Dickie Davies, who ironically sounded as if he should be on the BBC, came across as more professional and entertaining than Frank Bough. When World of Sport was taken off in October 1985 after a twenty-year run, producer John Bromley told the TV Times that the show had always tried to be more like the Daily Mirror – lively and populist; Grandstand was regarded as the Daily Telegraph – stuffy and elitist. While World of Sport did feature a rival to Football Focus in the shape of On the Ball, hosted by the affable Brian Moore, the programme differed greatly from Grandstand, although a lot of this had to do with the fact the BBC held most of the elite sports contracts, and ITV had to make do with the sports and race meetings in which the BBC had no interest.
This meant at times the programme was padded out with American car racing, barrel jumping and celebrity interviews, Eric Morecambe appearing one day to talk football. However, while the BBC was showing its obligatory three races from Newbury, the centrepiece of World of Sport, and a virtual religion in working men’s clubs at the time, was the ITV Seven, which would feature four races from the day’s principal meeting and three races from a minor course like Thirsk. The ITV Seven accumulator bet, where punters could win several thousands of pounds, was a very popular feature throughout the seventies. Once the racing had finished, this would then be followed by the distinctly blue-collar pro wrestling bout from somewhere like Hackney, which was most likely opposed by the Five Nations or the Badminton Horse Trials on BBC1. Also, World of Sport began to show sports such as greyhounds when there was no racing on, and popularised darts when this was virtually unseen on the BBC, but Bromley knew would be popular with its working class audience.
The class-based nature of the two broadcasters’ sports departments showed most in their racing coverage. While horse racing has always been popular with both the working man and the aristocracy, there are distinct differences between the two types of horse racing, rather like Rugby Union and Rugby League. National Hunt race courses tend to be in affluent rural areas, such as Cheltenham, while flat courses tend to be in industrial areas or seaside resorts, Doncaster being a prime example. National Hunt meetings tend to attract a more middle class and rural following; flat tends to be a more working class pastime, although there are big exceptions in Royal Ascot and Glorious Goodwood.
BBC Sport majored on National Hunt racing and the elite flat meetings such as Goodwood and Royal Ascot, while ITV’s main strength was in flat racing, the station’s sports department gaining some credibility for buying up all the flat classics in 1968. It was almost cast in stone that only the BBC covered the Cheltenham Festival in the seventies, and it would be unlikely ITV would even get into the car park to make a bid for the rights.
In winter, ITV racing coverage tended to be sparse, as it only had the rights to the poorer National Hunt courses, and the ITV Seven was often cut back to an ITV Four from a bitterly cold and almost empty Market Rasen, whereas the BBC would have the rights to a prestigious meeting like Cheltenham. However, in summer ITV often turned the tables on the BBC as it held the upper hand with the flat. Typically an arrogant sounding Julian Wilson, in between the golf and the equestrianism, would present a mediocre trio of races on Grandstand; ITV, with the jollier and less patrician-sounding John Rickman and John Oaksey, would be presenting a double header of racing from Newmarket, with all the top names in attendance, and a minor meeting from Thirsk with coverage continuing uninterrupted for two hours.
Race courses that had contracts with ITV would typically start their meetings to accommodate the ITV Seven coverage, 1.30 being a favoured start time. ITV also had no qualms about showing the race meetings that would have made Old Harrovian Wilson baulk with horror, such as the distinctly working class Club and Institute Meeting at Thirsk and the Andy Capp Stakes from Redcar. Indeed ITV Sport’s racing coverage, apart from the flat classics, did centre on the more working class and less upmarket racecourses, which reflected its viewers’ tastes.
The old social democratic and working class-oriented society collapsed with the election of Margaret Thatcher in May 1979. Although the working class was starting to suffer from rising unemployment in the seventies, the recession of the early eighties hit very hard in the traditional industrial areas, with 1.5 million manufacturing jobs lost, and unemployment rates of 15 to 20 per cent in the North, Scotland and Wales. When the recession started to lift in 1983, a very different society had emerged from the one that had existed in the Labour seventies. The middle class, which had benefited from tax cuts and rising house prices, was becoming the dominant group in society, while the boom in the South had done much to benefit the Tories’ support.
Among the working class, huge changes had been made: there were those in the traditional industrial areas who had been laid off and were forgotten by the more affluent parts of society, but there were also large numbers who had survived the recession, bought their council houses, had aspirations to be middle class and were often ex-Labour voters who saw their interests best served by the new Conservative Party.
The switch to a more middle class and aspirant society had not gone unnoticed by television sport executives. ITV Sport was by 1983 dogged by a downmarket and elderly image and World of Sport was becoming a national joke: on one occasion it even promoted a clown-diving tournament as a sports event. Much of the audience for ITV racing and World of Sport was to be found in the older industrial areas, and the lack of an affluent audience for the programme meant that PIFs frequently appeared during commercial breaks.
In March 1984, ITV decided to move its weekday racing to Channel 4, which would give the struggling new station some extra viewers and would also mean that racing would no longer be limited by the demands of fans of Australian soap operas and Children’s ITV, which saw weekday racing coverage restricted on ITV. Moving racing to Channel 4 would also give racing a younger image, as Channel 4 at the time was considered a younger and more radical station than ITV, and Jeremy Isaacs was very welcoming to the idea of weekday racing moving from ITV to Channel 4.
The move also coincided with the downplaying of the ageing John Oaksey in favour of younger presenters like Brough Scott and John Mc Cririck, a former tic-tac man and ‘punter’s friend’ who flourished on Channel 4 with his rather insane behaviour, which suited the station at the time, desperate as it was to free racing from its ‘old men in a Northern betting shop’ image that ITV had created. Ironically Mac, as he was nicknamed by Scott, had been Julian Wilson’s fag at Harrow, but his presentation style was far removed from Wilson’s dour establishment drone. Mc Cririck, who was an ardent Thatcherite, admitted to loving The Sun and hating The Guardian, and was probably more representative of the times than the overly formal Wilson and the elderly (though still brilliant) Peter O’ Sullevan on the BBC, who seemed to represent a vanishing era of broadcasting where BBC English and etiquette were de rigeur and the Conservative Party was run by aristocrats.
ITV Sport began to employ more younger presenters at the time. Dickie Davies, who was the face of ITV Sport in the sixties and seventies, was seen less frequently on World of Sport in favour of the younger ex-BBC Sport on 2 presenter Jim Rosenthal and Steve Ryder. World of Sport also ditched its sixties theme tune and tennis-ball ‘S’ logo – which was pointless as ITV did not cover tennis – in favour of a synthesised effort by Jeff Wayne and a computerised ident of a runner crossing a finishing line. Similarly Brian Moore and On The Ball, which had become very outdated, were ditched in favour of the jocular banter of Saint and Greavsie.
ITV scored its biggest sporting coup since its creation in the summer of 1984, when it bought the rights to British track and field athletics after 25 years of it being with the BBC. ITV had tried previously in tandem with Channel 4 to cover the 1984 Olympics, at a cost of £ 5 million, but this had been scuppered by a technician’s dispute. However, the willingness of ITV to move into a sport they had never covered had not gone unnoticed, and the BAF offered ITV and Channel 4 a five-year deal to cover a sport which was very popular at the time due to the success of British athletes such as Daley Thompson and Fatima Whitbread. Athletics coverage, heralded by the CGI athlete, on ITV gave ITV Sport a massive credibility boost and also proved a useful ratings tool on a Friday night, often attracting over 10 million viewers.
World of Sport died in October 1985, as part of a move upmarket by ITV, which saw the show as outdated and downmarket. 1985, which was the year that the term ‘yuppie’ caught on, saw the eighties boom take off, as privatisations gathered speed and the stock market raced ahead, although for those who missed out on the boom it was rather irrelevant. The BBC on February 17th ditched its 1974 vintage BBC1 globe, which was starting to look cheap and nasty and smacked of the troubled seventies, and replaced it with a classier gold and blue globe and a serif font that matched the middle class aspirations of the times.
Obviously in these more aspiring times, World of Sport with its wrestling and ITV Seven looked like an anachronism and ITV was quite happy to ditch them, though retaining Saint and Greavsie and moving wrestling to a lunchtime slot. The afternoon racing joined the weekday variety on Channel 4, which replaced the ITV Seven bet with the 4 Timer, and extended racing coverage in the summer until 5pm, where ITV had finished it at 3.45.
For much of the eighties, football went through a spell of rotten luck that looked as if it could kill the game. A sport that had been tarnished by violence – to the extent that English teams had been expelled from European competition after 39 fans were killed in a riot in Brussels in May 1985 – tended to appeal mainly to young working class men in declining urban areas: it seemed to be dying on its feet, and had little to recommend it. I can recall receiving an Alas Smith and Jones annual for Christmas 1985 with a caption that said “Spot the Fans: Where are They?”, which was a pun on the popular Spot the Ball money game in the seventies. Even the American version of football was becoming more popular on Channel 4.
Association Football seemed to be an irrelevance that was killing itself. A comment in the Sunday Times about it being “a slum game for slum people” seemed to sum it up: after all, why support a team that has won the League but can’t prove itself in Europe because the stupidity of the fans means we can’t play abroad? A three-month dispute with the Footballers Union in the autumn of 1985, during which television highlights could not be shown, must have made it seem to football fans as if their game was on life support, despised by the Conservative government whose MPs frequently referred to “football scum” whenever the hooligan issue was mentioned. The media were losing interest, and attendances were in free fall.
However, much as football was going through a horrific time, it was still the national game, far more than cricket and rugby could ever be. 20 million viewers still tuned in to watch the controversial “hand of God” 1986 World Cup quarter final against Argentina, so there was still a lot of interest in the sport. A massive police effort was beginning to drive the hooligans out of the grounds, but the game was still missing out on that vital eighties factor: corporate interest and middle class fans with money to spend, although club chairmen like Alan Sugar (Spurs) and Ken Bates (Chelsea) were wooing affluent Londoners with deals on corporate hospitality .
Television coverage at the time tended to start halfway through the season with matches shared between the BBC and ITV for a piffling rights fee of £4 million a season. ITV, in the same year it ditched Crossroads and professional wrestling for being too downmarket, sensed that football was desperate to make itself respectable and attract a new kind of fan, and snatched the rights to the Football League from the BBC for an unheard-of £44 million four-year deal in the summer of 1988. ITV Sport, which now had most major boxing and British athletics meetings in its sports portfolio, was now seeing itself as a major player in televised sport. The old image of Dickie Davies presenting barrel jumping to an audience of ageing ITV viewers with little disposable income was dying. These were now sports events that could attract the more demanding sports fan and generate more advertising revenue. Under Greg Dyke, ITV Sport was desperate to take on the old BBC domination of this field of television.
The move to a more meritocratic and less class-based society saw the unthinkable happen in April 1991 when Rugby Union, which had been with the BBC since 1938, abandoned the Corporation in favour of a more lucrative deal with ITV for the World Cup. ITV, except for a few regional Rugby League programmes such as Rugby League Live on Granada and a highlights show on Border called The Union and the League, had until then shown little interest in rugby of either kind: and devotees of tea-time wrestling would have been less than pleased to see what would formerly have been regarded as a public school toffs’ game.
However, under the new look ITV Sport of Greg Dyke, Rugby Union, which was undergoing an increase in popularity due to the success of the England team under Will Carling, was more than welcome on the station and the notoriously conservative RFU, who in previous decades would have looked down their noses at the “commoners” at ITV, caved in to the prospect of extra cash. (It could also be added the BBC’s coverage of the 1987 World Cup in New Zealand was half-hearted and fell below their usual high standards.) ITV Sport, which now had a sporting canon of international Rugby Union, League football, top flight boxing, athletics and snooker, seemed to have extinguished its stale image of the early eighties – although a BBC Sport advert at the time declared that two-thirds of viewers still preferred their coverage and certainly some of the ITV camerawork and presentation was poor.
However, both the BBC and ITV had reckoned without the new kid on the block, Sky Television, created by Margaret Thatcher’s favourite media mogul, Rupert Murdoch, who had crushed the print unions at News International in the eighties and was determined to cause a revolution in television as well by taking on the terrestrial broadcasters. Sky was typical of the type of ‘money is everything’ attitude that developed in the eighties. While its non-sporting channels showed very little of merit – often reruns of the Lucy Show and third-rate films – Murdoch was determined to make his name in subscription sports broadcasting, which was where the real money could be made. His only serious rival, British Satellite Broadcasting, was taken over in 1991, leaving Murdoch the main player in British satellite television, then still only available in a small percentage of homes.
The gradual revival of football’s fortunes following a successful performance by England in the 1990 World Cup, and the decision by the First Division in the summer of 1992 to break away from the Football League and form the Premiership, saw Murdoch act quickly. While the ‘greed is good’ eighties had become somewhat tarnished by 1992, with the onslaught of a severe recession that was hitting all sectors of society not just manual workers, sporting bodies, which had often been sold short by the BBC and ITV in the past, were beginning to find that charging broadcasters huge amounts in rights fees could work in their favour.
The growth in football’s appeal beyond young working class men to the middle class and families, even in spite of a recession, could mean large profits for the Premiership clubs and large profits for Sky from subscription fees. After all, showing football on a dedicated channel without the need to cut the game short for Corrie, as occurred on ITV, could bring in millions of new viewers and profits to the low rent Sky channels.
Football sold out to Sky for £300 million in a four-year deal in the summer of 1992. While ITV was furious that its most popular sporting contract, live top-flight football, had been lost, and newspapers such as the then-socialist Daily Mirror complained that poorer viewers could not afford to subscribe, the deal was inevitable and even welcomed by many football fans. Richard Littlejohn in The Sun declared that viewers would be spared Saint and Greavsie chirping “it’s a funny old game” and the Coronation Street omnibus getting in the way. Another upside of the deal was that the move to all-seater stadia and new grounds was speeded up by the Sky deal and the revival of the sport took off as football fans rushed out to buy satellite dishes.
The downside to the Sky deal was that ITV Sport suffered a huge body blow. Like the working man in the eighties who bought his council house and tried to emulate the middle class by buying a top of the range car (often on finance), and who now had lost his job and was facing the repossession of his house and car, ITV Sport shot back downmarket. Shorn of its football coverage, ITV Sport, apart from the rugger world cup every four years, now had a poverty stricken and uninspiring range of sports that included regionalised First Division football, snooker, some boxing and domestic athletics from run-down stadia like Haringey in North London. It was no wonder when Des Lynam at the BBC commented to the Daily Mail that ITV might as well pack in their sports department and show Bond films instead.
Not that the BBC, which still had the bulk of sports contracts in the early nineties, was to find its sporting empire staying intact for very long. The less-deferential society that was emerging as the nineties wore on – John Major had wanted to create a classless society and there were signs by 1994 that the recession was lifting – meant that sporting events that had been with the BBC since the forties were showing little loyalty to the Corporation when offered a superior deal by a rival broadcaster.
Cheltenham, which as mentioned earlier was one of the BBC’s most important sporting events, announced it was switching to Channel 4 after the BBC contract ended in March 1994. While commentator Peter O’ Sullevan was infuriated and gave an interview to Radio 5 which sounded like an obituary, the BBC’s stuffy coverage, still hosted by Julian Wilson, was becoming outdated and too ‘country set’. Channel 4, at the time the most classless and forward-looking broadcaster, whose racing coverage was fast-paced and far more exciting to watch than the BBC’s, seemed ideally placed to take on the richest National Hunt meeting in Europe. Gone were the days when the directors of Cheltenham would have looked down their noses at a commercial broadcaster.
ITV Sport was desperate to revive itself as well. Under Marcus Plantin, the station’s first network director, the ITV now wanted to appeal to younger and middle class viewers, as this was where the advertising revenue was. Certainly, an ‘international’ boxing tournament that featured two unknowns in a sports centre in Stevenage, as occurred in 1994, and snooker were not the way forward. The coverage of the 1994 World Cup was generally regarded as hopeless and wooden, with most of the reporting being done in a studio in London rather than in America. Again the lack of deference to the BBC, which at the time was reinventing itself under John Birt (disastrously as it turned out) by trying to catch the ITV audience and ditching traditions like BBC English to appear more modern, helped ITV’s case as Plantin decided to go on the rampage with cash to rebuild his sports department.
The Champion’s League football, the successor to the European Cup, was the first major coup, but ITV staged its biggest success during one week in November 1995 when it snatched Formula 1 motor racing, which it had never covered, and the FA Cup from the BBC. These were sports that were very popular with young male viewers and also appealed to the vital ABC1 viewing audience. At the same time First Division football, boxing and snooker were dropped and the station decided not to continue with its increasingly half-hearted athletics coverage after 1997. Signing Bob Wilson from the BBC was another major coup as ITV football presentation was considered weak.
The move to make ITV more middle class, though short-lived, and the BBC more working class, reflected what was happening in politics in the mid-nineties. The ultimate irony at the time was that the Conservative government was led by a former doleite with 2 O levels who grew up in a rented flat in Brixton, while Labour had elected a public schoolboy who went to Oxford in the autumn of 1994 who was determined to remove the last of the old socialist baggage such as Clause Four and take on board Southern Tory voters by appearing as a more moderate type of Conservative. Because of the recession, disillusion with the Tories was highest in the South, though in the immediate pre-Blair era, the Liberal Democrats had been the main beneficiary of anti-Conservative votes. John Major, aware of his government’s unpopularity, decided to court “the hardworking class” and have himself filmed eating chips at a transport cafe, to try and keep working class support which had flocked to the party in the eighties, but which was now drifting back to Labour along with the Southern middle class.
The 1997 election saw a Labour landslide that was bigger than even the party’s most optimistic supporters expected, a leading local Labour activist advised me to expect a Labour majority of 100. Labour routed the Conservatives with a landslide majority of 176, wiping out the latter party in Scotland, Wales, the industrial North, and most of the cities. Also, tactical voting towards the Liberal Democrats in the South saw the Lib Dems double their MPs and weaken the Tories still further in their heartland, where Labour support had grown to an extent that even solid Tory seats like Enfield Southgate, of Michael Portillo fame, fell to Labour. Labour could now claim to be a truly national party, while the Tories were reduced to a largely rural and Southern stockbroker belt party that became as bitter and divided as Labour in the early eighties.
One player who helped Labour to win its huge majority, who was previously blamed by Labour for losing it the 1992 “The Sun wot won it” election, was Rupert Murdoch, who cunningly switched the previously Thatcherite Sun to Labour shortly before the 1997 election. Blair was glad of such backing as The Sun was the most popular newspaper in Britain. Murdoch, of course, was also rapidly becoming the biggest player in television sport in Britain. Although the BBC was still the biggest in terms of international events for which it held the rights, such as the Olympics, Sky by 1997 had the rights to club Rugby Union, had revitalised the downmarket game of Rugby League through the Super League contract in 1995, premiership football, night-time horse racing, international golf and England overseas cricket matches.
As noted earlier, the Sky deal had turned the distinctly Old Labour game of football into something for New Labour luvvies and the ex-Conservative middle class, Blair was frequently seen having a kickabout and the game was endorsed by Labour voting celebs such as Britpop musicians (John Major was a cricket fan, which was deeply unfashionable at the time), and, like voting Labour in the South, had made football a topic for middle class conversations that would have been unthinkable in the eighties. Though on a much smaller scale, as the game was provincial and mostly played in Labour’s heartlands like St Helens, Rugby League had moved itself upmarket with the influx of Sky money, and started to appear less of a backwater game appealing to ex-miners watching in a pigsty of a stadium (Old Labour) to something more like football with shiny new stadia and corporate hospitality (New Labour).
John Major’s favourite sport, and something the BBC thought it would have the rights to ad infinitum, namely cricket, stunned the BBC when the TCCB refused a derisory rights offer and sold them instead to Channel 4 and Sky in the summer of 1999. Rather like the Tories of the period, the BBC’s coverage and the sport itself were old-fashioned, appealed mostly to older people in country areas, and were totally irrelevant to most younger people. Channel 4, although it would sometimes have to interrupt the cricket with racing coverage, at least would not interrupt the cricket with hourly news bulletins, or switch between stations at a vital point in the match. The channel recruited the well-known BBC commentator Richie Benaud, and spent more on graphics and livelier presentation. Although the dire performance of the England cricket team (until last year’s Ashes series) meant audiences were little higher than those on the BBC, at least the presentation was livelier and the use of graphics made it more fun for the fans. However, despite huge ratings for the Ashes series, Sky outbid Channel 4 for cricket rights and the highlights package has now gone to the untested waters of Five, whose main sporting coverage has previously been the occasional UEFA Cup match.
The 21st century television rights battles for sport, rather like politics, have become far more volatile and traditions have been eroded. A traditional establishment BBC sport like Rugby Union has flitted between Sky, ITV and the BBC whenever the rights have come up for renewal. Similarly the stuffy BBC racing coverage, which was often a turn-off when Julian Wilson was in charge, has become far more livelier with presenters like Sue Barker and, after decades with commercial television, the BBC was given the rights to the Derby in 2001. ITV Sport, which acquired the Boat Race after 65 years with the BBC, is now seen as one of the few areas the station can attract ABC1 male viewers, or male viewers in general, as the rest of the station’s output has sunk into a downmarket female oriented morass that makes the worst of ITV’s offerings in the seventies look like BBC Four. As long as the cash is on the table, this is all that matters to the sporting organisations, no matter how long they have stayed with the same broadcaster. However, like the Tories with which the BBC was often compared to in its political outlook, the BBC’s modernisation and improved programming after the Birt years has seen it revive its sports department and it still remains a major player despite being written off in the late nineties.
At a political level, the changes in television sport, which traditionally was divided between the middle class oriented BBC (Conservative) and working class ITV (Labour), could have been reflected in the voting patterns since Labour’s last landslide in 2001. While the broadcasting duopoly has long since been broken, the old political duopoly has been greatly weakened too. In 1979, the last year of the old social democratic consensus and stronger class differences, the two main parties took 83 per cent of the vote. In 2005 this was reduced to 67 per cent and in EU elections in 2004 the minor parties took 48 per cent of the vote. The Liberal Democrats, who were very much a fringe party 30 years ago when they were the Liberals and had very little support in Labour heartlands, have successfully taken on-board disgruntled Old Labour voters in the North and now have 63 MPs as well as being the dominant party on councils in Liverpool and Newcastle.
However, just as ITV Sport has totally abandoned its old working class base, there is also evidence to support the idea that voters in inner cities and old industrial areas have felt abandoned and have abstained from voting – turnouts are significantly lower than in more affluent areas. (I know that in my Old Labour type constituency of Copeland, turnout fell from 77 per cent in 1997 to 62 per cent in 2005.) Similarly the radical Labour voters in the middle class in disgust at the war in Iraq have often turned to the Lib Dems or the Greens, who score well in bohemian areas in London and Brighton.
However, the main thrust, politically as well as with sports television, is on Middle England. The council tenant in Middlesbrough, who years ago would have lapped up the ITV Seven, is considered an irrelevance as they don’t have the disposable income, equally showing little interest in something like Hickstead on the BBC. And when it comes to politics, they often never vote. Similarly the radical middle class, which often has no interest in competitive sport, is an even smaller group that can be ignored. The 70 per cent or so of the population who now own their own home, take foreign holidays and have a decent disposable income, are the main battleground for both the politicians and the sports broadcasters. The blurring of class distinctions, which can often mean a construction worker can earn more than a professional and live on the same private estate, has seen sports broadcasters target this group – as, for commercial broadcasters, a relatively affluent audience means more advertising revenue – and the old distinctions that determined which class followed which sport have been greatly weakened.
However, I will admit to one thing: I would love to see the return of World of Sport over some boring pundits discussing the offside rule for half an hour – that’s definitely been one change for the worst.