Grand National Anorak

Broadcasting the National 1960-

Despite her reluctance to allow television cameras into Aintree for fear that television would keep the crowds at home Mrs Topham finally allowed the BBC to televise the National in 1960. The BBC have continued to televise the race which is one of the countries sporting "crown jewels" that must be shown on terrestrial television. The Grand National was the flagship of the BBCs outside sporting broadcasts and in 1995 they won a BAFTA award for their coverage. However during the noughties the BBC started to lose interest in televising racing and it came as no surprise when it was announced in 2012 that the Beeb would no longer screen racing and that Channel 4 would start broadcasting all racing including the National from 2013. As long as they keep McCririck under lock and key it should just work.
Update 2014 - Yes it does - Channel 4 have covered two Nationals and they have done a damn fine job of it although the camera angle at the fourteenth needs attending to. So pleased that they restored the head on shot at Bechers.
Update 2016 - Channel 4 did a pretty good job and it will be interesting to see how ITV will do. Keeps it interesting.
Update 2017 - Very well in fact although the camera angles meant that the two first fence fallers were missed as were incidents at Valentines thanks to the side on shot from the outside of the fence. For the first time ever Racing UK provided the better pictures of the race itself. 

BBC/Channel 4/ITV Grand National Commentators 1960 -


Peter Bromley 1st - Anchor Bridge. Peter O`Sullevan 13th - Melling Road


Peter Montague-Evans 1st - Anchor Bridge. Peter O`Sullevan 13th - Melling Road


Bob Haines 1st-4th..Peter Montague-Evans 5th - Anchor Bridge. Peter O`Sullevan 13th - Melling Road


Bob Haines 1st-4th.Tony Preston 5th- Anchor Bridge. Peter O`Sullevan 13th - Melling Road


Bob Haines 1st-4th.Michael O`Heir 5th-9th.Michael Seth-Smith 10th - Anchor Bridge. Peter O`Sullevan 13th - Melling Road.


Julian Wilson 1st-4th.Michael O`Heir 5th-9th. Michael Seth-Smith 10th -Anchor Bridge. Peter O`Sullevan 13th - Melling Road


Julian Wilson 1st - Anchor Bridge. Peter O`Sullevan - 13th - Melling Road


Raleigh Gilbert 1st - 4th/10th - Anchor Bridge. Julian Wilson 5th-9th. Peter O`Sullevan -  13th - Melling Road


John Hamner 1st-4th .Julian Wilson 5th-9th . John Hamner 10th-Anchor Bridge. Peter O`Sullevan 13th-Melling Road


John Hanmer 1st -4th.Jim McGrath 5th-9th .John Hanmer 10th-Anchor Bridge. Peter O`Sullevan 13th - Melling Road


John Hanmer 1st-4th.Tony O`Heir 5th-9th.John Hanmer 10th-Anchor Bridge. Jim McGrath 13th-Melling Road

2004 - 2009

Ian Bartlett 1st-4th.Tony O`Heir 5th-9th.Darren Owen 10th-Anchor Bridge. Jim McGrath 13th-Melling Road

2010 - 2012

Ian Bartlett 1st - 4th, Darren Owen 5th -10th, Ian Bartlett - 11th- Anchor Bridge, Jim McGrath 13th - Melling Road

Channel 4

2013- 2016

Ian Bartlett 1st-4th, Richard Hoiles 5th-10th, Simon Holt 11th - Melling Road


2017 - 

Mark Johnson 1st-4th, Ian Bartlett 4th-9th, Mark Johnson - 9th-Anchor Bridge, Richard Hoiles - Anchor Bridge-Melling Road

The Face of the National

Over the years the presenters of the Grand National programme have become synonymous with the great race. The BBC tended to have their top sports presenter present Grand National Grandstand recognising that not everyone watching would be a regular racegoer. Therefore the face of BBC racing, Julian Wilson was dispatched to a gantry by the Canal Turn to commentate on the race and a more well known face did the honours of presenting the broadcast and interviewing winning connections. Here is a list of the anchor presenter.s over the years
1960             Cliff Mitchelmore
1961-1976    David Coleman
1977             Frank Bough
1978-1984    David Coleman
1985-1999    Des Lynam
2000-2002    Sue Barker
2003-2007    Sue Barker & Clare Balding (2007 marked the last Grand National Grandstand)
2008-2012    Clare Balding
Channel Four
2013-2014    Clare Balding
2015             Nick Luck
2016             Clare Balding
2017-            Ed Chamberlain

Some Notable Broadcasting Milestones

1958 - After years of negotiations and whilst still unwilling for the BBC to broadcast the National Mrs Topham does allow the cameras into Aintree to film the Autumn meeting. The first televised race over the National fences is the 1958 Molyneux Chase.

1960 - The BBC broadcast the National for the first time . The programme is presented by Cliff Mitchelmore a broadcaster not noted for his love of racing (indeed prior to the broadcast he had only been racing twice in his life). More familiar with current affairs programmes Mitchelmore has been a last minute replacement for David Coleman who was ill and apparantly he borrowed a book on the National to read on the train during his journey to Liverpool. I have not seen the broadcast but understand that it was a competent performance.

1961 - David Coleman presents the Grand National programme for the first time. Coleman, a respected sports presenter is more known for his football and athletics broadcasts but he continues to present Grand National Grandstand every year (with one exception) until his final presentation in 1984.

1969 - The race is broadcast in colour for the first time.

1977 - For one year only (due to a contract dispute with Coleman) Grandstand presenter Frank Bough presents the programme. In an attempt to give the armchair viewer an idea what it is like to ride in the National the BBC "miked up" jockey Graham Thorner who was riding Prince Rock. If you listen carefully you can hear the unintelligable mumblings of Thorner over the first few fences but you cannot make out any words. Fortunately subsequent replays of the race deleted the expletives shouted by Thorner as he was thrown over the twelfth fence without his horse. The experiment was not repeated.

1981 - A complete re-run of the race is broadcast for the first time with additional camera angles showing close ups of the first fence, Bechers and the Chair making it easier to see what happened to your horse.Various new and more adventurous camera angles are added over the years to make this state of the art feature one of the highlights of the Grand National programme.

1984 - The National gets a new angle with an aerial camera taking pictures of the race from the sky.

1985 - Des Lynam presents his first Grand National Grandstand from a position by the winners enclosure (previously a makeshift studio in front of the County Stand had been used). Another broadcaster for whom racing had been something of a closed book, Lynam`s inimitable style is very popular with the "non-racing viewer" for whom the National is their only foray into the world of racing. Lynam as presenter worked precisely because he was not a racing man and during his reign the programme never allows itself to get bogged down with technical racing jargon. He asked the questions that the non racing public wanted to know and his tenure is considered a great success. Of course he got better and better over the years as he built up a good rapport with racings great and good and his annual interview with Jenny Pitman becomes one of the highlights of the programme.

1991- Cameras are allowed into the Jockeys changing room for the first time

1996 - Whilst interviews with connections had been conducted in the saddling boxes for some years they are also interviewed in the paddock before the race for the first time.

1998 - The Jockey Cam is used for the first time. This remarkable invention is attached to the front of the jockeys helmet and is designed to give a jockeys eye view of what it is like to ride in a National. Unfortunately the first jockey to be equipped with the camera, Richard Johnson falls at the very first fence on Banjo. His footage was to have been used for the new "Grand National Simulator" ride so footage for that attraction is actually taken from the rider of a grey horse called Kerry Orchid who had completed one circuit in the Foxhunters Chase. The Jockey Cams have mixed success (they didn`t work in 2000 & were not used at all in 2002 and 2008) and are not used that widely in re-runs. To my knowledge Southern Star in 2003 is the only runner equipped with a jockey cam to have completed the course. A Grand National Preview Programme is broadcast on the eve of the race for the first time. The 30 minute programme is broadcast on BBC2. The programme has undergone several changes in format over the years

1999 - Lynam broadcasts his final Grand National Grandstand as he leaves the BBC to front ITVs new (and ultimately short-lived) football flagship programme.

2000 - In keeping with the "everyman/woman" approach former tennis player turned all round Sports presenter Sue Barker takes over as lead presenter although she effectively co-presents the programme with Clare Balding. Richard Dunwoody conducts interviews in the Jockeys room for the first time before and after the race.

2004 - Channel Four Racing had been interviewing breathless winning jockeys immediately after the race for years but it is not until this year that the BBC try it out. Clare Balding interviews an exhausted but delighted Graham Lee.

2007 - Whilst it had been interviewing owners and trainers in the paddock for some time now the BBC comes in for criticism in some quarters when it departs from the traditional horse-by-horse view of the runners in the paddock is replaced with a more detailed look at selected runners.

2008 - With Grandstand having been axed in 2006 the BBC hands the repsonsibility for broadcasting the National to Independant producers Sunset and Vine who have already been producing some of the BBCs racing coverage. Sue Barker is replaced as lead presenter by Claire Balding. Richard Dunwoody joins the team again for the first time since 2000.

2010 - The Grand National preview programme is axed.

2011 - Channel 4 racing broadcasts from Aintree for the first time when it broadcasts the Grand Sefton Chase & Becher Chase.

2012 - In a seismic decision it is announced that the Channel 4 will broadcast the Grand National from 2013 in a three year deal. It will inevitably result in a much reduced television audience but to be frank the BBC had lost interest in broadcasting racing years ago so to be honest it is no great loss. 

2013 - The first Channel Four Grand National presented by Clare Balding. As well as the National Channel 4 throw themselves at the task and stage a special Grand National edition of their flagship Friday night chat show Alan Carr Chatty Man and a Grand National themed edition of "Come Dine With Me" (featuring jockey Mattie Batchelor who has never actually ridden in the race - great fun though). Also broadcast on the eve of the race is a fascinating documentary from a vets perspective entiled "How to Win the Grand National". They also put on a thoroughly professional and entertaining broadcast of the race. The highlight for me being lead commentator Simon Holt being slightly taken by surprised by the ultra-efficient and smooth start this year.

2015 - Clare Balding decides to front the BBCs coverage of the Boat Race so the job of lead presenter goes to Nick Luck who does an excellent job. Whilst some were surprised that a celebrity outsider was not chosen to front the coverage we do get Gok Wan as a presenter concentrating on the fashion on Ladies and Grand National days.

2016 - At the beginning of the year it is revealed that ITV had won the rights to televise all racing from 2017 onwards. Clare Balding returns to front Grand National day.

2017 - The first ITV National. Presented by former Sky Football presenter Ed Chamberlain he is assisted by former jockeys Luke Harvey, Mick Fitzgerald and Sir AP McCoy who present proceedings from the paddock. A more informal approach than Channel 4 there is certainly a lighter tone. There are also features on Red Rums 1977 National and the bomb scare from 1997. Richard Hoiles calls his first National as lead commentator.

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