Battling with David Coleman's Ego Nearling Forced Me out of BBC

Daily Mail (London), October 8, 1998 | Go to article overview

Battling with David Coleman's Ego Nearling Forced Me out of BBC


MY RELATIONSHIP David Coleman, television's leading sports senter when I joined BBC in the Sixties, always uneasy.

David's ego is notoriously healthy felt he had standing in the horse world. daughters were successful competition ers and he presented Grand National erage with considerable skill.

What I resented was that David's opinion on any racing matter was presented definitive fact - voiced without asking view. And on certain topics I was better informed.

Our silent antagonism came to a head the autumn of 1970.

Nijinsky had been narrowly beaten France's famous Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe, a heartbreaking defeat but not entirely unexpected. The great horse had suffered severely from ringworm that summer, lowed by rushed preparation for Leger in pursuit of the Triple Crown. paddock at Longchamp, the horse over alarmingly.

Lester Piggott rode an exemplary coming to the lead 100 yards from the ish, but Nijinsky veered from a straight and was caught in the shadow of the by Sassafras, ridden by Yves Saint-Martin.

Barroom critics picked on Lester, ing he had given Nijinsky too much on the straight. I was asked to 'put some words' on Sportsnight's coverage and Coleman wanted me to illustrate that Nijinsky came from a long way back.

'Not that far back,' I objected. 'He only had half-a-dozen lengths to make up on the straight and is capable of doing that in a furlong. He just wasn't himself.' But the Sportsnight producers said: 'David wants you to dub it anyway.' I warned: 'Well, don't expect me to criticise Piggott.' I voiced over the pictures with a strictly factual description. To my horror, when Sportsnight went out that night, who should be there with Coleman but ex-jockey Charlie Smirke.

To my mind, Charlie had always been jealous of Lester.

A possible cause was the Irish 2000 Guineas of 1957 which Smirke won on a colt called Jack Ketch. Afterwards, Lester joined the winning owner, Mary Annes-ley, and muttered: 'Nice horse, that. I'll ride him for the rest of the year.' Now, live on TV, it was payback time. Lester had given Nijinsky far too much to do, claimed Smirke; it was obligatory to be in the first six turning into the straight at Longchamp. He and Coleman concluded that Nijinsky's loss was entirely Piggott's fault.

My reportage had prefaced the item and I was livid at appearing to be in collusion with Coleman and Smirke's prejudiced attack.

I fired off a disgusted memo to the editor of Sportsnight, with copies to everyone else involved, using words such as 'betrayal' and 'deception'.

Brian Cowgill, BBC TV head of sport, had an exceptionally short fuse.

Having worked his way up from local newspaper teaboy to the highest level of television he was a remarkable achiever and not one to call a spade a garden implement. 'Who the hell do you think you are?' he demanded. 'Do you want to work here or not?' My contract was up for renewal

Abridged extract from SOME YOU WIN by Julian Wilson, published by HarperCollins at [pounds sterling]16.99 c Julian Wilson 1998. To order your copy at [pounds sterling]14.99, p&p free, call 0181-307-4052 quoting ref. 819X in two months. 'Yes, Brian,' I said.

'I'll tell you who you're working for,' he growled. 'You'll do what I say.' I still seethed with anger over the affair. Coleman and I avoided one another for the rest of that year.

The 1970s were the golden age for BBC programme-making and I focused obsessively on my career.

That caused a certain chill in my relationship with Peter O'Sulle-van's wife, Pat, which lasted for a quarter of a century.

After a successful year as Peter's understudy, commentating on 23 days' racing against his 67, I felt confident.

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