- Cricket and Broadcasting
Jack Williams’ latest book is the fourth in the successful “Studies in Popular Culture Series” to address an aspect of the relationship between broadcasting and British social and cultural life. It represents, however, the first attempt at dealing with the multi-faceted relationship between broadcasting and a sport. By concentrating upon one sport—a methodology Williams regards as essential to the better understanding of sport’s relationship with broadcasting—this book attempts a contextually wide-ranging examination of the “extent, evolution and impact” that broadcasting has had upon cricket (p. 8). Having written upon cricket and broadcasting separately in the past, Williams is well qualified to write this book, and this study represents a thoroughly researched addition to cricket’s historiography. However, despite the depth of this research, Cricket and Broadcasting poses more questions than it answers.
The book is organized over eight highly detailed and descriptive chapters that cover the history of “how cricket matches have been [End Page 370] covered,” rather than “how cricket has been broadcast” (p. 3) on British radio and television. Primarily, it seeks to explain: Why cricket was overrepresented in its broadcasting coverage? How did the relationship between various cricket and broadcast organizations manifest itself in coverage? And how has modern coverage influenced changes in spectatorship patterns and behavior? Related to these questions are discussions regarding class, gender, ethnicity, Christianity, national identity, sportsmanship, “celebrity” culture, and the game’s finance, to name but a few.
No specific dates are suggested in the title of the book, but upon reading it is clear that Williams’ book covers an approximate period between 1922, the year of the first radio broadcast of a cricket match in Australia, and the present day. Sadly this time period, and Williams’ assertion that “the cultural ramifications of cricket . . . are justifications for analysing its relationship with broadcasting” (p. 1) are, as presented, questionable. By the time of the first British radio broadcast by the BBC in 1927 the game’s national, social, and cultural image was not only established, but many of the international ramifications, based upon imperial and racial lines, were fully formed. The book would have been enhanced with an examination of the social and cultural pre-history of cricket broadcasting—the cricket coverage by the Pathé and Gaumont News Organisations are never mentioned—and to adequately discuss the differences between, and motivations of, the print media and broadcasters regarding the coverage of controversies. Similarly, the affect that broadcasters’ introduction of “umpiring technology” is increasingly having upon the game—technology now central to power struggles between national cricket boards—is only allocated four pages (pp. 166–170). One must agree with Williams’ observation regarding cricket broadcasts that “not talking about a certain aspect of cricket can be an important feature of a narrative about cricket” (p. 5). However, this study appears to attempt to cover rather too many issues related to a central theme. It describes a great deal in very specific detail, without much in the way of historical explanation. Rather than methodically examining or comparing central issues the book cites one example after another, often more than once: The disastrous ITV coverage of the 1968 Gillette Cup Final is mentioned three times in twenty-eight pages. Similarly, chapter five, “Broadcasting and Images of Cricket,” attempts to cover class and privilege, sportsmanship, the dignity and decorum of cricket, cricket and the pastoral tradition, Christianity, and ethnicity. Many of these issues could have warranted a chapter on their own and, in order to be analyzed fully in relation to broadcasting, perhaps should have been.
Be it an assumption of the reader’s wider knowledge or the failure to cross-reference this evidence with other broader historical theses, Williams misses opportunities to associate the broadcast “narrative” of cricket with its pre-history and contemporary cultural meaning. The book describes the way in which commentators and summarizers reported, and yet it fails to discuss in any depth the class of these men beyond the school they went to or whether they previously played as an...