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The end of an era
Posted By:   |  21 Nov 2008   |  1:02 pm GMT  |  0 comments

Poignant night at the ITV farewell party yesterday. It was held at the Langley in London’s Covent Garden and pretty much everyone who has worked on the programmes over the past 12 years was there, even some who only worked on that first, 1997 season, which seems like a different lifetime..

Neil Duncanson, the boss of the North One Production company, read out his diary from that first year with many great stories I had forgotten, like the first Monaco GP where the show was presented from a boat and the water got really choppy, so Simon Taylor had to be carried off seasick, or the moving camera in the pits at Silverstone, which came off its rail and smashed into the pit lane about five feet from where I was standing.

As well as all the current team, Jim Rosenthal was there, as was our old head of sport Brian Barwick, who has been running the Football Association since. So too many of the engineers, cameramen, sound recordists and so on. As most of them work for what was the BBC outside broadcast unit, I sincerely hope that the Beeb retain them for next year because they are the best in the business and there is no point trying to reinvent the wheel when it comes to the highly complex business of getting pictures and sound safely back to the truck and from there to the viewer, from some remote location in the paddock. ITV F1′s emphasis was always on “taking the helmet off the sport”, in other words personalising it and above all on “being there”, using the various locations of the circuit and giving the viewer a real feel of what it was like to be there.

It’s amazing to think that ITV had such a long run of producing F1 in the UK. In all we did 206 Grands Prix, only seven drivers have started more races. I was the only person to attend every one of those races , even managing to fit the birth of both my kids around the races! I’m very proud of what we achieved and of course we had the best possible ending to got out on.

The team is now disbanded. I know that many people had frustrations with the ad breaks and some found the build-up show’s emphasis on Lewis Hamilton unjustified, but there is no doubt that ITV raised the standard of F1 TV production very high indeed.

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  1. mattanddebz says:

    I for one will definitely miss the ITV F1 gang. Of course i wont miss the ad breaks but after watching ITV’s coverage for the past 12 years there was really a great sense of family by the end.

    It’s great when a TV show offers more than just “coverage”. When you feel warmth towards presenters, commentators, pit reporters, etc. It adds that something extra worth tuning in for.

    That’s something that the BBC are going to have to build up from scratch. It’s great that Martin Brundle is joining the team there but I imagine at first it’s going to seem a little alien to us avid F1 viewers.

    James, I look forward to hearing about your new career direction and if possible it would be great if you can inform us as to what the rest of the old ITV F1 family are up to at some point.

    Cheers,
    Matt

  2. flagmund says:

    I had deep misgivings about ITV showing Formula 1, but they all proved to be totally groundless. Even the ad breaks stopped to be a problem once one became accustomed – in 12 years they only really messed things up once, at Imola in 2005.

    On a personal note, I would also congratulate you on your part in ITV’s success. You really revolutionised the pit lane reporter role for UK viewers (Tony Jardine was woefully underused by the BBC in that regard). Then, you faced the impossible task of stepping into Murray Walker’s shoes. I think that a lot of the criticism you faced (mostly, it seems, from people who knew less about the sport than you have ever forgotten) boiled down to that fact. It is very much to your credit, in the face of replacing a legendary broadcaster or in the face of the hostility that followed from some quarters, that you never really tried to be anything but yourself. If the rumoured BBC presentation line-up comes to be, the new commentator won’t be looking to emulate Murray Walker. They’ll be trying to emulate James Allen.

    For me, F1 is not “going home” to the BBC. In fact, they have an awful lot to live up to next year. That’s all anyone needs know about the standard of ITV’s coverage over the past decade.

  3. Daniel Hoyes says:

    Thanks James. Every race! Great effort! Yes, the production really moved on when it went to ITV. Yes, the ad breaks were annoying, but I’m sure if we compared the Spanish & Brazilian TV productions there’d be just as much emphasis on the home driver, if not more so. I think it was more of an issue with some people because the support of the country is unusually split with many people still supporting those red Italian cars. I’m sure it’s much more polarised support in Italy, Spain etc…

    Anyway; enjoying the blog very much. Would be great to see you in F1 Racing or some other magazine too.

  4. James says:

    I, for one, am very sad that ITV F1 is no more (on TV anyway). I believe you guys did an absolutely top class on covering races, the pulse on the pits and so on.

    I alos believe that the hype surrounding Lewis Hamilton was justified as well. David Coulthard and Jenson Button never lived up to the hype they recieved, although they clearly should have been title contenders. Lewis Hamilton is a young and exciting driver who will provide much entertainment in the years to come. And for the record, I’m a life-long Ferrari fan! ITV is also a British Organisation, with British commentators – so it only made sense to commentate more on British drivers…!

    The ad breaks were a little aggrivating, but then it provided many of us a chance to nip to the loo and grab a beer!

    I hope the BBC can live up to the extremely high standard that you all set at ITV, and I really hope that the Allen and Brundle combo will carry on, or will be reunited in the very near future!

    Top show guys, and well done to everyone.

  5. Jason C says:

    I’m getting anxious to get on with the new season already and it’s not even 2009 yet! The BBC have a lot to live up to. I’m anxious that they present a full build-up programme for all the races and don’t interrupt it for football or anything like that.

    The lack of adverts will be welcome, but rumours I’ve read say that the BBC want to reduce the budget of the show: the anchors being in a studio, not at the circuit, and maybe only one pit reporter. That would be a shame, in my view.

  6. Aaron James says:

    I think it would be very good, at least for the die-hard fans, to explain why some of the production decisions were what they were?

    Why the almost cynical overload of Lewis in the buildup? British F1 fans are among the most cosmopolitan of any F1 group they support drivers from many teams and many nations. I never really understood why then Lewis, and Jenson Button before him, was given such disproportionate coverage.

    I could understand an emphasis being placed on him, but the entire build up?

    Anyway the BBC will have to face the same dillemas as ITV and it will be interesting to see how they solve them.

    But now, free of the shackles of a contract, it would be great to hear some reasons behind why things were done by ITV how they were.

  7. Lady Snowcat says:

    Well I’d have to say there was good…. but more recently some less than good….

    Ad breaks were always a pain … and often poorly timed… although I do recognise that isn’t always easy….

    And I have to admit that prior to 2007 I usually liked the coverage…. you had some good extra features and I liked the Jim and Tony bits, although that was a matter of taste…

    But then we moved to such antics as cutting from the Press Conference whenever Lewis either wasn’t in it or had said his bit…. sorry but it was just too blatant…. and to show substantial footage of Anthony Hamilton rather than the drivers comments is pretty dismal….

    Sending qualy to the reaches of ITV4 at times surely wasn’t necessary….

    The generally gushing and fawning attitude to Lewis was rather a turn off (admittedly considerable worse from Mr Rider, although I don’t believe you were immune James)….

    I appreciate it’s difficult to balance coverage when you are hoping to get the attention of the newbies attracted by the Lewis phenomenon and at times you did try…. but if you actually support another team or driver it was honestly too much…. and drove many to listen to 5Live alongside the ITV pics and live timing…. indeed 5Live extra covered practice too….

    Actually Martin’s achorage of Japan this season did return the standard up a notch and he even got some sensible comments from Mark Blundell….

    So I have mixed memories… I think it’s usually described as a curate’s egg… although that’s possible too harsh…. certainly for the B.L. period…..

  8. Steve H says:

    I don’t think you need to worry about the quality of what the BBC are planning. A simple google for ‘F1 coverage’ will point you to the following

    All sessions live, uninterupted and interactive on BBCi
    Onboard, Data and Highlights channels
    Possible HD (depends on Bernie)
    Support races live
    Alternative commentary options
    Nightly highlights
    Interactive replays

    ITV improved the standard and the BBC will raise the bar further.

    James, is there any chance of you working for the BBC?

  9. Nevsky says:

    As was said in commentary in Brazil “everything comes to an end.” Sad but true.
    It took ITV to shake up F1 coverage, just as it had taken Sky to innovate football coverage. So the BBC has inherited a brilliant template from which to work with.
    Pity there is no one else to do the same for BBC tennis coverage, which seems stuck in a different age.

    All the best for the future.

  10. David Penketh says:

    I perhaps am not as downcast as others about the switch to BBC. This is not a reflection of the great coverage by yourself and the ITV team, but instead that usually change always moves things forwards. People often critisise the last BBC coverage totally unjustly. Back in 1996 and earlier lets look at the facts:
    - No Internet for rapid news
    - No multiple TV channels i.e. no BBC1 – 4 etc
    - No Digital content – no iplayer
    - Restricted competition
    - No HD TV, No large Plasma’s
    - etc
    So when ITV took over there was a lot of developing room to improve things. To me it is inconcievable that if the BBC would have just stayed static if in 1996 if the BBC had retained it’s rights. Personally at that time I mourned the loss of Eurosport’s (Nee screensport) coverage with Ben Edwards, Allard Kalf and John Watson. At that time having two broadcasters stimulated each other on to better things – This always a good thing as opposed to a monopoly.

    The BBC have a golden opportunity to move things forwards again. I really will miss the current ITV team and would have wanted to keep them all but reconise that this will not produce the clear cut change necessary when a switch like this occurs.

    So I thank ITV for 12 years of excellent ground breaking coverage – It truly has been excellent but “The king is dead – Long live the king”

  11. Paul Swift says:

    James,

    I can only echo the comments above. I think you came into the job with the huge challenge of replacing a legend (and I am old enough to remember when he wasn’t a legend, just a commentator). And, as they said here, made it your own.

    Many congratulations, I enjoyed every minute of your commentaries and your partnership with Martin. I do hope you find a position as high profile as the ITV one, and, for me at least, the BBC commentating role would be the ideal spot. I hope the negotiations go well. Your knowledge of the sport always informed and entertained me (BBC take note).

    Yes Lewis was the centre of attention. With someone with a talent like his, its hard to avoid. I also watch the Italian coverage and they don’t hold back in supporting Ferrari!

  12. J says:

    James,

    Firstly, well done. Stepping into Murray’s shoes would be a daunting task for anyone, but I think you did a tremendous job alongside Martin and I hope your commentary partnership will continue onto the BBC’s coverage. ITV upped the stakes in ’97 and we should all be very grateful, as I’m not sure televised F1 would be that way it is now if it wasn’t for them. Having said that, I am glad that the coverage is going to the BBC. ITV’s coverage started going downhill for me the day they replaced Jim Rosenthal with Steve Ryder. There was an underlying ‘cheesiness’ (for want of a better word) that took over, almost Alan Partridge-like in it’s delivery (and not in a good way), culminating in that god awful sing-along compilation at the end of the season that sadly hammered the final nail in the coffin. On the over-juicing of the Lewis Hamilton lemon (ITV was often referred to LTV online), I think that by the very fact of mentioning it as an issue to discuss in your blog, you’re secretly admitting that it may have been a bit over the top sometimes (I may be wrong). Anyway, I hope to see you in the limelight again soon and that I never have to hear Moby’s worst song badly remixed to embarrassing graphics again (sorry, I had to get that one out too).

  13. Andrew Webb says:

    I am too worried about the BBC’s coverage next season.
    It wont be as good as ITV will have done it.
    One person lists what the BBC have ‘planned’ this probably wont happen.
    What the BBC plan, doesnt happen!
    I mean they ‘planned’ to bid for the cricket rights and look what happened there, they didnt.
    So Im anxious that the BBC will kill off what ITV’s cpoverage was famous for:
    Mark Blundell’s comments
    LIVE at the Track
    The famous Ad Breaks!
    Lewis Hamilton Build-up (No need to apologise for it James, ITV did a superb job with Build up and Lewis is a British Driver!)

  14. The Limit says:

    To be honest, I believe ITV did a pretty decent job over the years, considering for four or five years the action was not always that entertaining. It is difficult getting people worked up when the racing is predictable, and championships are being won by midseason, by the same team and driver.
    We often look back at the pre 1997 era with awe, and rightly so. The 1980s and early 1990s were glorious times in Formula One, with so many drivers taking part who now garner the history books as champions, and in some cases, multiple champions.
    Aryton Senna, Alain Prost, Nigel Mansell, Nelson Piquet, Michael Shumacher, and many others, made the life of the commentators relatively easy for their memorable performances. Marry this with the legandary voice of Murray Walker, and you had the perfect balance.
    When Walker left in 2001, his replacement James Allen had the impossible task of maintaining the standard, which despite his best efforts, was never going to be as good.
    I always admired his effort however, and his comraderie with Martin Brundle was often as highly charged and funny as it had been with Walker.
    I stopped watching ITV back in 2005 when I moved to the United States, and began watching the Speed Networks broadcasts of Formula One races.
    The irony was, after a while, I began watching F1 races on Youtube to catch a little bit of the ITV style of broadcasting.
    All the best guys, and look forward to seeing the new team on the BBC.

    Cheers from Lady Lake, Florida.

    The Limit….

  15. evil g says:

    I am not at all sorry that F1 will no longer be on ITV. The coverage, particularly the last 3-4 years has been appalling.

    There were less features, Jim Rosenthal was forced out of the studio into pit lane, and adverts came sometimes every 7 minutes.

    My biggest complaint though is the on-screen graphics, which changed several years ago. They are now too small for anybody without a 60″ tv to read, and instead of telling us what lap we are on, tell us how many are left.

    This does not make sense, as everything else is done the proper way round – the timing screens [and commentators] all tell us e.g. we expect the cars to pit on lap 24 – but the on-screen graphic never told us when we were getting close to lap 24 – just that there were 47 laps to the end. It is a nonsense. It seems we were expected to settle down to watch the grand prix with a calculator just so that we know what lap we are on.

    I suspect this complaint of mine was probably the fault of FOM and not ITV…

    Also, ITV did a very good job in 1998. which was brilliantly done – particularly the end of season highlights, done to The Cardigans soundtrack was particularly good. But since then there has been a whiff of cost cutting [in the TV production, as well as the sport in general, but that's another story], certainly since 2002.

    I wish you all the best with your career.

  16. Sam Burnham says:

    Hello!

    Hi james, hope you read theese!

    i’m looking forward to the switch to bbc if i’m honest.

    no adverts!! plus the bbc has multi screens on the red button thingy, so hopefully we can have on board footage all the time!
    plus i imagine the bbc has a bigger budget!

    Thats not to say i didnt like itvs footage, i thought the staff were brilliant and the bbc is going to have a lot of trouble getting that right.
    At least Steve rider isn’t on it anymore, i found him annoying – his knowledge of F1 is dreadful.

    I hope you find something your happy with doing.

    I must admit, i didn’t like you at first, but over the years i can’t imagine anyone else doing it, just think of all the memroble moments you’ve been in! you’ve been the voice of F1 during some of the most intense times, and no one can ever take that off you.

    Good Luck dude!

  17. speedmerchants says:

    JA writes: Sam, I can assure you I do read all of the comments. Thanks for yours.

  18. paul walsh says:

    Hi James.

    Sorry to say James that F1 is going back to its rightfull home the BBC, but it is returning to the Beeb in a far better shape then when it left, and thats down to ITV and all who worked on the show( well done ) I wont miss the adverts and I bet you wont either!! I for sure wont enjoy watching the moaning DC on the beeb, he blaimed his car or the track or the weather for everything that he did wrong or could’ent do.
    My dad hated it going over to ITV and stopped watching it, so for him Im sure he will be dancing in the clouds now.

    Good luck James and to all the F1 crew who wont be with the Beeb next year.

    Bring it On!!!!!!!

  19. Mike kenny says:

    I’m not one for crying at all, but I had to try hard not to when watching the closing race of the season and the end of ITV F1′s coverage as a result. The ad breaks were kind of a frustration but they paled into insignificance compared to the briliant F1 team, Mr James Allen in particular. Rather worried with what the BBC will do with F1. Things like HD and no ad breaks will be wonderful but wont mean a thing if the team is no good. The guy off childrens BBC hosting the show perhaps worries me most of all, how will he compare to Steve rider!!?? I try not to worry but how can you not? Take care James and make sure you make it very clear where we can hear your F1 voice for the 2009 season!!

  20. Roger Carr says:

    If you and ITV really understood how frustrating the advertising breaks were, why didn’t you cut the cost of the production by omitting

    1 – all the build up show prior to the pit walk? No one who was itruly nterested in F1 watched such tabloid “after the adverts we meet a famous person” type drivel anyway

    2 – Jim Rosenthal, who could almost see put the newspaper down as the camera turned to him? My Mum can do a better impression of being interested than he could

    3 – Louise Goodman getting bland non statements from retired drivers?

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