Trouble at the BBC?

Despite last month’s reports that appeared to suggest that the BBC’s commentary line-up for next season was set in stone, more recent rumours suggest that all is far from well in the BBC’s plans for next season.

It appeared to be a foregone conclusion that Jonathan Legard and Martin Brundle would team up in the commentary booth. But the fact that no official announcement was ever made was quite odd. Originally, the BBC were going to announce their plans during the weekend of the Italian Grand Prix. The Monza race passed with no word from the BBC.

Since then, it has only been vaguely stated that an announcement will be made after the end of the season. If the BBC don’t have all their loose ends tied up yet, this suggests that their planned dry run at Interlagos will not be happening. As such, the team covering F1 for the BBC in 2009 will almost certainly go into the season “cold”.

Here is what one insider wrote on a message board last week:

So the rumour goes, the BBC’s first choice as lead commentator is not willing to accept the financial package they are offering, and won’t sign a contract without more money being offered.

However the BBC also has an issue with its second-choice commentator: Another of the talent they have already signed has a long-running dispute with second-choice commentator and refuses to work with him. Indeed he has it written into his contract that he won’t work with him.

Then there’s the matter of the BBC telling all of the other applicants that they weren’t “what the BBC is looking for”.

So the first choice refuses to sign a contract, the second choice is contractually unable to do the job and everyone else has been told to look for a job elsewhere! Quite a pickle.

The identities of choices numbers one and two are not known, but educated guesses have Jonathan Legard as the BBC’s first choice. Legard looked set to take the job, but was known to be reluctant. The former Radio 5 Live F1 commentator decided a number of years ago that the worldwide travel involved in covering the sport was no longer for him and opted to become a British-based football reporter instead. As such, it is easy to see why Legard might be in two minds about returning to F1 commentating.

Furthermore, it is said that there is some friction over the amount he has been offered in the role. Rumours suggest that Jonathan Legard has been offered £76,000 for a season. This is compared to Martin Brundle’s rumoured £1 million pay packet. Although that is a lot of money, it is said that this is less than what Brundle currently gets paid by ITV. Brundle is also in a stronger negotiating position because he is one of the most respected commentators in the business and has won several awards.

The BBC want to pay less for the main commentator, who is being offered a uniquely career-enhancing opportunity, whoever ends up getting the gig. However, it is easy to see why someone would be peeved at being paid just 7.6% of what his ostensibly junior partner earns.

The Daily Mail also suggests that Legard is wary of taking on the role because of “the inevitable comparisons with Murray [Walker].” This is understandable given the barrage of criticism that James Allen has had to face over the years.

Although it’s been easy to put the pieces together over the spanner in the works considering the BBC’s first choice, the issue surrounding the BBC’s second choice remains much more of a mystery. Most are guessing that the second choice is David Croft, current Radio 5 Live commentator. Whoever it is, what this person may have done to upset someone so much that they have had it written in their contract that they won’t work with him is a mystery.

During his commentary for a practice session for the Chinese Grand Prix, David Croft dropped a pretty heavy hint that he would remain on Radio 5 Live, saying that he didn’t mind if people switched to television to watch Formula 1, just as long as they pressed the red button. The red button service would almost certainly include the option to listen to Radio 5 Live commentary.

At least plans for red button services for Formula 1 appear to be going more swimmingly. Another insider on the same message board has uploaded a mockup of the BBC’s interactive F1 coverage. It suggests that the BBC will carry at least the FOM world feed, a dedicated on-board channel, live timing and a few other bits and bobs.

As for the commentators, it looks as though the BBC is in a right pickle. The BBC wants to keep an eye on the pennies and its budget for F1 is lower than ITV’s. They could increase their offer to Jonathan Legard, though the coffers obviously don’t have an unlimited supply of money. Given the bad feelings and politics that have already emerged, the BBC commentary booth could well be a frosty place next season, and that is not good for anyone concerned.

Let’s just hope the BBC decide to turn to Ben Edwards, who is easily the most desirable candidate if Legard and Croft are unable to take up the role.

To keep up with the rumours surrounding the BBC’s coverage next season, I highly recommend keeping an eye on this thread over at Digital Spy.


  1. Mr. Insider again? Hmmm… again, how much weight do his… relevations… carry? These sound like blind items straight out of a tabloid.

    Ben Edwards is always a good option… besides, even if the BBC already told the others that they weren’t what what the BBC is looking for”, I’m sure most of them still wouldn’t say no if they got a second chance.

  2. The Daily Mail also suggests that Legard is wary of taking on the role because of “the inevitable comparisons with Murray [Walker].”

    Sounds like an excuse rather than a reason to me. By Melbourne next year it will be eight years since Murray Walker last commentated for ITV. I thought he was a tremendous commentator and could always forgive his foibles, but does he really cast a shadow that long? I’m no fan of Allen but that’s nothing to do with Murray, it’s because I don’t like Allen’s style.

    The rumours about next year’s coverage are a bit worrying. There’s a huge weight of expectation that BBC are going to revolutionise things but I’m told when you look at how they’ve covered other sports such as cricket it’s their rivals that have been more forward-thinking and innovative.

  3. tis a good forum thread that one. although i kinda lost track when it passed page 300!

    great post vee, but i think a better title would’ve been:

    “pitpass jumps the gun… again!”

    i think i may have now given up reading their site. can you remember the last story they “broke” that contained any factual information?

  4. The problem with James Allen is that he imitates Murray… Badly.

    Despite criticism of Murray’s Gaffes, he still remains the most iconic F1 commentator in the english-speaking world. His shoes would always be difficult to fill. For me, the thing about Walker was the fact that he was always entertaining. Whether it’s telling us that Mansell can see him in his earphones, or getting drivers mixed up for us viewers to scream back at the TV.

    Whoever fills the #1 commentary slot needs to carve their own niche.

  5. Journeyer — Ben Edwards is the obvious choice, even taking into account Jonathan Legard and David Croft. There is always the problem, though, of the BBC’s apparent desire to prevent their commentators from working for anyone else. Ben Edwards has a heap of other commitments at the moment, so he might not want to do that.

    Keith — I think what you say about the BBC is true. From what I gather, whenever the BBC loses a sport to a commercial broadcaster, the coverage improves leaps and bounds. When the BBC gets it back, they bring the coverage up to that level. One thing that the BBC has that ITV hasn’t, though, is the interactive streams which will definitely bring us a kind of F1 coverage that hasn’t been seen on free-to-air television before.

  6. It doesn’t sound too smooth in the process of switching to BBC does it. Pitpass – and I know Sidepodcast loves them, are now saying the FIA is trying to influence the Beeb’s decision not to take Brundle next year – that has got to be a load of rubbish!!!

    I am starting to think that it might be a case of better the devil you know with ITV. Except the advert’s, I think they do a good job, and Allen does get on my nerves but I know a lot of people that hated Murray Walker towards the end of his reign. Remember if you think Allen was bias, Murray Walker made no effort to hide the fact he routed for Nigel Mansell and Damon Hill, the same way Allen does for Hamilton.

    Ben Edwards in the man for the job!