Seize the Day: Channel 4 and the Revival of Rugby League on TV

The relationship between rugby league and television has never been easy. Now it’s Channel 4s turn to shake things up

It was March 1976, and Britain was on the brink of change. In Westminster, shockwaves ripped through the political world when the Prime Minister, Harold Wilson, handed in his resignation to the Queen. Having been at the top of the political game for so long, many wondered what life would be like without him. As Michael Palin reflected in his diary, the PM had become as secure an institution “as the Queen or Bovril”. And at that same moment, a rugby league supporter in St Helens was ready to strike out at another one of Britain’s great institutional figures. 

Like Harold Wilson, Eddie Waring had been on television for so long that he had become part of the very fabric of British cultural life. Emerging as the top rugby league columnist in the 1940s, Waring became the voice of sport in the 1950s when the BBC first began to show it regularly on television. 

Redefining the art of sports commentary, Waring’s Dewsbury accent was a novelty in an era that predated Coronation Street and the kitchen sink dramas of the 1960s. His catchphrases — such as “he’s off for an early bath” and “the up and under” — soon became part of the national vocabulary. 

“Uncle Eddie’s” popularity enabled him to transcend the boundary between sport and light entertainment. He was a guest star in the iconic Morecambe and Wise Christmas shows of the 1970s, where half the population tuned in to watch. For impressionists such as Mike Yarwood, he was a reliable figure to satirise and guarantee a laugh each week….

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