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Our Sporting Chance champs

PUBLISHED: 12:44 09 April 2009 | UPDATED: 13:38 03 July 2010

Well played: The Yarmouth team that emerged as national champions of Champions in the BBC Radio Sporting Chance quiz in 1963 receive gift vouchers from the mayor John Winter, in the Town Hall. From left, Andy Watt, Ken Jary, Yarmouth entertainments and pu

Well played: The Yarmouth team that emerged as national champions of Champions in the BBC Radio Sporting Chance quiz in 1963 receive gift vouchers from the mayor John Winter, in the Town Hall. From left, Andy Watt, Ken Jary, Yarmouth entertainments and pu

WHENEVER I watch A Question of Sport on BBC Television, with Sue Barker abetted by a variety of technical know-how as she quizzes teams of sporting celebrities, I find myself remembering that the programme has confessed that sometimes when answers are hard to come by, the painfully long pauses are edited out not only to avoid embarrassment to the struggling celebrity but also to keep the show down to its 30 minutes.

"Jonners": The late Brian Johnston, questionmaster, broadcaster and cricket commentator.

WHENEVER I watch A Question of Sport on BBC Television, with Sue Barker abetted by a variety of technical know-how as she quizzes teams of sporting celebrities, I find myself remembering that the programme has confessed that sometimes when answers are hard to come by, the painfully long pauses are edited out not only to avoid embarrassment to the struggling celebrity but also to keep the show down to its 30 minutes.

I am not quibbling with that because it is light-hearted entertainment, the banter and humour being essential ingredients. But the whole slick production seems light-years away from another sporting quiz that was broadcast nationwide on radio the best part of half a century ago.

That quiz gave a team of sports-minded Yarmouthians two coveted titles…plus the bonus of meeting a man acknowledged as a legendary cricket commentator revered by lovers of the game who followed every ball on Test Match Special.

This Great Yarmouth team brought honour to the borough by its success in Sporting Chance on BBC Radio's Light Programme in the early Sixties. The answers had to spring to mind instantly, with hesitation taken as a “Don't know” admission - no thinking time allowed there. That was in sharp contrast to that famous episode of Question of Sport when a famous golfer took, I recall, more than 20 minutes to arrive at his answer (edited down to a few seconds).

Star for the stars: The Star Hotel in Yarmouth pictured in the Sixties, where the teams had a meal before the quiz was recorded across at the Town Hall.

In 1961 Yarmouth accepted the BBC Radio invitation to be one of the 14 holiday resorts participating in its Sporting Chance quiz, and selected the three-man team of Ken Jary, Derek (“Dutchy”) Holland and Reg Snowling to carry the borough's banner. It was inspired team selection, for they did us proud.

Yarmouth hosted the first round in the assembly room of the Town Hall where Southend were the visitors, and the team were away to Scarborough in their next match, returning home to entertain Torquay. None of that trio of rival resorts could match them, and their three victories earned them a place in the final which took place at Broadcasting House in London. Their opponents were Weston-Super-Mare…and Yarmouth made it four wins in succession to become the Sporting Chance champions, their quick and accurate recall of names, events, statistics and venues bringing them the accolade.

Obviously all the contestants were nervous in all their fixtures, but most of their qualms evaporated swiftly under the geniality, humour and easy-going professionalism of the question-master, Brian Johnston - “Jonners”, as he became familiarly known to cricket lovers when he joined the Test Match Special commentating team, itself a national institution.

As far as Ken Jary, Derek Holland the Reg Snowling were concerned, that was the end of their time in the figurative spotlight - at two hours, somewhat longer than the 15 minutes of fame we are all alleged to achieve in our lifetime, according to the late internationally renowned pop artist Andy Warhol.

So imagine their surprise two years later when they were summoned back in front of the microphones - and Jonners - in a Champions of Champions programme to pit their sporting knowledge against winners of the two other series. Yarmouth, the top resort for sporting knowledge, went into battle against not only Hatfield (top new town) and Royal Air Force Bomber Command (top Service unit) but also a BBC team assembled for the special contest.

This entailed another visit to Broadcasting House in London, with Yarmouth represented by Ken and Derek again but joined by school teacher and former Gorleston footballer Andy Watt replacing Reg Snowling. They answered more questions correctly than their opponents, and emerged as Champions of Champions, delighting themselves and the townsfolk, especially those eager to promote Yarmouth throughout Great Britain.

The studio audience included sporting celebrities like cricketer Colin Cowdrey and runner Don Thompson.

But despite the excitement of emerging as winners of four quizzes and achieving the honour of being the Sporting Chance Champions of Champions, it was meeting Brian Johnston that lingered longest in some of their memories. The team-mates met him for a meal in the Star Hotel in Yarmouth, and at the quizzes he was always an agreeable companion, mixing with everyone and enjoying the informal social side at the broadcast venues.

Although it was 48 years ago, Caister resident and former Yarmouth Port and Haven Commissioners employee Ken Jary remembers it as though it was yesterday. “He was a marvellous man, an absolute gentleman in every way, and he made you feel at ease immediately,” he tells me.

Mr Jary, now 79, who worked in the P and HC finance department, is the only survivor of the Yarmouth participants; also still alive is 94-year-old Harry Pascoe, a long retired Caister headmaster and a man of great stature in the community, who helped in that great success in the sporting quiz, for he coached its members but did not join the team.

“The programmes were recorded and used to be broadcast on a Saturday night, but Harry would not let us listen to them on the radio because he used to record them,” Ken recalls. “On Monday nights we would gather at the Yarmouth publicity department office in Regent Street and he would play his tape back and we would try to answer the questions as if we were all there.”

It obviously worked a treat. “They are wonderful memories,” he says.

But Mr Jary points out that contestants in a similar quiz today would have to be knowledgeable on a far wider range of sports than the teams competing on radio when Yarmouth reigned supreme in the Sixties.

“In those days there would be questions on, say, the Football League and FA Cup, county cricket and Test matches, athletics, the Derby and Grand National. Today your knowledge has to cover all that world-wide stuff and be much more detailed - I mean, cricket would have to include one-day matches, 20-20 overs, all that kind of thing.

“I don't know what I would do today in a similar situation - I'd have to learn twice as much information and then a lot more.”


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