Last night, in keeping with my normal television-choice routine, I channel-hopped as far as BBC4 in a desperate attempt to find something worth watching and thereby came across The Story of the 1986 Commonwealth Games on BBC4.
[Here I must confess that I am about to comment upon an hour-long programme of which I caught just the last 35 minutes.]
As an oldie, I find watching programmes on historical events that took place nearly thirty years ago – i.e. within my own lifetime – simultaneously both rewarding and chastening.
Rewarding because – possessing as I do a memory like a sieve – the experience is somewhat akin to that of arriving upon Earth as an alien and learning about a period in its past for the very first time.
Chastening because – for example in this case – viewing the grainy, dated, footage of Steve Cram winning the 800 metres ahead of Scotland’s Tom McLean and/or Tessa Sanderson breaking Fatima Whitbread’s heart in the women’s javelin with her last round winning throw [commentaries by David Coleman and Ron Pickering respectively, who else?], I found myself reconnecting with hazy personal memories of watching them live … and thereby also depressing myself with this reminder of just how ancient I am now!
The 1986 Commonwealth Games at Edinburgh – for those who did not watch last night’s programme and/or are not old enough (or capable enough) to remember it first-hand – was the one boycotted by 32 of the then eligible 59 Commonwealth countries as a direct result of Mrs Thatcher-led Tory government’s refusal to break ties with South Africa over its apartheid system.
The programme told the story of how, against the background of the boycott, the Games struggled to go ahead at all because of logistical and money issues and then became hi-jacked by fraudster Robert Maxwell, who attracted to himself hundreds of acres’ worth of publicity by becoming the self-appointed saviour of the Games. Of course, being ‘Cap’n Bob’, his loudly-proclaimed £2 million cash injection promise turned out in the actuality to be one of a meagre £250,000, leaving the Games with a near £5 million deficit that was only paid off years later.
The last athletics event of all was the women’s 10,000 metres, won by Liz Lynch [later better known by her married name McColgan] who made her name – whichever it was – by becoming Scotland’s first and only gold medal winner on the track.
I began watching the programme with my thumb poised over the required television zapper button, ready to move on at a moment’s notice in search of some crappy repeat of a Cheers or The Thin Blue Line episode on one of those innumerable cable comedy channels, but within seconds I had become hooked.
Normally my position of principle is that I wish to live in the present, rather than in the past, but on this occasion I was pleased to make a brief exception.