While upwards of 50,000 British enthusiasts will be heading for Le Mans to witness the great Jaguar/Nissan/Porsche/Toyota/Mazda battle for supremacy, there will be a great many more who will be unable to attend for one reason or another.
Unfortunate though it is, they will be poorly served by either the BBC or ITV when it comes to viewing the race. Despite our concern at this lack of television interest, as expressed in our Matters of Moment of August, 1988, the situation has not changed as far as the national and regional television companies are concerned. Fortunately, though, somebody was listening and taking notice, although to take advantage of the 18 hours “live” coverage being offered, you will need a satellite dish.
Screensport, which is not to be confused with Eurosport which is part of the Sky network, is, in fact, owned by WH Smith. That it is beamed down from the Astra 1A satellite which it shares with Sky is nothing but a coincidence, although it does mean that it benefits from the massive publicity that its rival generates since if you can pick up Sky, you can also receive Screensport.
Based in the West End of London, the staff are taking their transmission of Le Mans very seriously knowing that if they succeed in getting Le Mans right again this year as they have done for the past few years, they will be creating a lot of goodwill and possibly stealing a march not just on their cosmic rivals but also on the BBC.
There will be reports on the hour, every hour all through the race. The accompanying updates will be gradually extended as the race continues enabling new viewers to be brought up to date and allowing others to “dip in and dip out” and still be kept informed. On Saturday afternoon, however, there will be one solid chunk of four hours for the afficionados
Although the ACO’s facilities will be used for the transmission, David Jackson, the young producer, will be taking up to six of his own cameramen and will have a vertitable army of technicians on the ground for the transmission.
The TV cameras are put in by the ACO and IMGTWI to produce the close circuit coverage of the cars going round the track on behalf of the participating networks because obviously they would not want everybody putting their own cameras in. Screensport take that feed, likewise the Japanese, the Americans and the French. Screensport, however, take their own presentation vehicles which will enable David Jackson to put two radio cameras in the pit lane, two wide shots, which become operative during the French commercial breaks, and two cameras roving around in the paddock gathering stories which can be used as and when necessary, particularly during the night when there is not any main scanner coverage. There are also two in-car cameras and a helicopter shot.
An interesting technical aside is that there is a requirement for 15 radio frequencies for cameras but the French have only nine available — and money cannot buy that discrepancy — which means that it is impossible to have 10 in-car cameras because there are not the frequencies and aeroplanes would start being brought down. This also applies to radio talkbacks and cameras in pits.
An advance party is sent out on the Monday of the race with up to 40 feature stories being shot so that by the time the race starts they can be dropped into the the coverage as necessary meaning that the 18 hours will be more than cars going around the track.
On the Wednesday the production people arrive to start getting it rigged on Wednesday afternoon and all day Thursday. On Friday they start rehearsing the final technical checking. The huge graphics operation, which cannot be done in advance at Silverstone or Spa as it includes a mug shot of every driver and finding out what colours the cars actually are running in, starts on Thursday.
The English commentators are Andy Smith, Bob Constanduros, Richard Hay, Neville Hay, with background from Brian Redman. Summaries will come as and when people drop out. Statistics will be compiled by Steve Slater.
Screensport owns the European satellite rights in four languages with exclusivity in Germany.
If you are unable to get to the famous event, it masi well be worth your time wandering along to a local Dixons to make enquiries — if you can convince the wife that is!