Saturday, November 07, 2015
Chess on television: Jeremy James and The Master Game
The other day the Guardian ran an obituary for the BBC broadcaster Jeremy James. He was a member of the team that presented the documentary series Man Alive.
But I remember him best as the presenter of The Master Game.
Chess on television? The consensus among broadcasting professionals was that it did not work, but then the BBC came up with an innovation that mean it did.
As soon as the game was over, the players were taken off and, while everything was fresh in their minds, asked to record their thoughts during the game as though it were live.
The entertaining game above, in which John Nunn wipes out a young Nigel Short, will show you how it worked. In fact I am not convinced this video is from The Master Game (at one time most of the programmes were available on Youtube), but it does use the same technique.
Eight series of The Master Game were made between 1976 and 1983. The first two involved only British players and were both won by Bill Hartston, who is James's fellow presenter here.
In the later series, reflecting our growing power as a chess nation, foreign grandmasters appeared. In fact the eighth series, which was never broadcast because of industrial relations problems, ended with the top English player, Tony Miles, defeating world champion Anatoly Karpov in the final.
British chess has declined since the days when we were second only to the Soviet Union. Perhaps it is time to revive The Master Game. It would be a natural for BBC4.