1937 Wimbledon Championships (partially found footage of tennis tournament; 1937)

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1937wimbledon1.jpg

Off-screen photograph showing television coverage of the 1937 Wimbledon Championships from the viewer's perspective.

Status: Partially Found

The 1937 Wimbledon Championships were the 57th instance of the Wimbledon Championships, a Grand Slam tennis tournament that took place from 21st June to 3rd July. Hosting five different events, the Championships saw Don Budge overcoming Gottfried von Cramm to win the Gentlemen's Singles, an Dorothy Round defeating Jadwiga Jędrzejowska to win the Ladies' Singles. A Round 1 event in the Gentlemen's Singles between George Lyttleton Rogers and Henry "Bunny" Austin made television history, for being the first instance of televised tennis[1]

Background[edit | edit source]

Heading into the 1937 Wimbledon Championships, Fred Perry was the latest Gentlemen's Singles champion, having won his third consecutive Wimbledon Final in 1936 by beating Gottfried von Cramm 6–1, 6–1, 6–0.[2] Meanwhile, Helen Jacobs was the defending Ladies' Singles champion, winning her fifth Wimbledon title by beating Hilde Krahwinkel Sperling 6–2, 4–6, 7–5 in the 1936 Final.[3] Additionally, the Gentlemen's Doubles (Pat Hughes and Raymond Tuckey), Ladies' Doubles (Freda James and Kay Stammers), and Mixed Doubles (Fred Perry and Dorothy Round), were also set to be contended at the event. A Triple Crown was therefore possible, by winning the gender-specific Singles and Doubles, combined with the Mixed Doubles.

During this time period, the BBC were looking to broadcast various sporting events for its relatively new Television Service, including tennis, football, rugby and cricket. The 1937 Wimbledon Championships would prove to be an attractive proposition for a television broadcast, because of the success Perry achieved in the previous three Championships, which had reignited home interest. While Perry would not be defending his title that year, having gone professional and cutting ties with the class-based International Lawn Tennis Club of Great Britain,[4] the fact 65 of the 128 competing men were British, as well as 75 of 97 women, would theoretically entice viewers to watch the event. British hopes were generally behind Bunny Austin, the only seeded Briton of eight seeds, who had reached the final of the 1932 Wimbledon in a losing effort to Ellsworth Vines.[5]

Broadcasting the 1937 Wimbledon Championships had its challenges for BBC Television Service. While the BBC had successfully produced radio coverage of Wimbledon Championships since 1927, the logistics of televising the matches were significantly greater. It required three outside broadcasts vans; one containing Emitron cameras that would exclusively capture from the Centre Court, one containing a transmitter, and another containing a generator needed to allow for transmission of the event.[6] According to Radio Times issues, the microphones needed to be positioned in such a way that they could properly capture sound, but were also not prone to being invasive to the action, nor be affected by the elements like sun and rain.[7]

Such were the concerns a television broadcast as ambitious as this would fail, no Radio Times issue listed when any coverage of the event would occur, with the assumption that this "experimental" broadcast would be taken off-air should it fail. Nevertheless, an illustration was provided in one issue, stating how transmissions would be connected via radio link, with commentary by F.H. Grisewood and John Snagge.[8]

The Events[edit | edit source]

Despite the concerns, broadcasting of the 1937 Wimbledon Championships was a success, broadcasting 30 minutes per day with cameras positioned at the South East and North West of the court. The first match shown on television was between Bunny Austin and George Lyttleton Rogers.[9] Although Rogers' huge serve, combined with his 6ft 6in height did trouble Austin, the Briton ultimately overcame the Irishman 3-6, 8-6, 6-1, 6-2. Austin would go on to reach the Semi-Finals, where he would lose to Gottfried Von Cramm 8-6, 6-3, 12-14, 6-1. Von Cramm would face Don Budge, the latter winning 6–3, 6–4, 6–2 to claim the Gentlemen's Singles Championship.[10] Budge achieved his first of three Triple Crowns, teaming alongside Gene Mako to win the Men's Doubles from Pat Hughes and Raymond Tuckey, 6–0, 6–4, 6–8, 6-1;[11] and Alice Marble to beat Yvon Petra and Simonne Mathieu, 6–4, 6–1 to win the Mixed Doubles.[12] He is the only man in history to have won a Triple Crown three times, and also would repeat the feat in 1938, and in the 1938 US Open, thus winning two Triple Crowns in one year.[13]

Meanwhile, Dorothy Round defeated Jadwiga Jędrzejowska 6–2, 2–6, 7–5 to claim the Ladies' Singles. This would her third and final Wimbledon title, having previously won the event in 1933 and 1934, while also being the last Briton to have won this Championship until 1961.[14] Finally, Mathieu overcame the disappointment of losing the Mixed Doubles, by teaming with Billie Yorke to beat Phyllis King and Elsie Pittman 6–3, 6–3 to win the Women's Doubles.[15]

Reception[edit | edit source]

A number of reviewers from magazines and newspapers provided insights into the quality of the television broadcasts. Two cameras would be used, one showcasing a general view of the game, the other for close-ups. The latter proved crucial in disrupting coverage of the tournament, as the presence of Queen Mary entering the Royal Box during the Austin-Rogers game led to coverage swiftly being altered. The camera capturing what may have been her second appearance on television, the first being according to The Manchester Guardian a distant view of her during the Coronation of George VI.[16]

Overall, reception of the 1937 Wimbledon broadcasts proved relatively positive, and optimistic for the future. A review by The Listener used newsreel footage to compare the quality of the television broadcasts. The review stated that although the ball itself could barely be seen, it proved relatively easy for viewers to watch the games as strokes and movements from the court allowed viewers to become accustomed to the footage. It also praised the fact that footage exclusively came from the Centre Court, thus allowing for viewers to focus on the progress of a single game at a time that newsreels often prevented by continually switching about from each player. The review concluded by praising the close-up camera footage, which allowed for capturing of the serving players, the scoreboard, and of notable moments like Queen Mary entering the Royal Box.[17]

Meanwhile, when promoting coverage of the 1937 International Lawn Tennis Challenge, Director of Television Gerald Cock in issue 720 of Radio Times also praised the Wimbledon coverage, stating how fascination and the future of television would be based on how sports could be shown live, capturing actuality that newsreel footage simply could not.[18] An August issue of Radio Times also highlighted that a television mobile control was used for the broadcasting of the tennis, and had only previously been used for the Coronation. It in fact proved to be the tougher of the events to transmit, because of the lack of direct supply of electricity and linking an underground cable from Wimbledon to Alexandra Palace, which required the need for transmitter and generator vans to rectify the issues. Further still, the coverage was the first ever to utilise a complete radio link,[19] something that would prove crucial for other early television coverage of sports, rugby for example.[20]

The Daily Telegraph praised the quality of the broadcast, stating how not only was it easy to observe player movement, but also to even see the lawnmower marks over the grass.[21] Meanwhile, in his book Behind the Scenes at Wimbledon, Lieutenant-Colonel Duncan Macauley, an assistant referee and secretary of the All England Club, briefly mentioned how the experimental broadcasts would lead to millions being able to watch tennis in the future.[22] Indeed, the success of televising the 1937 Wimbledon Championships led to the BBC televising other tennis events like the International Lawn Tennis Challenge that same year, and the 1938 Wimbledon Championships. Wimbledon remains as one of the BBC's most prestigious sports programming, and will be still broadcast by the corporation until at least 2027.[23]

Availability[edit | edit source]

Like all early BBC television programs, coverage of the 1937 Wimbledon Championships was broadcast live and was not directly recorded, as there were no means of achieving this prior to the end of the Second World War.[24] Thus, all televised footage of this tennis tournament is now permanently missing. Nevertheless, a collection of newsreels from British Pathé means that some coverage of the Championship remains publicly accessible.

Gallery[edit | edit source]

Videos[edit | edit source]

British Pathé newsreel containing footage of the Finals.
British Pathé newsreel containing footage of the Gentlemen's and Ladies' Singles Finals.
British Pathé newsreel containing footage of pre-Final Gentlemen's Singles and Mixed Doubles games.
British Pathé newsreel containing footage of Ladies' Singles and Gentlemen's Doubles games.


Images[edit | edit source]

See Also (Early BBC Television Media)[edit | edit source]

See Also (Early Sports Television Media)[edit | edit source]

External Link[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. Teletronic crediting the 1937 Wimbledon Championships as the first televised live tennis event. Retrieved 27 Sep '21
  2. Wimbledon discussing Fred Perry's 1936 win. Retrieved 27 Sep '21
  3. Wimbledon discussing Helen Jacobs' 1936 win. Retrieved 27 Sep '21
  4. BBC News detailing Fred Perry becoming professional and leaving the International Lawn Tennis Club of Great Britain, meaning he did not defend his title. Retrieved 27 Sep '21
  5. Wimbledon discussing televising the 1937 Wimbledon Championships, including the hype surrounded by Fred Perry's three consecutive Wimbledon wins and Bunny Austin. Retrieved 27 Sep '21
  6. Electronic World discussing the vans needed to broadcast the 1937 Wimbledon Championships. Retrieved 27 Sep '21
  7. BBC discussing the motivation and challenges of broadcasting the 1937 Wimbledon Championships. Retrieved 27 Sep '21
  8. BBC discussing the concerns surrounding broadcasting the 1937 Wimbledon Championships, and providing the Radio Times illustration. Retrieved 27 Sep '21
  9. Wimbledon detailing 1937 coverage and crediting the Bunny Austin and George Lyttleton Rogers game as the first to be televised. Retrieved 27 Sep '21
  10. List of Gentlemen's Singles Championship winners, listing Don Budge's 1937 victory. Retrieved 27 Sep '21
  11. List of Gentlemen's Doubles Championship winners, listing Don Budge and Gene Mako's 1937 victory. Retrieved 27 Sep '21
  12. List of Mixed Doubles Championship winners, listing Don Budge and Alice Marble's 1937 victory. Retrieved 27 Sep '21
  13. Tennis Planet crediting Don Budge as the only three-time Triple Crown winner, and for winning two Triple Crowns in one year. Retrieved 27 Sep '21
  14. List of Ladies' Singles Championship winners, listing Dorothy Round's 1937 win among others. Retrieved 27 Sep '21
  15. List of Ladies' Doubles Championship winners, listing Simonne Mathieu and Billie Yorke's 1937 win. Retrieved 27 Sep '21
  16. Manchester Guardian newspaper detailing the Queen Mary coverage. Retrieved 27 Sep '21
  17. Listener review of the 1937 Wimbledon coverage. Retrieved 27 Sep '21
  18. Issue 720 of Radio Times containing Gerald Cock's optimism concerning televising sport. Retrieved 27 Sep '21
  19. Illumination Media discussing televising the 1937 Wimbledon Championships, and providing the Radio Times quote discussing the challenges surrounding it. Retrieved 27 Sep '21
  20. ESPN article showing the importance of radio links unveiled during the 1937 Wimbledon Championships, something crucial for broadcasting other sports, including rugby. Retrieved 27 Sep '21
  21. Daily Telegraph review of the broadcasts. Retrieved 27 Sep '21
  22. Behind the Scenes at Wimbledon briefly discussing televising the 1937 Wimbledon Championships. Retrieved 27 Sep '21
  23. Guardian article reporting on the BBC broadcasting Wimbledon until at least 2027. Retrieved 27 Sep '21
  24. Web Archive article discussing how most pre-Second World War television is missing due to no means of directly recording television. Retrieved 27 Sep '21