It’s either Oxford or Cambridge

Lining up cameras by the Thames in 1938. Photo: BBC.

17 March 2018

The same two teams year in and year out. Oxford or Cambridge?

It is incredible that a sport event with the same teams can create such suspense every year. But looking back, all the drama is there: boats sinking, crew mutiny, blades clashing, protester swimming on the course, blizzards, etc.

To show the technological innovations in broadcasting the most famous sport event in the world, The Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race, yesterday the River and Rowing Museum in Henley on Thames opened a new exhibition, The Boat Race – 80 Years through the Lens. In partnership with the BBC, the museum celebrates the 80th anniversary of the first time the prominent race appeared on television.

It was in 1938 the new BBC Television Service televised the race for the first time. Using legendary John Snagge’s commentary (from the radio), two magnetic boats were moved on a chart of the course in a studio. However, three live cameras had been placed by the finish line to show which crew crossed the line first. The first radio coverage was 10 years earlier, in 1927, when the launch Magician followed the race. Onboard were four engineers, 1,000 lbs of generators and batteries, the pilot and two ‘expert’ commentators, old Oxford Blue, Gully Nickalls, and literary editor of the London Mercury, John Squire.

In 1931, Snagge commentated the Boat Race for the first time. He would continue to do so for another 36 years, retiring in 1980. It was in the 1949 race, he proclaimed the phrase that would give him legendary status. Snagge’s launch fell behind the race and had a problem catching up with the Blue boats. Being under pressure who was in the lead getting close to the finish line, Snagge declared: ‘I don’t know who’s ahead, it’s either Oxford or Cambridge’.

The Boat Race – 80 Years through the Lens exhibition is going on through 31 December 2018. For more information, go to

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