1931 Epsom Derby (lost televised footage of horse racing event; 1931)

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Illustrated London News on what the television coverage looked like.

Status: Lost

The 1931 Epsom Derby was a horse racing event that occurred on June 3rd, 1931. The race would be won by Cameronian, with Freddie Fox as his jockey. The event marked three major milestones in television broadcasting; not only was it the first televised horse race, it was also the first televised sporting event. Additionally, it is known as the first remote outside television broadcast.


The Epsom Derby has been held since 1780 and is considered the biggest flat horse race of its kind in the United Kingdom, forming one of the five British Classics Races.[1][2] Heading into the 1931 Epsom Derby event, Cameronian, a Thoroughbred sire, was the 7/2 favourite. He had already achieved success earlier in the year, having won the 2,000 Guineas with Jockey Joseph Childs.[3] For the Derby, he would be ridden by Freddie Fox, who was then the reigning Champion Jockey of flat racing and had ridden Diolite to success in the 1930 staging of the 2,000 Guineas event.[4]

While normal proceedings for the Epsom Derby itself transpired, the event was set to mark a few critical moments in television history. John Logie Baird, one of the pioneers of television, had been making progress with his inventions since the late-1920s, including establishing Baird Television Development Company Ltd in 1927, and in 1928 where he successfully had his mechanical televisions produce images outside a studio.[5] In May 1931, Baird continued his experiments, including inserting a scanner inside an old caravan for which it would be parked in the streets of London to allow for BBC programming, for which Baird had struck a deal with to produce occasional programming. As he watched horses being directed from Long Acre towards Covent Garden market, he began to evaluate the idea of televising the Epsom Derby.[6]

Thus, during a small press conference on May 8th, 1931, Braid announced his company would broadcast the Derby, and claimed that 'that the fact that one was able to pick up the street scene showed that the idea of televising the Derby or cricketers at Lord’s was not so fantastic as some imagined'. Despite media scepticism concerning Braid's claim, progress had already been made two days earlier, with an agreement made with the Epsom Derby organisers to add a television transmitter on the course. On May 19th, Sydney Moseley, Braid's business manager and publicist, wrote to the BBC asking for the provision of transmitters on Derby day for Braid Television to utilise. The BBC accepted this, providing that commentary from Moseley was on a separate telephone line from the BBC and that said commentary would not cause any interference with the BBC's own radio commentary.[7]

Considering the fact that no remote outside television broadcast had ever previously been achieved, Braid conducted a test broadcast the day prior to the Derby, showcasing one of the minor races.[8] Four televisions at Long Acre did successfully receive the picture that was obtained from fifteen miles, but it was blurry. Hence, there was concern leading up to the broadcast that the picture quality would not satisfy viewers on race day.

The Broadcast

On June 3rd, the Epsom Derby commenced, with spectators witnessing Cameronian win the event in a time of 2:36.6, with a race-winning length distance of three-quarters ahead of the second-placed horse.[9] At the same time, television history was being made, with up to 5,000 people watching the live broadcast. The media were mixed regarding the quality of the broadcast; whereas some did criticise the flickering picture quality, with it only being around a 7:3 portrait aspect ratio that was not really ideal for televising horse racing,[10] others, including The Falkirk Herald, were pleased with the fact a broadcast was achieved in general.

In issue 8,407 of Falkirk Herald, the paper noted that in spite of the occasional quality issues, the broadcast still gave the feeling of attending the event in person, and noted that viewers from across the country had successfully picked up the feed and were also praising the revolutionary broadcast.[11] Therefore, Braid would continue to develop and present the mechanical television in both the UK and in the United States. He would also begin the work needed to televise the 1932 Epsom Derby.


While some footage of the 1931 Epsom Derby itself remains publicly accessible thanks to surviving newsreel footage, the television coverage was filmed live and was not recorded directly recorded, as there were no means of achieving this prior to the end of the Second World War.[12] Thus, all televised footage of this horse race is now permanently missing. Nevertheless, a few photos, including of the Baird Television Caravan, help to document the broadcast.




British Pathé newsreel of the event.

See Also

Early BBC Sports Television

Early BBC Television

Early Sports Television Media

External Link