1938 Ashes Series (partially found footage of international test cricket match; 1938)

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Len Hutton hitting a sweep shot during the fifth test.

Status: Partially Found

The 1938 Ashes Series was the 32nd instance of a test cricket series between England and Australia. Hosted in England, the series ended with one victory a piece, two drawn matches and one that was ultimately abandoned, meaning that Australia successfully retained The Ashes having won it in the previous series. On 28th June 1938, the second test made history by becoming the first test cricket match to be televised.[1]


Heading into the series, Australia were the defending champions, having won the 1934 Ashes series 2-1. England therefore were motivated to reclaim the Ashes on home soil, having failed to do so since 1926. During this time period, the BBC were looking to broadcast various sporting events for its relatively new Television Service, including football, rugby and cricket.[2] Therefore, while technical limitations meant that transmissions could not be held outside London, the second test for this series was perfect for the occasion, seeing as it took place at Lord's Cricket Ground. According to archives from the Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC), negotiations for both the second test at Lord's, as well as the fifth test at the Oval, began in late-1937 thanks to the efforts of BBC television executive Philip Dorté.

Ultimately, MCC was interested in having these matches be broadcast on both radio and television. However, this was subject to a number of demands. Firstly, the Secretary of the MCC Colonel Rowan Rait-Kerr demand that there would be neither film or paper reproduction publications of any televised image, nor any pictorial displays at any cinema across the country. This was likely in response to how newsreel company British Movietone News held lucrative rights to broadcast moving images of the series, as well as the General Press Agency having access to cricket journalists and photographers.

Additionally, organisational issues at the BBC between outside broadcasting and the news department almost meant no television coverage would commence after all. Particularly, Angus MacKay, a prominent sports journalist who was expanding sports journalism broadcasts that would eventually lead to Sports Report being created, had reached Australian team management to report on their net practice, as well as interview the team for BBC News prior to the Lord's test. This was conducted without the knowledge or approval of Dorté and Director of Outside Broadcasting Seymour Joly de Lotbiniere (Lobby). It also went against an agreement the Australians had with the MCC that no recordings during their practice for the first match would be allowed. This forced a curt reminder from Rait-Kerr regarding this in a letter to the BBC, as well as an apology and assurance from Lobby that the incident would not be repeated.[3]

Despite the issues, broadcasts of the Lord's and Oval tests commenced, to a rounding success. Starting from 11:29 on 24th of June, the BBC would broadcast three hours of each test match.[4] As expected, the view of the wicket for the Lord's game was limited in nature, with cameras placed on the Mound Stand and roof of the Main stand. No highlights nor replays were available, and the broadcast signal was only receivable 20km away from Alexandra Palace, where the Television Service was located at. Still, the popularity of the series meant that although the number of television owners was low due to the expense of a television set back then, the pavement of a television owner were often crammed up with excited viewers when the tests were broadcast live and commentated on by Teddy Wakelam.[5]

The quality of the matches were also praised. Particularly, the Oval match saw a record-breaking innings by English batsman Len Hutton, batting 364 for 13 hours.[6] Such was the dominance of the English side that they won the fifth test by an innings and 579 runs, while also leading to a time limit being inserted for test matches. However, this was not enough for England to regain the Ashes. The first two tests ended in a draw, while the third test was abandoned. Therefore, when Australia won by five wickets in the fourth test, the team had successfully retained the Ashes no matter the result on the final test. Meanwhile, the BBC would go on to broadcast the London tests during England's test series with West Indies in 1939, the final few cricket matches BBC Television Centre broadcast before being shut down on 1st September 1939 following the outbreak of the Second World War.[7]


Like other early BBC television broadcasts, The 1938 Ashes series was broadcast live and was not recorded. Therefore, televised footage of the match is now permanently missing, and because of BBC's agreement with MCC, no photos aside from television cameras situated in the cricket stands are available. Nevertheless, newsreel footage concerning highlights of the fourth and fifth tests remain publicly accessible.



Footage of Australia winning the fourth test from British Pathé.

Footage of England winning the fifth test from British Pathé.


See Also

Early BBC Sports Television

Early BBC Television

Early Sports Television Media

External Links