1948 Summer Olympics (partially found television coverage of London Games; 1948)

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BBC Television camera capturing footage of the Sweden-Yugoslavia football match.

Status: Partially Found

The 1948 Summer Olympics was the eleventh edition of the modern Summer Games, which was held from 29th July to 14th August in London, England. Nicknamed the "Austerity Games" due to financial limitations and rationing needs caused following the aftermath of the Second World War, it is most famous for Fanny Blankers-Koen winning four gold medals and Bob Mathias becoming the youngest male to ever win an Olympics track and field gold medal. From a television perspective, this was the first Summer Olympics to be televised by the BBC.


Following the end of World War 2, London successfully bid to host the first Summer Olympics since 1936, beating out other candidates like Los Angeles and Lausanne.[1][2] The financial impact of the War led to a tight budget, with the Games being nicknamed the "Austerity Games".[1][2] Notably, all venues utilised like Empire Stadium and Empire Pool already existed before London won the bid, with the Olympics' operations costing only £730,000, around £18.5 million in today's money.[3][1] Rations for both food and clothing were still in effect, although athletes were allocated more than double the food rations daily compared to British citizens.[1]

Despite the financial constraints, the 1948 Summer Olympics proved successful, helping the United Kingdom rebuild following the War.[1][2][4] Netherlands' Fanny Blankers-Koen achieved the most success at the Games, "The Flying Housewife" surprising onlookers who thought she was too old to compete by earning four gold medals in the 100m, 200m, 80m high hurdles and the 4x100m relay.[1][3][4] Meanwhile, United States athlete Bob Mathias won a gold medal in decathlon, where aged 17 he became the youngest man to win a track and field event at the Olympics.[1] Additionally, United States' Alice Coachman became the first African American to win a gold medal, doing so in the high jump.[1]

BBC Coverage

Meanwhile, the BBC was seeking means of increasing television's popularity in the UK, having resumed transmissions on 7th June 1946.[5][6][2] It had found attracting new viewers difficult, with only 15,000 TV licences being purchased, exclusively within the London area as broadcasts were limited to that region.[2][1] Therefore, the organisation decided to bid £1,000 to televise the Games for the first time to attract new viewership, which is just over £25,000 in today's money.[3][1][2][7] The corporation was successful, and so it began to invest heavily in ensuring strong coverage.[3][6][2][7] Its first move was to establish the first International Broadcasting Centre for both radio and television within the Palace of Arts at Wembley.[3][2][6] Here, the centre contained 16 studios, two TV control rooms, 350 engineers, 200 reporters from across the world and 200 support staff.[6][3][4] Additionally, two mobile control units, one situated at Empire Stadium, the other at Empire Pool, operated several cameras, which all relayed back to the radio control centre.[6][2][7][4]

The BBC also harnessed information on how Germany televised the 1936 Berlin Games, the first Summer Olympics to receive live television coverage.[6][2][3] It was clear that, just like the televising of the Berlin Games, cutting-edge technology was required.[2][6] Thus, the CPS Emitron camera was utilised; its portability, ability to produce consistent high-quality pictures, and the incorporation of an electronic viewfinder that enabled the director to view the same images being transmitted simultaneously, made it the pride of BBC.[2][6] Additionally, the three turret lenses could be adjusted to different focal lengths, which meant that rather than being restricted to capturing just three different views of the action, it enabled the camera to transmit nine.[2][6]

In total, around 68.5 hours of live television coverage was provided to up to 100,000 households with televisions sets, averaging about five hours per day.[6][3][2][4] The BBC narrowly missed out on breaking the world record for the longest uninterrupted television broadcast when it transmitted 7.5 hours of content in one day, only to be informed that a US Congress broadcast was slightly longer.[2] Nevertheless, BBC Television Service's coverage boosted its reputation, and lessons learned from the Games also proved critical in the BBC's broadcast of Queen Elizabeth II's coronation on 2nd June 1953, which further enhanced its image and generated a significantly increased television viewership.[6][2] Post-Games, Head of Programmes Cecil McGivern wrote the following letter to BBC Television Centre staff: "There is no doubt at all that our televising of the XIV Olympiad has been a very great success and has brought considerable credit to British television both in this country and abroad."[8]


BBC Television Service showcased a diverse range of sports, with track and field events, show jumping, swimming and diving all receiving coverage thanks to OB vans being present at both Empire Stadium and Empire Pool.[7][6][3][2] Football also received its fair share of coverage, becoming the first major football tournament to be televised in Britain.[8] Additionally, more BBC history was made outside the Olympics.[8] Prior to the London Games, the BBC had exclusively televised football matches featuring at least one team from the British Isles.[8] Great Britain competed in the event, eventually placing fourth.[8] However, the BBC would obviously be expected to televise matches beyond just those featuring the UK team.[8]

Thus, on 10th August 1948, history was made when Sweden faced Denmark in the first semi-final, the first BBC televised match between two teams outside the British Isles.[8] The fact coverage began at 6:30 also meant it was the first evening match to receive coverage, the CPS Emitron cameras being able to capture quality footage past sunset.[8][2][6] The BBC would later broadcast Yugoslavia's win over Great Britain in the second semi-final.[8] On 13th August, Great Britain and Denmark competed for bronze, while Yugoslavia and Sweden battled for the gold.[8] Both matches were fully televised live, the first instance where two matches were broadcast live in-full on the same day.[8] Denmark beat Great Britain 5-3 to win bronze, while Sweden won gold after defeating Yugoslavia 3-1.[9][8]


Ultimately, all television footage of the London Games was transmitted live.[10][6][3][8] Prior to 1956, recording television proved limited, as video tape had not yet been perfected, nor utilised by the BBC.[6][10][8] Tele-recording, the process of placing a film camera in front of a flat television screen, was the only means available of recording television, but even this was done on a limited basis.[6][10][8] Thus, almost all of the television coverage is permanently missing, outside of a few minutes of the Opening Ceremony, which was shown on television in a 1982 BBC documentary.[3][6][10][8]



RTS London documentary on televising the London Games.

"A Very British Olympics" documentary.

BFI National Archive footage of the London Games.


See Also

Early BBC Sports Television

Early Sports Television Media

Football Media

Early BBC Television


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.6 1.7 1.8 1.9 History detailing the London Games itself, including how it earned the nickname the "Austerity Games" and notable event highlights. Retrieved 19 Jul '22
  2. 2.00 2.01 2.02 2.03 2.04 2.05 2.06 2.07 2.08 2.09 2.10 2.11 2.12 2.13 2.14 2.15 2.16 2.17 Science and Media Museum detailing the technology used in televising the 1936 and 1948 Summer Olympics. Retrieved 19 Jul '22
  3. 3.00 3.01 3.02 3.03 3.04 3.05 3.06 3.07 3.08 3.09 3.10 RTS London detailing the extent of BBC coverage and its broadcasting centre used to transmit the Games. Retrieved 19 Jul '22
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 BBC summarising how it televised its first Summer Olympics. Retrieved 19 Jul '22
  5. BBC detailing its resumption of television on 7th June 1946. Retrieved 19 Jul '22
  6. 6.00 6.01 6.02 6.03 6.04 6.05 6.06 6.07 6.08 6.09 6.10 6.11 6.12 6.13 6.14 6.15 6.16 BBC detailing the facilities, technology, and techniques it needed to televise the Games. Retrieved 19 Jul '22
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 Television Sports Production summarising how the BBC televised a diverse range of events. Retrieved 19 Jul '22
  8. 8.00 8.01 8.02 8.03 8.04 8.05 8.06 8.07 8.08 8.09 8.10 8.11 8.12 8.13 8.14 8.15 BBC detailing the history made from televising football at the 1948 London Games. Retrieved 19 Jul '22
  9. FIFA providing the results of the 1948 Summer Olympics football tournament. Retrieved 19 Jul '22
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 10.3 BBC detailing the surviving television footage of the 1948 Summer Olympics. Retrieved 19 Jul '22