The Boat Race 1990 (partially found footage and radio coverage of rowing race; 1990)

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The University of Oxford crew about to cross the line to claim their fourth consecutive victory.

Status: Partially Found

The Boat Race 1990 became the 136th edition of the rowing competition pitting the University of Oxford against the University of Cambridge. It occurred at the River Thames' Championship Course on 31st March and witnessed Oxford win by 2 and a quarter lengths to claim its fourth consecutive Boat Race victory and reduce the overall standings to 69-66. The race received live television and radio coverage from the BBC. However, the BBC Radio 2 broadcast is infamous for a tragic incident, which witnessed lead commentator Peter Jones suffer a fatal heart attack midway through the event.


Following the Second World War's conclusion, the Boat Race officially became an annual side-by-side rowing event.[1][2] Having first been held in 1829, the race soon became a British institution and was typically held at the Thames' 4.2 mile Championship Course.[3][4] It attracted numerous fans from across London and worldwide to watch the race in person despite the fact the majority were not affiliated with either university.[5] For both universities, winning this race was the ultimate source of pride.[6] However, this era of the Boat Race was considerably one-sided.[1] Of the previous 14 races, Oxford (Dark Blues) had won 13 of them, with its organisation deemed superior compared to Cambridge's.[7][1] Cambridge (Light Blues) last won the event in 1986; thus, Oxford sought their fourth victory on the bounce and reduce its overall deficit to Cambridge to 69-66.[1]

The race also enjoyed extensive media coverage, especially in its home nation.[8] The BBC had routinely provided live radio coverage of the event since 1927.[9][10] In 1938, it began to televise parts of the race live, having eventually achieved a full live broadcast eleven years later.[9][10] The corporation's coverage had remained consistent ever since; the only disruption would commence from 2005 to 2009 when ITV gained the television rights.[11][8][9] For the 1990 race, BBC One would televise it live as part of Grandstand, with commentary provided by Harry Carpenter and Chris Baillieu.[12] Meanwhile, BBC Radio 2's coverage was handled by Peter Jones and Dan Topolski, with Dr Treharne Jones fulfilling statistics duties.[13][12] This marked Jones' Boat Race commentary debut, though he held extensive experience in other major sporting events like the FA Cup Final and Wimbledon.[14][15] He replaced Brian Johnston for the event, who had covered the race since 1981.[9][14] In an interview with Radio Times, Jones remarked that "there's no event quite like the Boat Race", having described it as a "truly marvellous and nonsensical occasion".[16]

The Race

Heading into the race on 31st March, Oxford were unsurprisingly backed as the favourites.[17][18][19] Beforehand, the Dark Blues had comfortably won a Reading Head event also featuring the Cambridge crew.[17] Oxford's president was Jonny Searle, who would later achieve gold at the 1992 Summer Olympics' coxed pair event.[20][18] Other notable names included future four-time Olympic gold medallist Matthew Pinsent;[21][17] he along with Steve Redgrave spared British blushes at the 1996 Summer Olympics through their coxless pair glory, earning Great Britain's only gold medal at the Atlanta Games.[22][21] Rupert Obholzer and Michael Gaffney were also experienced names, while Christopher Heathcote earned extensive media coverage as his 17st 5lb frame made him the heaviest Boat Race competitor since its inception.[23][17][18] Meanwhile, Cambridge contained a generally less experienced crew, their president being Paddy Mant.[17][18] Lisa Ross-Magenty became the only female representative of either crew as the Light Blues' coxswain.[18]

Cambridge's chances of victory were intensely slim according to most newspaper previews.[18][17][19] Thus, with an average weight of 13 stone compared to Oxford's 15, Cambridge would need to use their smaller size to their advantage.[17] Hence, the Light Blues' decision to start at the Surrey side instead of Middlesex upon winning the toss was deemed a surprise, especially as Surrey was typically considered the slower bank at the start.[24][17] Sure enough, Oxford took the lead in the early stages, in ideal weather conditions and a low tide.[17][24] The Light Blues subsequently upped their pace to 38 strokes per minute to take the lead, but could not maintain it. Consequently, the Dark Blues retook the lead, eventually expanding its canvas lead at Craven Cottage to four seconds at the Mile Post.[17][24]

Oxford very nearly got disqualified by trying to move towards the Surrey side, with umpire Mike Sweeney having deemed there was inadequate space to avoid a collision with Cambridge.[17][24][18] It ultimately mattered little, as Oxford extended their lead at Harrods before boasting a 4-second gap over Cambridge upon going under Hammersmith Bridge.[17][24] Despite the pace of Cambridge's Adam Wright in particular, a fatigued Light Blues crew could do little to stop Oxford from doubling their lead by Barnes Bridge.[17][24] While a late surge reduced the gap to seven seconds, it was not enough to faze Oxford who won by 2 and a quarter lengths.[1][17][24] The win marked Oxford's fourth consecutive win and reduced the standings gap to 69-66.[1] Oxford subsequently won the 1991 and 1992 races, but ultimately could not tie the overall standings when Cambridge finally picked up glory again in 1993.[1][24] This kickstarted a run of dominance for the Light Blues.[1][24]

Death of Peter Jones

Since its inaugural 1927 broadcast, the BBC's radio coverage relied on its commentators to conduct announcing duties on a launch boat following the crews from behind.[9] In this case, Jones, Topolski and Treharne-Jones boarded the launch Arethusa alongside producers Joanne Watson and Caroline Elliot.[25][9] During the race's early stages, nothing was out of the ordinary, with Jones and company fulfilling announcing duties competently.[25][13] Jones was speaking as Arethusa passed under Hammersmith Bridge.[9][25] Suddenly, commentary ceased; Elliot noticed Jones still had a firm grasp of the microphone but was completely unresponsive.[25][9] Communication via his headset and a tap on the back provided conclusive proof Jones was in a serious condition, and had in fact suffered a collapse.[25] Dr Treharne-Jones promptly tried to revive him through CPR, enlisting Topolski to restart commentary while medical efforts were conducted.[13][25][9]

Treharne-Jones ordered the boat to continue its course to the finish at Chiswick Bridge, as his medical supplies and ambulances would be present at the Chiswick Boathouse.[26][13][9] However, a problem soon emerged when Arethusa developed engine issues.[9] Thus, the journey to Chiswick took considerably longer than anticipated at ten minutes.[9] It also compromised the radio commentary as the boats disappeared from view at the next bend.[26] Topolski relied on a TV monitor to carry on his report, before transferring the remaining duties to Tony Adamson on land.[26][25] Arethusa eventually made it to the Boathouse, only for its crew to be confronted with another critical problem.[9][25] As recalled by Elliot and Watson, the race commenced on the same day amidst the largest poll tax riots in central London, which injured 113 people.[27][9][25] Emergency services were therefore fixated on that event, unexpectedly meaning no ambulances were present at the Boathouse.[9][25][13] It apparently took "ages" before Jones was finally transferred to St. George’s Hospital.[28][9][25][26] Ultimately, Jones remained in a vegetative state.[28][9] On 2nd April 1990, Jones passed away aged 60.[29][28] Initial newspaper reports and Treharne-Jones' account indicated Jones had suffered a major stroke during the broadcast.[28][13] However, modern accounts - including from the BBC - claim Jones collapsed due to a heart attack.[9]

Regardless, Jones' passing was viewed as a major loss in the radio broadcasting world.[15][9][29] Declared among the greatest sports commentators Britain ever produced, Jones began his career in 1965 for the BBC's Sports Report.[15][29][14] A year later, he provided commentary for the Group 4 matches of the 1966 FIFA World Cup,[14] with the Welshman eventually becoming the top voice of British radio sports and other major events for several decades.[15][29] This included the FA Cup Final from 1968 to 1989, the Summer Olympics starting from 1972, and Wimbledon.[14][15] He also covered two Royal Weddings, including that of Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer in 1981.[30][29] Additionally, he was present during the harrowing events of the Heysel and Hillsborough disasters, the latter having deeply impacted him.[31][15][29][14] He refused retirement in 1990 and planned to cover the 1990 FIFA World Cup on the soon-to-open BBC Radio 5.[15] In a moving tribute, BBC colleague and close friend Cliff Morgan declared Jones as among the greatest all-rounders, particularly for allowing most listeners to put themselves in the shoes of spectators.[30] Some, including Sports Journalists' Associations Philip Barker, believe the BBC has never found quite the replacement for Jones since.[15][31] The tragedy is declared the darkest moment in the BBC's long-running coverage of the Boat Race, and certainly among the darkest in overall radio history.[9]


The Boat Race 1990 was fully covered live on BBC One and BBC Radio 2.[12] An interesting aspect of the television broadcast was that highlights from the Women's Boat Race were aired beforehand.[12] The 45th overall, it saw Cambridge win by 3 and a quarter lengths.[32] Whereas other Boat Races of this era can be easily found on YouTube, the BBC's coverage of the 1990 edition has yet to publicly resurface. Nevertheless, a news report from Italian channel TMC was uploaded to YouTube by Telesportiva on 18th January 2024, which currently remains the only publicly available footage of the race.[33] No clips from the women's event have resurfaced. The radio broadcast has also not been found; the BBC and the Boat Race will likely never release it again out of respect to Jones and his relatives.



TMC news report of the race.

BBC Radio 2 report on Peter Jones' death.

See Also

External Links


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.6 1.7 The Boat Race providing a list of Boat Race results. Retrieved 22nd Jan '24
  2. Hear the Boat Sing summarising the unofficial races that transpired during World War 2. Retrieved 22nd Jan '24
  3. The Telegraph summarising the history and prestige of the Boat Race. Retrieved 22nd Jan '24
  4. The Boat Race detailing the Championship Course. Retrieved 22nd Jan '24
  5. Arcadia Abroad summarising the extensive casual interest in the Boat Race. Retrieved 22nd Jan '24
  6. Cambridgeshire Live summarising the importance of the race for both universities. Retrieved 22nd Jan '24
  7. Archived The Boat Race report on the 1989 event. Retrieved 22nd Jan '24
  8. 8.0 8.1 The Boat Race summarising its television partners as of the present day. Retrieved 22nd Jan '24
  9. 9.00 9.01 9.02 9.03 9.04 9.05 9.06 9.07 9.08 9.09 9.10 9.11 9.12 9.13 9.14 9.15 9.16 9.17 9.18 9.19 BBC summarising key moments in its coverage of the Boat Race, including the death of Jones in 1990. Retrieved 22nd Jan '24
  10. 10.0 10.1 Science and Media Museum detailing the milestones in Boat Race coverage. Retrieved 22nd Jan '24
  11. BBC News noting ITV covered the race live from 2005 to 2009. Retrieved 22nd Jan '24
  12. 12.0 12.1 12.2 12.3 Issue 3,459 of Radio Times detailing the BBC television and radio coverage of the race (found on BBC Genome). Retrieved 22nd Jan '24
  13. 13.0 13.1 13.2 13.3 13.4 13.5 Henley Standard on the career of Dr Robert Treharne-Jones and his account on the death of Peter Jones. Retrieved 22nd Jan '24
  14. 14.0 14.1 14.2 14.3 14.4 14.5 Random Radio Jottings detailing the life, career and passing of Jones. Retrieved 22nd Jan '24
  15. 15.0 15.1 15.2 15.3 15.4 15.5 15.6 15.7 Sports Journalists' Association tribute to Jones. Retrieved 22nd Jan '24
  16. Radio Times interview with Jones on the Boat Race (found on Random Radio Jottings. Retrieved 22nd Jan '24
  17. 17.00 17.01 17.02 17.03 17.04 17.05 17.06 17.07 17.08 17.09 17.10 17.11 17.12 17.13 Archived The Boat Race report on the race. Retrieved 22nd Jan '24
  18. 18.0 18.1 18.2 18.3 18.4 18.5 18.6 31st March 1990 issue of The Times previewing the race and crews (available at Historic Newspapers). Retrieved 22nd Jan '24
  19. 19.0 19.1 31st March 1990 issue of Aberdeen Press and Journal previewing the race and declaring Oxford as the overwhelming favourites (found on British Newspaper Archive). Retrieved 22nd Jan '24
  20. Archived Sports Reference detailing the results of the coxed pair event at the 1992 Summer Olympics. Retrieved 22nd Jan '24
  21. 21.0 21.1 Inside the Games summarising Pinsent's Olympic success and how he and Redgrave achieved Britain's only 1996 Summer Olympics gold medal. Retrieved 22nd Jan '24
  22. Archived Sports Reference detailing the results of the 1996 coxless pair event at the 1996 Summer Olympics. Retrieved 22nd Jan '24
  23. Australian Rowing History noting Heathcote as the heaviest individual to compete at the Boat Race. Retrieved 22nd Jan '24
  24. 24.0 24.1 24.2 24.3 24.4 24.5 24.6 24.7 24.8 Where Thames Smooth Waters Glide summarising the 1990 race. Retrieved 22nd Jan '24
  25. 25.00 25.01 25.02 25.03 25.04 25.05 25.06 25.07 25.08 25.09 25.10 1991 issue of The Times reflecting on the death of Jones (found on Random Radio Jottings). Retrieved 22nd Jan '24
  26. 26.0 26.1 26.2 26.3 Hear the Boat Sing summarising the emergency at hand and the changes to the radio commentary. Retrieved 22nd Jan '24
  27. BBC News reporting on the poll tax riots of 31st March 1990. Retrieved 22nd Jan '24
  28. 28.0 28.1 28.2 28.3 Los Angeles Times reporting on the death of Jones. Retrieved 22nd Jan '24
  29. 29.0 29.1 29.2 29.3 29.4 29.5 3rd April 1990 issue of The Times reporting on the death of Jones (found on Google Groups' alt.obituaries. Retrieved 22nd Jan '24
  30. 30.0 30.1 BBC Radio 2 tribute to Jones. Retrieved 22nd Jan '24
  31. 31.0 31.1 Olly Hogben summarising the career and legacy of Jones. Retrieved 22nd Jan '24
  32. The Boat Race detailing the results of the Women's Boat Races. Retrieved 22nd Jan '24
  33. TMC news report of the race. Retrieved 22nd Jan '24