England 11-9 Wales (lost radio coverage of Five Nations Championship game; 1927)
On 15th January 1927, England hosted Wales for a Five Nations Championship game. Occurring at Twickenham Stadium in front of over 50,000, the match was ultimately won by England 11-9, kickstarting its 1927 campaign. The game has radio significance; aside from being the first rugby game to receive live radio coverage in the United Kingdom, it also marked the BBC's first live radio broadcast of a sporting event.
Heading into the game, both England and Wales had yet to play a match in the 1927 Five Nations Championship. Both were seeking the crown, after Ireland and Scotland shared the accolade the year prior. Meanwhile, on 1st January 1927, the British Broadcasting Company would be transformed under the Royal Charter. After being renamed to the British Broadcasting Corporation, it became exclusively a public organisation, while maintaining a monopoly in broadcasting throughout Britain. These changes proved critical in the BBC's coverage of sports; previously, newspapers and entertainment industries had demanded various restrictions be placed on a what was a state-sponsored monopoly. Among limitations the BBC were held to in its fledging years included its extent of news reporting, live public events, and Music Hall events. Now, as a state-controlled institution, these restrictions were no longer valid as BBC gained the rights to broadcast sporting events.
Thus, the BBC began plans to provide live coverage of a variety of sports. Beforehand, only two known sporting events were covered live on British radio, including the 1921 Epsom Derby and the 1922 boxing match between Georges Carpentier and Ted "Kid" Lewis. The first sports organisation it held negotiations with was the Rugby Football Union (RFU). Ultimately, a deal was struck with the RFU, allowing the corporation to cover England and Wales' upcoming clash at Twickenham. Following a successful audition, former Harlequins player Teddy Wakelam would provide commentary for the match. Wakelam was considered an unusual choice, as despite having clear knowledge and experience of rugby, he notably had no experience within journalism prior to the broadcast. Nevertheless, producer Lance Sieveking had faith in Wakelam following the latter's commentary of a schools match days prior to the national broadcast. To ensure listeners could keep up with the action, a grid system was devised and published in Radio Times, where each area of the field was called out by its square number should action emerge there. The grid system would also be used in early football radio broadcasts. To avoid being accused of blasphemy, the BBC added an instruction card stating "don't swear" up against the commentator's microphone.
While it was not the first-ever live coverage of a rugby match, as broadcasts had previously occurred in Australia, South Africa, and New Zealand, it was the first in the United Kingdom. Additionally, it was the BBC's first live sports broadcast. Reception proved mixed, though both The Times and The Field praised the coverage and Wakelam's commentary. The BBC themselves saw it as a crucial step in sports broadcasting, paving the way for numerous other first sports broadcasts including a Football League First Division match between Arsenal and Sheffield United a week later. That match would receive commentary from Wakelam, who would also become the most prominent commentator for rugby games prior to the Second World War. He was also the commentator for the first live televised rugby game, which pitted England against Scotland on 19th March 1938.
Ultimately, England edged out Wales 11-9, thanks to a try from captain Len Corbett and a conversion and penalty from Edward Stanbury. Wales fought back with tries from George Andrews and Rowe Harding, but England were able to hold on to claim victory. England would later defeat Ireland, but crucially lost to Scotland and France, finishing third behind joint-champions Ireland and Scotland. Wales finished joint-fourth, its only win being against France.
Ultimately, most of Wakelam's early commentaries no longer exist within the BBC archives. It was unlikely to have been recorded, considering the technical and financial limitations for the BBC during that era, with the corporation only commencing recording from the 1930s onwards thanks to devices like the Blatterphone. Nevertheless, some footage of the game can be found courtesy of a Reuters newsreels.
- 1924 NSWRFL Premiership Final (lost radio coverage of rugby league game; 1924)
- 1927 Challenge Cup Final (lost radio coverage of rugby league game; 1927)
- 1948 Challenge Cup Final (partially found footage of rugby league game; 1948)
- 1954 Rugby League World Cup Final (partially found footage of international rugby league game; 1954)
- Christchurch vs High School Old Boys (lost radio coverage of charity rugby game; 1926)
- England 16-21 Scotland (partially found footage of Home Nations Championship game; 1938)
- Great Britain 20-19 New Zealand (partially found footage of international rugby league game; 1951)
- North Sydney Bears 19-21 Balmain Tigers (lost footage of NSWRFL Premiership season game; 1961)
- Scotland 21-13 England (lost radio coverage of Five Nations Championship game; 1927)
- ESPN detailing the 1927 Five Nations Championship table. Retrieved 11th Oct '22
- ESPN detailing the 1926 Five Nations Championship table. Retrieved 11th Oct '22
- BBC detailing how the Royal Charter transformed the Corporation from 1927 onwards. Retrieved 11th Oct '22
- BBC Sport detailing the first live radio coverage of a rugby match in Britain and noting Wakelam's earliest commentaries no longer exist. Retrieved 11th Oct '22
- This is the BBC detailing the BBC's radical change on 1st January 1927, which led to it covering sports including rugby. Retrieved 11th Oct '22
- Encyclopedia of Radio detailing how the Royal Charter allowed the BBC to start televising sports, beginning with rugby. Retrieved 11th Oct '22
- The Cultural Me detailing the usage of the grid system for the broadcast, and how the airing paved the way for further sports broadcasts. Retrieved 11th Oct '22
- Radio Fun and the BBC Variety Department noting the "don't swear" instruction prior to Wakelam's commentary of the game. Retrieved 11th Oct '22
- BBC Radio and Sport documenting early rugby radio history, including the Final and subsequent broadcasts internationally. Retrieved 17th Sep '23
- ESPN detailing the game's result and other statistics. Retrieved 11th Oct '22
- BBC noting that it started recording radio output from the 1930s onwards. Retrieved 11th Oct '22
- BBC detailing why many of its early radio broadcasts are missing. Retrieved 11th Oct '22
- BBC noting it had no viable means of recording sound until the introduction of the Blatterphone in 1930. Retrieved 20th Dec '22