The Boat Race 1938 (partially found footage of rowing race; 1938)

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BBC camera pointed towards the boats.

Status: Partially Found

On April 2nd, 1938, the 90th Boat Race commenced. Pitting crews from the University of Oxford and Cambridge in a rowing race along the River Thames, this event was the first-ever televised Boat Race, a trend that continues to the present day.


The Boat Race is a rowing event first established in 1829, eventually becoming an annual event being held on the River Thames between Oxford and Cambridge University since 1856.[1] It is a type of side-by-side rowing competition, whereby crews start concurrently at the same position.[2] By the time The Boat Race 1938 commenced, Cambridge had won 47 races to Oxford's 41. However, Oxford were the defending champions, having won the 1937 event.[3] Oxford were also deemed the favourites heading into the event.[4]

Meanwhile, the BBC were seeking to televise various sports, including rugby, football and test cricket, for its relatively new Television Service.[5] Among them was the 90th Boat Race, the BBC having already succeeded in covering the Boat Race via radio since 1927. The BBC had previously broadcast a programme for the 89th Boat Race, but this featured no footage of the race. Rather, discussion from John Snagge and Tom Brocklebank, as well as film extracts of previous races and models showing where the competitors were, dominated the television screen.[6][7] The BBC's subsequent broadcast of the Boat Race would feature live footage, including seeing the competitors cross the line.[8]

Financial and technical limitations meant that coverage was limited. Particularly, cameras were only situated at the finish line at Chiswick Bridge, and the boathouse. Additionally, the commentary was provided by Snagge, who also did radio coverage simultaneously, and race progress was covered through a chart.[9] Nevertheless, the broadcast was deemed a major success. Indeed, the television correspondent for The Observer stated it was so successful and informative that even the viewers knew more about the race than the umpire. Oxford went on to win by a margin of 2 lengths. The day after the race, the BBC broadcast a programme called Rowing Blues, where Philip Dorte would review the races from 1929 to 1938.[10]


Like other early BBC television broadcasts, the 90th Boat Race was broadcast live and was not recorded. Therefore, televised footage of the event is now permanently missing. Photos of the BBC camera pointing towards the boats, and the Oxford crew posing for the camera, are all that remains of the broadcast. Nevertheless, the race itself is not fully lost, with a British Pathé recording providing a few minutes of footage that is publicly accessible. All footage of the 1937 broadcast, and Rowing Blues, are also lost forever.



Footage of the event from British Pathé.


See Also

Early BBC Sports Television

Early BBC Television

Early Sports Television Media