John Inverdale – In Conversation

For over thirty years, writer and broadcaster John Inverdale has been presiding over the coverage of live sport both for radio and television becoming one of Britain’s most trusted and respected anchors. Growing up in a house dominated by sport with his mum a keen tennis player and his dad fascinated with the art of boxing, it was inevitable that he would follow in their footsteps. As an ardent Lincoln City supporter, John found himself on the terraces of the Sincil Bank as he fell in love with the national game of football. This was to ignite a passion for sport which has dominated his career.

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Joining the BBC in 1985 as a sports newsreader for Radio 2, John was quick to ascend the ranks of broadcasting. It’s extraordinary to think that these were still the days when the FA Cup final was the only live football game to be broadcast on television and therefore the coverage of live sport was incredibly rare. In fact, radio was the only outlet where one could consume sports coverage and a whole generation of accomplished broadcasters cut their teeth on the intimate medium. John insists that golf is a sport which triumphs on radio as with the right broadcasters and commentators, the action is able to be told in a way that automatically creates pictures in the minds of the audience. John quickly learned to allow the natural sound and atmosphere speak for itself and use dialogue sparingly. It’s this technique which has served him well for over thirty five years.


Despite being a recognisable voice on radio, during the early nineties John had yet to transfer to the holy grail of television. All this was about to change when Rupert Murdoch secured the license for Britain’s first satellite television service with the aim of broadcasting domestic top flight football for the very first time. This also coincided with the birth of the English Premier League in August 1992 where football was more in demand than ever. BSKYB’s uninterrupted coverage of football’s newest phenomenon was met by excited euphoria by both press and fans who hailed it as the biggest advancement in football for generations. Being associated with such a landmark in the history of British broadcasting was a highlight for John despite merely being with Sky for two years. This was a brand new dimension for television and John was proud to be a part of it.


Fronting the Sunday morning highlights programme Goals On Sunday, John was on the cutting edge of television sports analysis as he welcomed former players to pontificate on the biggest talking points of the previous day’s action. In doing this, he helped nurture some of Britain’s best football pundits including Alan Hansen and Graeme Souness. For two years, John helped to cultivate the formula for Goals On Sunday which still survives today and set the benchmark for all football debating shows hereafter. Yet what Sky could do, the BBC were able to do bigger and better which meant that it was only a matter of time before John’s skills as a broadcaster were invaluable to the corporation which had begun his career.


Joining BBC Radio 5Live in the summer of 1994 brought John in contact with a whole host of different sporting events from Wimbledon to the football World Cup. In the era before Talksport, the BBC still had a monopoly on radio coverage of each and every national and international sports event and so as a commentator, John’s role could be incredibly varied. Being a commentator is a role which many find hard to perfect. Yet John maintains that providing commentary is far easier than anchoring an entire programme for the simple reason that your task is to describe the action in front of you. Whereas an anchor is sometimes expected to fill for several minutes of airtime when there’s no action taking place without knowing exactly how long it will last. Nevertheless, in a career spanning over thirty five years, John Inverdale has undoubtedly mastered both sets of disciplines.


Experiencing his first Olympics at the 1996 Atlanta games was an experience he’ll never forget. Meeting the legendary David Coleman in the hotel lobby where the BBC team resided was a complete revelation for the broadcasting newcomer who was in disbelief at being in the company of giants. John was amazed when Coleman disclosed to have been familiar with his work and even offered him some advice to never underestimate the power of silence; something which he’s always adopted when commentating. This was the era when many of the pioneers of sports presentation were still very much active and John benefited from the opportunity to work alongside the likes of Des Lynam, David Coleman and Steve Rider who each offered him the benefit of their experience. To follow in their footsteps to become one of Britain’s leading sports anchors was a great achievement and today finds himself in a similar position to those aforementioned revered heroes. 


In 2006 he became the BBC’s main rugby union anchor and for over fourteen years, presided over every significant Six Nations match. Not having to adhere to the standard commercial break format allows the presenter the opportunity to delve deeper into the analysis of the game and provide more insight into the incidents which occur. Therefore if a major incident arises during the first half, John has the luxury of being able to spend a few minutes discussing it with the panel instead of merely touching upon it and moving on. To him, this is the only major difference between the BBC and commercial television which remains extremely minor.


As soon as London was awarded the 2012 Olympic Games in the summer of 2005, every sports presenter in Britain seeked the opportunity to contribute to such a significant national occasion. As a result of his involvement in the coverage of rowing, John was deployed to Doney Lake in Elton to present the action as it unfolded. Having both followed and presided over the sport for many years, John had built up a strong rapport with all members of the GB team. John believes that as a broadcaster, it’s absolutely imperative to obtain trust from your subjects. Therefore when Mark Hunter and Zac Purchase narrowly missed out on the gold medal, he was the first one to feel their emotion. Still being forced to fulfil his contractual obligations to interview them despite knowing that it was the worst thing which they would have wanted to do, the emotions became too much for him and he broke down live on television. This just illustrated the incredible emotional investment which goes into supporting grassroots sport and sometimes despite aiming to appear impartial, it’s impossible not to buy into the athletes’ plight.


Leaving the BBC in 2019 to fulfil his role within the English Rugby Federation, John is now able to devote his time to the sport he loves while maintaining an active role in the organisation of his local tennis club. It’s clear that sport has always played a dominant role in the accomplished broadcaster’s life and shall forever occupy a certain place in his heart. Whether he’s commenting, presenting or enabling sport, there will always be a significant part of John’s life devoted to competitive sport. It was an absolute pleasure to interview the all conquering John Inverdale and wish him well for the next chapter of his remarkable career.