Clare Balding presents Sport and the British on Radio 4

John Arlott
John Arlott was a mainstay of BBC sports commentary

The penultimate week of Sport and the British includes the programme in the series that is most relevant to my own career as a broadcaster.

Broadcasting to the Nation charts the rise of the outside broadcast, beginning with the first sporting event to be carried on the radio - the Derby of 1926 - and explains how sport gave the BBC a secular calendar of events that provided exciting, dramatic, unpredictable content all through the year.

In 1935, the exotically named Seymour Joly de Lotbiniere was appointed Director of BBC Outside Broadcasts and it was he who recruited to the corporation some of the greatest and most recognised voices in sports commentary, including Raymond Baxter, Brian Johnston and John Arlott - whose Hampshire tones De Lotbiniere apparently considered rather 'vulgar'.

In fact, in an age of Received Pronunciation, sports commentary gave the BBC a chance to showcase regional accents that were otherwise unlikely to get an airing and, in doing so, to connect with an audience around the country that other programmes could not, making more people feel part of the BBC family.

There's no question that some sports work better on the radio than others, and to illustrate the point the programme on broadcasting includes a spirited but ultimately ill-fated attempt at commentary on angling.

For the Driving Innovation programme, I went to see the brilliant and always interesting Sir Stirling Moss to talk about innovation in motor sport - he explained to me that even though Great Britain is no longer the centre of manufacturing in the way it was in the 50s and 60s, it is still the home of innovation in motor sport and therefore in the wider motoring industry as well.

This series would not have been possible without the work of the academics at De Montfort University, and one theme they have repeatedly impressed on me is the influence of class in all sports. No sport has been clearer in its division, nor slower to adapt to social change, than cricket.

The Gentleman Amateur examines the ethos of the 'gentleman' and the 'player' in cricket and how, eventually, professional and amateur cricketers were allowed to enter the ground by the same gate and even share the same dressing room.

Earlier in the series, we looked at how Britain led the world in the codification of football. Beating Us at Our Own Game moves the story forward to examine how England and Scotland lost control of the world game when Fifa was established.

The Home Nations refused to be included in Fifa's founding nations, ostensibly over a row about amateurism. Once again, the desire to prevent players from being paid to play caused ructions and we have been on the back foot ever since.

In the following programme, we look at how the state got involved in sport, beginning with the establishment of the Central Council of Physical Recreation (CCPR) as part of the 1944 Education Act.

Post-war politicians turned to sport as a potential cure for the general apathy of British youth in the 1950s - perceived as a discontented, bored core of youngsters who lacked motivation and activity.

The CCPR commissioned the Wolfenden Committee in 1957 to investigate sport in the community and recommend improvements. This was the first time there had ever been a public enquiry into sport in this country and it marked a huge change in attitude in terms of providing sport for all.

The programme Sport for All marks the decline in British sporting fortunes through the 1980s and 90s and the fear that we were becoming a nation of 'losers'. Ultimately, this led to the establishment of the National Lottery by Prime Minister John Major in 1994 and the use of funds raised by it to bolster sports facilities and training.

It is my earnest hope that an important legacy of the London Olympics will be an increase in investment in sports facilities for state schools. I fear that the gap between the rich and poor in terms of access to sport is becoming as wide as it was in Victorian times and that children from less well-off backgrounds are suffering accordingly.

This series, I hope, proves that sport is central to our development as a nation and is an effective and crucial means of shaping character as well as contributing towards health and fitness.

I've had a lot of feedback on Twitter and am thrilled that so many people who thought they could never find sport interesting are enjoying the series. Do get in touch on @clarebalding1

Sport and the British can be heard at 1345 GMT on Radio 4 each weekday until 9 March or at any time on the Radio 4 website or as an MP3 download.

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