Boat Race returning to the BBC
As a child growing up in Yorkshire in the 1960s, the Boat Race was one of the sporting landmarks. We'd gather round the black-and-white TV set on a Saturday afternoon for the events that mark the rhythm of the year; and alongside the Boat Race in our family's priorities were the Grand National, Wimbledon, the FA Cup Final and the Rugby League Cup Final - before Sports Personality signalled that Christmas was just around the corner.
We had no university connections then. But that race between dark blue and light blue - or different shades of grey as they were in the Sixties - was something that hooked not just us but millions across the country.
That's still true today. Some sports rise, others fall - but the Boat Race still grabs mass audiences despite changing tastes and fragmenting media habits. The last time it was on the BBC it was watched by a peak of almost 9 million; and during the ITV contract it attracted getting on for 8 million on its most recent outing.
The BBC last transmitted the Boat Race in 2004. To lose it was painful for us because it's one of the British sporting institutions and we'd been covering it for 66 years - but we also recognise that sometimes major events come and sometimes they go, while there are also new developments such as the way the London Marathon has earned itself a place on the top table.
Well, now the Boat Race is coming back to us. ITV had decided it wasn't able to cover the event in future, so we were delighted to step in; and we should thank them for keeping audiences healthy and for good production values in their coverage.
What we're announcing today is a new five-year deal that will see the race return to BBC One from April 2010 along with online streaming on this website and our full range of audio services. Our commitment is simple: we want to respect and celebrate the traditions of the race, but also win over new generations of viewers.
I know there'll be people who question the relevance of a rowing event between two ancient universities, but most UK audiences take a broader view. It's an epic sporting contest, and one in which the participants push themselves to the limit - with ambitious outside broadcasts able to capture the pressure of every stroke. More than that, it's an event at the heart of our capital and Olympic city: something that brings tens of thousands onto the Thames towpaths, and that's followed worldwide too.
So we'll be following this year's race at the end of this month with even more interest than usual - before we take to the water ourselves again next year.