One of the frustrations in trying to write sport history is the difficulty in getting across that it was all real. Real, and the way it actually was. It’s particularly difficult when it comes to football. No one wants football’s history for its own sake: they want it as a depository for good-old-values schmaltz, a stick to beat the living – not forgetting nonetheless to indulge in some of that giggling, insecure ancestor-mockery that the likes of Harry Enfield indulge in when they run out of material, which is all too often and too soon. (I have sat through Enfield’s historical-football sketch on several occasions, unmoved and always coming away afterwards with a vague contempt for it).
Even once you understand intellectually that something was real, there’s still the even harder step to undertake – the one into feeling.
In poetry and prose literature, happiness writes white (for the mediocre at any rate); in history, the equivalent is boredom. It’s not the hidden victims of terror who slip through history’s cracks, but that essential sense of the humdrum that’s followed mankind around since before we left Africa.
Colour film, where it exists, is boredom’s best preservative – it can exhibit it even amongst all the other things it tells us about just how much has changed since…
What follows is 8mm colour film shot by a BBC employee in the late 1930s. It goes behind the scenes of the early TV broadcasts, amongst other things, and, because it shows people at work, in what must have been the Apple of its day, the humdrum’s in there for all the efforts of the video’s editor.
And here, for those of my readers with a connection to the place, is 1940s Hitchin: