In conversation with Tony Jardine

From reporting on radio in the early 1980s, to analysing Formula 1 for audiences across the globe, Tony Jardine’s broadcasting career has spanned nearly four decades.

I reminisced with Jardine at the 2018 edition of the Autosport Show, as we looked back at his broadcasting career.

How did your broadcasting career begin?

It was by accident! I was at the 1982 South African Grand Prix, working as the JPS Lotus press officer, when the infamous drivers’ strike took place.

The Independent Radio News (IRN) news reporter at the time was not in the press box, and I took a phone call from IRN. IRN distributed the radio news, and they were desperate, they needed a voice piece. I said “I can’t do that,” and they were like “Just tell me what you see down the pit lane.”

I did my first ever broadcast from Kyalami about the strike. IRN asked me to do more pieces, and I ended up becoming their Formula 1 correspondent, as well as doing the day job.

From IRN you moved to the BBC, how did that gig come about?

The BBC deal was a very different kettle of fish, in as much that Murray Walker had a conflict between the British motorcycle Grand Prix and the German Grand Prix. The BBC decided they wanted him to do the bikes, and asked me to make my commentary debut in ’85 alongside James Hunt.

That led to me becoming the full-time pit lane commentator with the BBC, and race commentator for South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC). I did a lot of live broadcasts for them, but I do want to stress that broadcasting was never my main job. The PR and communications company that I am involved with (HPS Jardine) is still my main mode of employment nearly 40 years later!

The role of pit lane reporter I imagine was quite different back then, given the archaic technology on offer.

It was quite difficult being in the pit lane as communications were not very sophisticated. It was very ancient equipment, you had to carry a lot of batteries, microphones, and headsets around with you. I was always trying to get in touch with the producer to say “I’ve got a story,” but they couldn’t always hear me.

We also could not do a proper grid walk at the BBC, as you were restricted as to where you could go by FOM.

I was literally arrested by Pasquale Lattuneddu, Bernie’s number two man, by going over some yellow line, and had to sit outside the [Formula One Management] office for several hours like a naughty school boy! You were limited as to what you could do on the grid, but I used to go to the edge of the pit lane and report in from there.

Was the pit lane role your main role with the BBC, or were there other roles you played a part in during their F1 coverage?

I started to get involved with the highlights on BBC Two in the early ’90s. One year, we did the British Grand Prix highlights opening live on stage from the post-race concert, with David Coulthard and Johnny Herbert! I was trying to hear the opening bits of music, so I could make my cue. When I thought there was a gap, I just went for it! I could not hear a word, it was very raw, rough, and ready.

The other thing I provided is what they call a ‘guide commentary.’ When neither Murray or James were overseas, for example in Canada or Japan, but they needed to know what happened, I would lay down a ‘ghost commentary’ over the action. Murray and James would listen to the ‘ghost’ version before they did their own commentary on several hours later.

Towards the end of 1995, we found out that ITV had grabbed the rights to the F1. Did that come as a shock to you and the team?

I was offered a new contract at the end of 1995 and was asked to present the BBC Two highlights from 1997 onwards, as well as doing the pit lane reporter gig. Three days later, the news came through that the BBC had lost [the F1] and ITV had won. I was gutted, as the BBC had empowered me, I said I’d give it a shot.

Jonathan Martin [BBC’s Head of Sport] believed he had a strong relationship with Bernie, and there is a view that he was quite arrogant. “Oh, Bernie wouldn’t do that to us!”, that kind of thing, and then gone.

Tony Jardine during ITV’s coverage of the 2005 Canadian Grand Prix.

Even though my company were involved in promoting the BTCC in the ’90s, I never really thought about staying with the BBC. My expertise was very much from working in Formula 1.

However, as luck would have it, I knew some of the production companies that were bidding for the ITV coverage. One of the guys from ITV saw me individually, and in the end, ITV said to the successful production company [Chrysalis] that they had to take me too! So, I wasn’t selected by them, but ITV had chosen me already.

That’s when they decided that I become an analyst in the studio. I did nine successful years with ITV and thoroughly enjoyed it, in TV terms that is a very long time.

How did the viewing public react to ITV’s offering in 1997?

I think it was quite warmly received. There were a lot of people waiting to criticise, the adverts were a big issue. However, we had our own studio, we had new graphics, we took it up another level.

At the time, it was unheard of to have a team that size, two analysts, guests, two pit lane reporters. Apart from some of the things we missed because of the ad-breaks, I don’t remember us receiving any massive criticism. Jim [Rosenthal] was one of those consummate professionals that does the job wherever he is, and he’s still working today.

The big difference too was that ITV gave it time. With the BBC, one race would air live, and the next would air as highlights, until 1995 when the Beeb started showing everything.

One of the major revelations about ITV’s coverage was Martin Brundle, so much so that he is still involved in F1 broadcasting to this very day.

I used to regularly go to Martin, both from my company’s perspective, and from a broadcasting perspective, as he was always great at talking. Martin could explain technical things in a very simplistic manner, not talking down to people, but just bringing it to a language you could understand, and maybe even have a little quip to boot.

Towards the end of the BBC’s tenure, Jonathan was with Murray in the commentary box and they brought Martin in as a third commentator. Brundle saw the race unfolding, and made a prediction which Palmer disagreed with, and the rest of it. But, what Brundle said was concise, he had a great idea of the strategy, and it was a great drivers’ perspective of what was going on.

It was a no brainer for ITV to bring him on-board. He took all that incredible knowledge, wit, wisdom, connectivity with drivers into the grid walk which we know and love.

Post-ITV, you have been involved with many different broadcasters on various things, close to home with Sky but also overseas.

I went back to Sky after ITV, and worked the live A1 Grand Prix races with Georgie Thompson, even doing my own grid walk from Brands Hatch!

I did some Sky Sports News work as well, previewing each Grand Prix using the touch screen from 2012. I would do two previews in a day building up to a race. I would script it, say what images I wanted, and Sky would get all the graphics.

On stage, I would talk to the presenter, talk through a lap of the circuit on the touch screen and play in all the video, never once using an autocue. The nightmare of course is that sometimes the touch screen would freeze, you’re live and you only have a certain amount of time, as Sky Sports News are constantly going from sport to sport.

More recently I’ve worked with Angus Scott, another former ITV man, on BeIN Sports’ live F1 shows. Many people in that production were also ex-BBC and Sky people, and BeIN really looked after me and listened to me editorially.

I am very fortunate to have had a lot of different jobs within broadcasting, all of which I have enjoyed. The art of good broadcasting is that you make it look easy, but believe you me, when you are doing it, it’s not.

My thanks go to Tony Jardine for spending the time with me on the above interview.

3 thoughts on “In conversation with Tony Jardine

  1. Great interview thanks for that. Regarding ITV I actually started watching F1 in 1997 so I didn’t mind the ad breaks and after watching through the BBC years, C4 and now on Sky I prefer ads to highlights. I don’t know why but it seems to lose the flow of the race when its condensed into a highlights package. When ITV had the ad breaks you could nip out for a pee, brew up and get back to the screen just in time for it to go back to the action and then they would recap what was missed.

    Id rather have that than the shambolic C4 deal we have now. Thats why I got Sky because the duration of a race is also important strategy wise to see everything unfold. So far after taking up Sky’s £10 F1 offer (£35 with entertainment and HD thrown in as well) I’ve been happy with it so no regrets but given the choice I would happily go back to the ITV days.

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