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Hello, this is Siwri88, better known to some as Simon. Currently work as a picture researcher and production assistant with a leading publishing company that works with trading cards and sticker albums on a variety of licenses in sport and entertainment. Freelance Journalist and writing a book in my spare time. Achieved a 2:1 studying BA Hons Journalism at the University of Northampton (2009-2012). Enjoy reading!

Thursday, 30 June 2011

TV classics - Noel's House Party


By Jason Wright (Entertainment Expert)

THROUGHOUT the eighties, the BBC had discovered a great entertainer in Noel Edmonds.  First was the daring Late Late Breakfast Show before the more applauding Saturday Roadshow.  Then in November 1991, the Saturday Roadshow became Noel’s House Party, the BBC’s first live Saturday night show for a long time.
     Broadcast from ‘The Great House’ in Crinkley Bottom, a fictional Westcountry village, the idea behind the show was to have fun, play pranks, make famous people fools, embarrass members of the public and of course, some rewards.  This was in a period where all kinds of Saturday night entertainment were rolled into one.  A bitter ratings war was subsequently launched with ITV’s common Saturday offerings of Catchphrase, Gladiators, Family Fortunes and Blind Date up against BBC’s line-up of Big Break, The Generation Game, House Party and Casualty.
     The features of House Party usually featured Gotcha! where members of the public and sometimes celebrities were fooled with hidden cameras and had to endure a series of practical jokes.  To prove that the show was well and truly live, NTV placed a secret camera in a living room of someone watching the show, and again, celebrities were caught out in this segment on some occasions, most notably Chris Evans, the late Richard Whiteley and Dale Winton.
     The Gunge Tank was yet again no escape for anyone.  Starting off as a phone-in poll between two celebrities to decide who should get the gunging, it later evolved into a tour around the house whilst being soaked in the slimy mess.  The show did give away some prizes, with Grab-a-Grand.  A celebrity would spend up to 60 seconds, depending on the amount of questions a viewer answered correctly, collecting foreign banknotes in a fan booth.  The cash collected was converted into a prize total using the exchange rate rule.  People could also win money in Number Cruncher.  A special phone booth was placed somewhere in Britain and the first person to find it would play the game, a big cash prize if successful but failure resulted in…you guessed it…a gunging!
DUO: Trouble often followed Noel Edmonds and Mr. Blobby!
     However, the best known character of House Party was Mr Blobby, a spotted mascot who would so often or not get himself or Edmonds into trouble in one way or another.  His popularity spurned a large merchandise line and the Christmas Number One in 1993 with his own title song.  With the show pulling in usually around ten million per week, Crinkley Bottom was given its own park at Pleasurewood Hills in Lowestoft, Norfolk for people to experience it firsthand.
     As the show continued to screen throughout the years, drastic improvements were made to try and keep it up-to-date with the growth in other modern gameshows and newer programmes.  However, they didn’t have a great effect; people left disappointed as they believed House Party would be one of the shows that should never have had its format tampered with.  Viewers turned off in their droves and Edmonds went into a contractual dispute with the Beeb, claiming they were responsible to making the tweaks that sent the show downhill.  Eventually, he agreed to try one more series in 1998, with a raft of new features, but designed to try and make House Party look original again.  Sadly, only die-hard fans were watching and the BBC decided enough was enough and axed the show.  The final episode was broadcast on March 20, 1999.
     “It's an overworked expression when people say it's the end of an era but for BBC Television, the Entertainment Department, for me and possibly you, it really is the end of an era. I hope your memory will be very kind to us. After 169 . . . bye.”  Those were Noel Edmonds simple but effective final words on the show.  Following the show’s axing, the BBC has not attempted to launch another show that has similar borderlines to House Party whilst Edmonds vowed never to work for the BBC again.  He has kept that vow to this day, with the exception of presenting a one-off National Lottery special in 2006.  Noel can now be found every weekday presenting the Channel 4 show Deal Or No Deal.
     There can be no question that House Party changed the face of Saturday night television for the BBC but if it wanted to survive longer than eight years, it needed to follow the golden quotation of revamping shows, ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.’  Sadly, it seemed the BBC weren’t paying close attention.

TV classics - Home and Away

By Jason Wright (Entertainment Expert)



SOME people may often forget that it was Channel Seven that launched the concept of soap in Australia.  The nostalgic Sons & Daughters started it all in 1982 and then it launched Neighbours three years later.  The latter wasn’t a success and defected to rivals Channel Ten the following year and became so successful that Seven decided to get its own back. Thus, Home and Away was born in 1988.
     Set in Summer Bay; a fictional seaside town on the coast of Melbourne, the concept behind the show was to aim it towards a family audience compared to Neighbours, which was targeted more at just the youth.  Early episodes largely focused on the Fletcher family, Tom (Roger Oakley), Pippa (Debra Lawrance) and their adoptive daughter Sally (Kate Ritchie) along with the Stewart couple of Alf (Ray Meagher) and Alisa (Judy Nunn).
START: A young Dannii Minogue made her breakthrough in Home & Away
     This initial plan didn’t really work and soon enough, the show extended towards other residents, along with the local businesses.  Several people got their big break through the show, including Dannii Minogue and the late Heath Ledger.  During the nineties, popular new characters came in, including Shannon Reed (Isla Fisher), Angel Parrish (Melissa George), Shane Parrish (Dieter Brummer), Marilyn Chambers (Emily Symons) and Fisher (Norman Coburn).
     Home and Away made its arrival onto British television in 1990 with ITV broadcasting the soap after the BBC turned down the rights to concentrate on funding for Neighbours.  Together with popular quiz show Blockbusters, with the ITN News sandwiched in-between, ITV had finally created a combination to take on the BBC on weekday teatimes.
     Going into the new millennium and Home and Away started a severe decline Down Under.  Constantly being thrashed in the ratings by Neighbours, it was criticised for trying to copy Ramsay Street’s way of storylines and then taking it over the top.  Meanwhile, it was rocked even further in January 2000 with the news that ITV wouldn’t be renewing its contract in order to fund for more original daytime programmes, namely a revival of the classic soap Crossroads.  Channel 5 duly picked up the rights, beating off stiff competition from Channel 4 and Sky.  However, due to legal documentation which I won’t go into, it would not return to UK screens until July 2001.  In the ten years that it has aired, Channel 5 has done a remarkable job to now only lie a few weeks behind Australian transmission.
     Over in Australia, Seven ordered a facelift of the show in 2004, but denied it was a “last chance” revamp.  Some of the sets were given neat makeovers, a whole host of new faces came in and the show switched into a new picture format, giving it a film-like effect that was being demonstrated in British soaps Hollyoaks and Doctors.  Bevan Lee, who was serving as series producer at the time of the revamp, left but decided to stay on until the end of the 2004 season to allow a strong transition into new producer Dan Bennett.  Bennett built on the wide praise from the 2004 relaunch, by continuing to dramatically extend the cast and commission storylines and plots that Home and Away had never touched before.  By now, the soap was being targeted to youngsters, with the arrival of popular teen characters such as Ric Dalby (Mark Furze), Cassie Turner (Sharni Vinson), Lucas Holden (Rhys Wakefield) and Matilda Hunter (Indiana Evans).
     One element that makes Home and Away standout from any other soap is disasters.  During the two and a bit decades it has been on the air, there has been an earthquake, a landslide, a hurricane, a cyclone, several fires, a helicopter disaster which left many characters stranded in a remote forest for over a month and countless car crashes.  It’s no wonder why Inside Soap magazine has labelled Summer Bay as soap’s most dangerous town!
     The murder of corrupt mayor Josh West (Daniel Collopy) in 2006 signalled change of direction in Home and Away.  Despite still being broadcast in a 7pm slot on Seven, and 6pm on Channel 5, more darker and grittier storylines were rolled out which included a continuing storyline the previous year of Eve Jacobson (Emily Perry).  Eve was a possessed stalker who coming back from the dead to enact revenge in blowing up the reception building at the wedding between Jack Holden (Paul O’Brien) and Martha Mackenzie (Jodi Gordon), leaving everyone’s lives at risk.  The end of the 2006 saw gangster Johnny Cooper (Callan Mulvey) begin to terrorise the town in a two-year period, during which Sally Fletcher was hospitalised twice for being stabbed.
     Despite these shock twists, it made compelling viewing and by now Home and Away was miles ahead of Neighbours in Australia and was often picking up awards for it.  The show’s 20th anniversary in 2008 promised a nostalgic element to the show throughout the year.  It also though saw the departure of many popular characters, especially the farewell of Sally, who left to travel the world.  Although new faces came in, many would argue that they would have a lot of work to do to better the class that began in 1988 and came in through the 2000s revival of what seemed to be a dying format.
STRONG: Home and Away still has a good following of fans
     Recently, the show has returned to its roots and although still features the odd dramatic element now and again; it has now taken a lighter and pleasurable approach.  Its reception in both Australia and the UK remains good and I predict that Home and Away should still be on everyone’s screens for many years to come.

Wednesday, 29 June 2011

The Finishing Straight - Europe (by HappyDude88)


AFTER the thriller in Canada, it was always going to be difficult to follow for any circuit on the calendar, let alone the most dullest and pointless track of the season.  The European Grand Prix in Valencia produced its usual lacklustre affair, and although there was some intense fighting down the field and the frontrunners stayed in close formation throughout, there was a lack of show stopping drama that the fans have been expecting throughout the season.
VIABLE: Alonso has been great for Spain, but are two races viable now?
    I think it is time for Bernie Ecclestone to consider the future of having two races in Spain.  There can be no doubt of Fernando Alonso’s impact on the sport and the massive adrenalin it has on the Spanish fans.  However, there are currently 21 races on the 2011 calendar, and presuming Bahrain returns next season, a race will have to go.  Istanbul remains the favourite, due to its lack of promotion, but do we really need two events in Spain?  We only have one in Germany; and it seems like that has sorted out the financial difficulties of both Hockenheim and the Nurburgring.  I honestly think Spain should follow suit.  Valencia may be a beautiful place to visit and the weather is gorgeous, but the race circuit looks like a supermarket car park, not a high-class venue.  I think it’s pretty shameful when you think of the world-class facilities in Abu Dhabi and Shanghai and the top circuits such as Suzuka and Spa. 
     The championship race is all over bar the shouting after Sebastian Vettel’s dominant weekend in Valencia.  Questions were raised by the media after Vettel’s last lap slip-up in Canada last time out, but he answered all those doubters in stunning and flawless fashion.  Once he got into the first corner first, there was little doubt that Sebastian was going to win the race.  Scary to think that if he had been on the right tyre strategy in China and not made that error in Montreal, he could have easily won all eight races so far this season.  He looks almost impossible to beat and if Mr. Optimistic himself, Alonso has ruled himself out of catching the German, you can understand why everyone else has him down as a double world champion now.  The engraving of his name might as well begin now.  In fact, give him the championship now; he doesn’t need to wait until the annual FIA Gala dinner in Monaco before Christmas to collect his prize!
     Arguably, they have had the fastest car in the last three races, but McLaren’s race pace went missing in Valencia.  It became a familiar theme in the race; Lewis Hamilton would pit early, set some searing quick lap times and then fade away with poor grip levels from the option Pirelli tyres.  In the end, Lewis salvaged fourth, whilst Jenson Button was a lonely sixth, losing a load of time behind Nico Rosberg in the early exchanges.  Both drivers seemed disheartened afterwards and a radically improved Ferrari was not on their gameplan.  Silverstone will offer a fair reflection on the pecking order and with Red Bull so far infront, the Woking team won’t want to drop behind Ferrari too.
UNWANTED: At least Karthikeyan now has a place in the records!
     On Sunday morning, I predicted that all 24 cars that started the European Grand Prix would finish the race and I was proven right.  I wonder how Narain Karthikeyan feels to finish 24th in a Grand Prix!  It is only the third time this has happened in the sport’s history (discounting the six-car farce that was the 2005 US Grand Prix.)  Technology has improved radically and reliability is now incredible.  However, I do agree with Jarno Trulli’s viewpoint that it is becoming a bit too robotic now.  If a car retires now, I almost react with shock!  The days of 10/11 cars finishing races are well and truly over now.  Of course, we all want the drivers to be safe and well and no serious accidents, but I miss the spectacular engine blow-ups, the shearing of driveshafts and the explosive clutch failures.  Retirements from races should be part and parcel of the game and maybe FOTA need to look into this, especially if drivers like Trulli have these viewpoints.
     Two drivers who I was delighted to see in the points in Valencia were Jaime Alguesuari and Adrian Sutil.  Alguesuari made a two stop strategy work to perfection and finished a fighting eighth, matching his best career result.  For the third consecutive race, he went out in Q1, but more performances in the race like this will mean that Daniel Riccardo’s chance at Toro Rosso will have to wait.  It’s interesting to see that Alguesuari is now ahead of Sebastian Buemi in the drivers’ championship, despite Buemi outperforming him on a regular basis this season.  Sutil has also had a tricky season, with personal problems and the possibility of a court case hanging over him, following a nightclub incident after the Chinese Grand Prix in April.  However, he looked up for it on the streets of Valencia and for the first time this season, led the way in the Force India team, having been overshadowed all season by the plucky Paul di Resta.
     Mercedes GP had another dismal weekend and having looked threatening in China and Turkey to the frontrunners, the team has fallen behind the top three teams again by a considerable distance.  Although they are pulling away from the likes of Renault and Sauber, the gap is increasing between themselves and Ferrari.  Rosberg finished seventh, which was the best he could hope for.  Finishing 100 seconds behind race winner Vettel tells its own story.  After his Canadian exploits, Michael Schumacher made another rash overtaking attempt on Vitaly Petrov, and as in Turkey, came off worse.  Michael admitted fault after the race, although Ross Brawn seemed to hint that it was Petrov’s fault.  Sorry Ross, but what do you expect Petrov to do, drive into the barriers or vanish into thin air!  Heavy rear tyre wear is Mercedes real issue and it seems like a problem that won’t go away for them, definitely in the short-term.
     Finally, time to give out my Driver of the Weekend and Driver of the Day awards.  Vettel is the clear winner of Driver of the Weekend, whilst I give Alguesuari the nod over Vettel and Alonso for Driver of the Day.  Hopefully, the hustle buzz of F1 2011 will return at the British Grand Prix next week.

NOTE: DUE TO AN IMPENDING WORK PLACEMENT IN LONDON, THERE WILL NO FINISHING STRAIGHT BLOG FOR THE BRITISH GRAND PRIX DUE TO A LACK OF TIME.  THE SILVERSTONE WEEKEND WILL HAVE JUST A RACE REPORT.  I WILL RETURN FOR THE GERMAN GRAND PRIX AT THE NURBURGRING WITH A RACE REPORT, FINISHING STRAIGHT BLOG AND MY HALF-TERM DRIVERS REPORT.   

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

TV classics - ITV F1


BERNIE Ecclestone caused a real stir in 1996, when he announced that BBC was losing its coverage of Grand Prix, which they had screened since 1978.  He gave the contract to ITV, in a £60million deal.  This was a real boost for the commercial channel, especially as they were receiving a traditional battering in the Sunday afternoon rating battles.  ITV F1 remained on the air from 1997 until 2008, and although things started strongly, they rapidly went downhill.  Despite this, their new angle of Formula One racing changed the way one of the golden jewels in sport would be broadcast forever.
FIRST: The opening F1 logo for ITV in 1997
     ITV wanted to bring a fresh appeal to the viewer and this meant the controversial decision to drop the iconic racing music; ‘The Chain’ by Fleetwood Mac.  Instead, they gave Jamiroquai the chance to create a new racing theme for their coverage.  It went down fairly well and had a racing feel to it.  The best music theme was the second change in music, ‘Blackbeat’ by Apollo 440, first used in the year 2000.  Although Bachman-Turner Overdrive and Moby’s versions of ‘You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet’ and ‘Lift Me Up’ can’t be faulted for their quality, they simply never suited a Grand Prix theme tune.  Ultimately, despite ITV’s best efforts, nothing can beat ‘The Chain’ for Formula One.
     When ITV started out, they hired almost a brand new team to bring the action to the homes of millions of British television viewers.  Jim Rosenthal, despite not having a prime passion for motorsport, was given the responsibility to anchor the show.  He was joined in the studio by Tony Jardine, who moved from the pitlane on the BBC’s Grand Prix team to being a regular pundit.  Simon Taylor was also hired too, though he was dropped at the end of ITV’s first year of covering Formula One.  In the pits, in-depth coverage was brought by former ESPN reporter James Allen and the ex-Jordan press officer Louise Goodman.  In the commentary box, the ‘Voice of Formula One’ Murray Walker was retained and he was partnered with the ex-Tyrrell, Jordan and Brabham pilot Martin Brundle.  Brundle, having taken part in over 160 GP races and won Le Mans for Jaguar in 1990 was the perfect foil for Walker and his technical expertise, humorous grid walks and analytical approach won him many fans and awards.  In 1997, ITV bought live coverage of every single qualifying session.  This was a new formula, as the BBC had only ever shown live qualifying of the British event at Silverstone.  If fans wanted live qualifying before 97, they had to buy cable and watch it on Eurosport.  The race was as ever, live, with suitable Sunday late highlights and also, a 30 minute Saturday preview show, called Murray and Martin’s F1 Special, which rounded up the earlier afternoon’s qualifying session, had more interviews with the key personnel in the paddock and previewed the following day’s race. 
     To begin with, ITV’s coverage of Formula One could not be faulted, but for one exception, the annoying commercial breaks.  Five advertising breaks were scheduled during every race, and this was never the strongest portray in ITV’s portfolio.  In its debut season, UK viewers were treated to dog food commercials, rather than the extraordinary overtake by world champion Damon Hill on Ferrari’s Michael Schumacher for the lead of the Hungarian Grand Prix.  Later that year, the two simultaneous engine failures for the leading McLaren cars at the Nurburgring weren’t broadcast live, due to another commercial interruption.  As years went on, ITV’s timing for a break got worse.  Amongst other moments missed by viewers were Michael Schumacher’s tyre explosion at Suzuka, which ended the 1998 championship and Fernando Alonso’s spectacular engine failure at the 2006 Italian Grand Prix.
     The worst moment came at the 2005 San Marino Grand Prix.  Schumacher, in an inferior Ferrari, hunted down Alonso’s faster Renault in a gripping and tense scrap at Imola.  Unbelievably, with three laps to go, ITV went to its specialist subject, an advertising break!  Fans were incensed and fortunately, the break ended before the last lap of the race.  Afterwards, an embarrassed Rosenthal was forced to apologise and the final three laps were shown again in it’s entirely, but the damage had been done.  Media regulator OFCOM fined ITV Sport for its damming lack of timing at such a critical part of the race.  Could you imagine the storm if Schumacher had managed to find a way past Alonso!
     Rosenthal quit ITV F1 at the end of the 2005 season, to focus on his main love, boxing.  Four years earlier, Murray Walker had decided to hang up his microphone and James Allen was promoted upstairs into the commentary box.  He was replaced in the pitlane by a former producer of the programme, Ted Kravitz.  Kravitz’s lack of meaningful pit reports, combined with Allen’s general dull commentary voice and the dominance at the start of the millennium by Michael Schumacher and Ferrari led to an alarming decline in viewer ratings.
     The cost of ITV producing Formula One, at the time where it was expanding its boxing, rugby and football coverage was because tough to sustain.  This was also highlighted by the amount of advertising sponsorship it relied on.  Petrol giant Texaco were a solid and trusted partner of ITV’s F1 coverage for its first five seasons.  After that, Toyota, the Daily Telegraph, LG, Swiftcover.com, Shell V-Power, Honda and Sony all took turns at sponsoring F1 on ITV.  With every sponsorship contract signed, the fee was far less than the previous one, which meant cutbacks had to be made elsewhere.  And at the end of the day, who wants to see Clucking Chickens before the start of a Sunday lunchtime race!
     Steve Rider joined from the BBC in 2006 and was partnered by former Ligier and Tyrrell driver Mark Blundell.  The studio element was dropped, as the presenters opted to do their build-up show from down in the paddock, which was a poor move.  Hiring Blundell was a disaster too; as he struggled to come up with any meaningful sentences.  Half the time, he seemed to agree with Rider’s questions and the lack of a second pundit hurt ITV in its later years.  So too, was its bias of Lewis Hamilton.  Hamilton’s emergence onto the Grand Prix scene in 2007 was good news for the viewing figures and won ITV F1 two Sport BAFTA awards, but soon, fans got tired of the constant Hamilton interviews and references, almost forgetting about anyone else on the grid!  Considering there were the likes of Fernando Alonso, Jenson Button, Kimi Raikkonen, David Coulthard, Felipe Massa, Giancarlo Fisichella and Robert Kubica on the grid, this was dismal ignorance from ITV.  As far as they were concerned, it was Hamilton v 21 other idiots! 
WHAT!: A bird in the 2006 titles showed ITV's failings in latter seasons
     Days before the 2008 Malaysian Grand Prix, Bernie Ecclestone confirmed that the BBC had won the rights to Formula One coverage in the UK from the 2009 season onwards, in a new five-year deal.  ITV confirmed their F1 exit was down to cutting costs at the height of the worldwide recession, and they had just signed a new deal to hang onto UEFA Champions League football.  Michael Grade, the then chief executive of ITV decided that football was a bigger prize for the broadcaster than Formula One.  After 206 races, ITV F1 bowed out with the dramatic 2008 Brazilian Grand Prix, which saw Hamilton win the title on the final corner of the season, so it was a fitting end to its groundbreaking and at times, farcical coverage of the sport.
     There can be no doubt that ITV did put a new spin on how to do sports broadcasting, but over the 12-year stint it held the F1 rights, there were far too many missed opportunities.   

Dutch MotoGP 2011: Brilliant Ben dominates Assen TT


AMERICAN Ben Spies destroyed the opposition to win the famous Dutch TT at Assen on Saturday afternoon.  Spies took full advantage of another costly crash from Marco Simoncelli to record his maiden win in the premier class of motorcycling.  He is the first rider who came from World Superbikes to win a round of MotoGP since Troy Bayliss triumphed at the 2006 season finale in Valencia.
     Practice and qualifying was held in tricky weather conditions and all three Honda works riders had accidents in the early moments of qualifying.  Despite this, Casey Stoner still lined up on the front row, behind Simoncelli, who showed his raw pace against and Spies.  Yamaha were portraying a different colour scheme, to celebrate their 50th year of Grand Prix racing.  Spies took off the startline fastest, but Simoncelli’s habit of crashing to the tarmac continued to haunt him at the third bend of the race.
     Like in Estoril, he pushed too hard on cold tyres and dropped his bike, taking out world champion Jorge Lorenzo.  Both managed to remount, but they lost loads of ground on the leaders.  The drama continued on the opening couple of circuits, with crashes from Karel Abraham and Randy de Puniet.  Abraham broke his little finger in his accident, whilst de Puniet’s tumble was the last thing the Premac team needed, as Loris Capirossi had crashed earlier in the weekend.  The veteran Italian fractured his shoulder, which ended his participation in the event early. 
MARGIN: Spies built up a healthy advantage throughout
     In all the confusion, Spies opened up a solid advantage over Stoner, enough to allow him to cruise through a dull second half of the event.  Stoner seemed content to settle for second, knowing that he was beating his title rival Lorenzo and extending his points advantage.  The only other incident of significance was a tyre problem for Cal Crutchlow.  Crutchlow, who qualified a tremendous sixth on the grid, despite having had major surgery on his collarbone earlier in the week, was a brilliant fifth when the rear Bridgestone tyre destroyed itself and forced him into the pits.
     Andrea Dovizioso continued his consistent run of points finishes, ending up third, whilst Valentino Rossi came up to fourth from a lowly 11th on the grid, on a brand new Ducati bike.  Lorenzo did brilliantly to recover to sixth, behind the second Ducati of Nicky Hayden.  Colin Edwards was seventh, ahead of Hiroshi Aoyama, who had an unspectacular run on the third of the works Honda bikes.  Dani Pedrosa, still mysteriously missing is expected back in the saddle for the Italian round at Mugello this weekend.  A devastated Simoncelli came back to ninth, but faces a race ban, if he doesn’t calm down on his over-exuberant riding. 
    This was a deserved win for Ben Spies and it was nice to see a different winner in MotoGP, but ultimately, the big winner again was Casey Stoner, who extended his already healthy margin at the top of the championship.   

Sunday, 26 June 2011

2011 European Grand Prix - Back to normality for Vettel


CRUISER: Another perfect weekend for runaway leader Vettel
AFTER his Canadian slip-up, Sebastian Vettel resumed his dominance of the 2011 F1 season, with a comprehensive victory at the European Grand Prix.  Vettel led from start to finish in the traditional Valencia snooze fest to record his sixth win from eight races.  He heads to Silverstone a whopping 77 points clear of Jenson Button and Mark Webber.
     The new regulations, which will see the banning on blowing hot gases off the exhausts of the cars at Silverstone started coming into force this weekend, with the teams being forced to run the same engine map for both qualifying and the race.  However, it did little to change the formbook, as Red Bull cruised to another lockout of the front row of the grid.  Despite a tardy start, Vettel led into the first bend and from there, never looked like he was going to be headed.  The big winner at the start was Felipe Massa, who scorched upto third position and challenged Webber into the second corner.  However, he backed out of a possible move, and this allowed the local favourite, Fernando Alonso to sweep around the outside of his team-mate and claim third spot.
BATTLE: Webber eventually lost out in his scrap with Alonso
     Vettel was having a laugh out there, and although he wasn’t pulling away excessively, he had the race totally in his command.  Webber ended up in a race long dogfight with Alonso and was overtaken by the feisty Spaniard shortly after the first round of stops.  Webber used the undercut to jump Fernando in the second pitstops, but moved onto the less preferred prime option (the medium tyre) earlier than anyone else.  He struggled with initial grip from the Pirelli tyres, and this enabled Alonso the opportunity to earn back second place.  Once behind, a grandstand finish for the runners-up spot behind the runaway winner Vettel was denied by a gearbox problem for Webber, which forced the Aussie to coast to the finish.
     Having arguably had the fastest car in the last three races, McLaren were miles off the pace of both Red Bull and Ferrari.  Both Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button complained afterwards of a lack of rear downforce and need for better aerodynamics.  Button lost a load of time behind Nico Rosberg in the early stages, before pulling off one of the only meaningful passes in the race on the fourth circuit.  The Canada winner was hobbled by a KERS issue, which left him stranded in sixth.  Hamilton had a quiet run to fourth, but after the controversy of the last two races and his questionable manoeuvres, the 2008 champion was probably just pleased to see the chequered flag without any unnecessary hassle.
     After his promising start, Massa faded to fifth and a full half minute behind his team-mate Alonso.  The Brazilian wasn’t helped by a poor second stop, when he was delayed by a sticky wheel nut.  With the top three teams locking down the top six positions, there were precious few pickings for the remainder of the field.  Jaime Alguesuari thrilled the home supporters, by making a two-stop strategy work to perfection.  He matched his Montreal result of eighth place, and more performances like that will keep him in the Toro Rosso hotseat.  He finished narrowly behind Nico Rosberg, who did well to score points on a weak Mercedes GP circuit. 
     Michael Schumacher returned to his crash fest specials in Valencia.  He was lucky to escape a drive-through penalty for crossing the white line on the pitlane exit and then another clumsy overtaking attempt on Vitaly Petrov ended with a damaged front wing.  After that, he was resigned to a dismal 17th placed finish.  Petrov’s goose was cooked by a diabolical start that saw him lose four positions in the first corner.  He was out of the points and Nick Heidfeld could only muster tenth for his efforts.  Renault need Robert Kubica back, but with the Pole’s comeback not likely until next season at the earliest, face a very tricky second half of the season.  Adrian Sutil drove consistently all weekend and finished a creditable ninth for Force India.  Scotland’s Paul di Resta, who missed all of Friday after reserve driver Nico Hulkenberg crashed his car in practice, did well to finish 14th.  For the third time in the history of the FIA Formula One World Championship, every single car finished the race.  The other races were the 1961 Dutch Grand Prix and the 2005 Italian Grand Prix.
     After this win, Sebastian Vettel becomes only the second driver to have finished in the top two of the first eight races of any season.  On the other occasion, Fernando Alonso won the title in 2006, though he was pushed all the way by Schumacher in his swansong Ferrari season.  Somehow, I can’t see that happening this season.  It will have to take something like a freak illness or accident that will stop Sebastian Vettel from winning the 2011 world championship.  F1 returns home to Silverstone in a fortnight’s time and hopefully, it will provide the spectacular racing that Valencia simply failed to achieve.

Consistency is the key


By Simon Wright (Personal piece)

FIVE weeks into my extended summer holiday and I can’t say that it has been a bundle of fun.  Don’t get me wrong, I love to have time off as much as anyone, but it becomes very difficult to motivate yourself, especially when you don’t have an ambition/target to set yourself.  Nevertheless, I can fully now appreciate that after a tricky spring period of the year, summer has brought some lovely (and unpredictable weather!) and some summery results. 
     Yes, two weeks ago, I got the conformation of my grades for the second year of my journalism course at the University of Northampton.  On reflection, I really can’t complain, and although the overall module results could have been slightly better, I was thrilled with my consistency in the separate units that make up a module.  Nearly 80 per cent of all the units I did ended up coming back with B grades, which for the hard graft and effort I put in during the last academic year, is a thoroughly merited result. 
     Some grades really surprised me actually.  I got a B- on the Broadcast Portfolio segment of one of my workshop modules.  Honestly, I was expecting a D!  If anyone listened to my radio pieces (see University Northampton portfolio 2010/11), you could hear how rubbish they were.  Frankly, it was the standard I would expect from an average primary school child!  That’s how bad my radio was.  I do wonder how well I could have done, if I’d done the Sky Sports sexism row back in January for one of my radio pieces.  Ah well, hindsight is a wonderful thing in life, if we have access to it.  
Law is an essential part of journalism; but it is still so BORING!
     Of course, the highpoint was earning an A on my law and government exam.  I was gutted to only earn a C on my 1998 Human Rights Act essay.  Although it wasn’t the greatest essay I’d ever produced, I thought I might have received a bit of discretion for choosing something different to almost everybody else on my degree.  The standard choice of the others was the Freedom of Information Act 2000.  I went a different route and obviously, it didn’t go down well.  Sometimes, gambles don’t pay off, but this does prove I am a risk taker.  Do I regret going a different route?  No, I don’t.  I don’t understand the Freedom of Information Act 2000; it would leave my head spinning like the world globe!  It’s just too complex for a brain as small as mine and as people who know me can vouch to, if I had brains, I’d be lethally dangerous!  Was I hoping for a better result on the essay?  Absolutely I was, and it’s the last time I will believe that going down a different route to the norm will earn some form of creditability. 
     It meant come the exam, I needed a decent result to balance out the essay grade.  As I think I said before, I came out of the exam feeling confident that I had done really well.  However, I could never have imagined earning an A!  It’s the first ever time I’ve achieved the top grade in any kind of exam before (SAT’s, GCSE’s, A Levels) you name it.  I think I can safely say I finally managed to beat the brain freeze I used to suffer in exams, or the choking levels of not remembering your stuff.  Whilst I’m on choking levels, maybe we’ll get a British winner at Wimbledon (No, there’s more chance of me driving a car again, which isn’t likely!)  I didn’t revise as hard as last year, but came out with a better result by a million miles.  Obviously, my preparation was meticulous.  Trust me though; I have no secrets to giveaway!
     The disappointing side of the results was the dismal D+ on my TV Gold magazine, which significantly bought down my DTP overall grade to a C+.  I must admit to being a bit confused by this.  I did a good presentation, thought I stuck to a consistent balance between design and content, yet the result is baffling.  Okay, I did see some top-quality magazines (like Farida’s Milan travel magazine, which was a class above anything else, sorry everyone, that was the standard to beat!) and I knew mine was nowhere near her calibre as an example.  However, it wasn’t that bad and I enjoyed doing it too, despite the stress of printer’s pairs!  There’s only one option I can try now; weasel my way out of doing a magazine next year.  Unlikely, as I think the 32-page mag is one of the compulsory modules for my final year.  However, if there is a way around it, I have to take a different option.  I was heavily criticised for my 8-page magazine last year and now, the 12-page has clearly gone the same way!  So, little hope of a 32-page being successful then!  Probably more chance of me gambling £1 on the National Lottery!
I was happy that my consistency has improved
     Nevertheless, consistency was the key to my overall results and I generally can’t complain with them.  I can’t wait to see my journalism buddies again.  I miss them so much and a fancy dress birthday party for August has already been arranged, so it will be the perfect catch-up point. 
      One final thing to announce; I will NOT be updating this website with anymore blogs from Christmas onwards.  It was a tough decision to make, but 2012 promises so much and I know that I’m just not going to have the time to keep this website functioning any longer.  Nevertheless, I want to thank everyone for reading/liking/commenting on the hundreds of blogs I’ve produced and those of my entertainment expert, Jason Wright too.  I hope you continue to visit the website and enjoy it as much as possible between now and the middle of December, when this journey comes to its conclusion.  Thank you and look forward to seeing/hearing from you soon.

Thursday, 23 June 2011

TV classics - You Bet!


By Jason Wright (Entertainment Expert)


YOU Bet was a TV gameshow that was out of the ordinary.  It came around at a critical point where ITV needed a show that could hold well against the BBC growing popularity in Saturday night television.
     Launched in 1988, and originally hosted by Bruce Forsyth, the show saw everyday members of the public claim they could challenge themselves to do something that would be impossible in real life. Against a set time limit, these challenges could range between smashing 50 concrete blocks in three minutes or identify ten types of fruit by smell alone.
     A panel of three different celebrities each week were invited to predict the outcome of these challenges as was the studio audience.  At the end of the show, the combined totals of the studio audience and the celebrities would create a hefty amount of money to donate to charity, nominated by the celebrity that won the game.  Every contestant that participates in a challenge would earn someone commemorative such as a trophy, a medal or a scroll, depending on which series it was in.  The most unique aspect was the end music played at the end of each challenge, one for a successful challenge and another for an unsuccessful challenge, or a fan gameshow page UKGameshows calls them, the “happy happy” theme and “oh dear, it’s all gone pear-shaped” theme.
     However, the twist in the show came that each celebrity had to back one of the challenges and if it failed, they had to pay with a forfeit that they arranged.  Not even the host was safe, as Forsyth also had to sponsor a challenge, with the same consequence if it failed.
     After three solid years, Forsyth went back to the BBC and Matthew Kelly took over as host.  An extra challenge was added into the programme which meant co-host Ellis Ward (who had been with the show since the start) now supported a challenge along with the celebrities and Kelly.  It was perhaps the Kelly-era of the show that was the most watched and remembered as his witty remarks were taken by warmth to the viewing public.  The forfeits rule was changed in Kelly’s first series with a list of six to choose from instead of suggestions.
SET: You Bet! had some glory days, but faded in later years
     Ward left the show in mysterious circumstances in 1992 and the celebrity panel was increased to four people.  Yet another change in the forfeits saw it become a case of pot luck with the six forfeits hidden in envelopes.  Following a brief switch to Friday nights in 1991 to 1993, it returned to the usual Saturday slot in early 1994, with the remaining episodes of the series carried over from the previous year.
     A change of direction came in 1995 with a new set and the axing of forfeits and celebrities backing challenges.  Instead, the celebrity that came last was punished with having to do a challenge of their own.  By this time, the show had become too much for Matthew Kelly, and he left at the end of the series to focus on the more successful Stars In Their Eyes.
     Actor Darren Day and Diane Youdale, better known as Jet from Gladiators, took over for the 1996 series.  This though didn’t appeal to the viewers and a last-ditch revamp the following year saw too many changes which led to its ultimate demise.  The changes were; a terrible new music sequence, another new set, a new Bonus Card rule for celebrities to double their points on a challenge and another new co-presenter in Sarah Matravers.  Matravers replaced Youdale is better known for playing feisty Victoria Baptiste in Sky One’s football drama Dream Team.  All the changes backfired and despite Day promising viewers at the end of the series of returning again soon, it didn’t happen.  The show was axed and replaced in 1998 by the more extreme Don’t Try This At Home!  Shame but that’s what happens when you make too much change at one period of time.
     You Bet! is one of the plethoras of classic shows that regularly appear on digital channel Challenge.  Currently, they are airing episodes from the Matthew Kelly period of the show.  In truth, You Bet! has a format that actually can still air today but in today’s advancing growth of bigger and better shows, it may not stand a chance of a revival.

The Senna movie - A fitting tribute


By Simon Wright (Personal Review)


ON TUESDAY lunchtime, I went to the cinema to watch a motor racing movie about one of my heroes, who really appealed to me, Ayrton Senna.  When The Senna Movie was announced for commission at the beginning of last year, I was looking forward to seeing the final piece of work.  Senna’s life, both on and off the racetrack was certainly full of theatre and deserved the proportions of a movie on a big screen.
     Ayrton Senna was only 34 years old when he was killed, crashing into a concrete wall on the Imola circuit during the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix.  Although I’d heard a lot of positive reviews about the movie from motorsport experts, commentators and from the Senna family themselves, I did hope this would be a moving that would give depth to his life and be a fitting tribute.  Maybe it was concern from The Social Network, which showed how Facebook was created, but struggled to appeal to me when I saw it in November last year, but I was hoping that The Senna Movie wouldn’t go down a similar route.  My plaguing doubts turned out to be completely whittled away.
     When I came out from the film, I realised that I had witnessed a piece of sporting drama in the big screen that had really captured the imagination.  Even being a motorsport fan, I saw some never-before-seen footage and learnt more about the great Brazilian’s life.  The main focus point of the movie was the two controversial clashes with Alain Prost at the Suzuka circuit which decided the 1989 and 1990 world championships.  I saw footage of the driver’s briefings from both years which were very interesting.  In 89, Senna looked a serious figure, one who seemed to be fed up with the politics already before the Japanese event.  Prost seemed far more relaxed about the whole situation.  That was surprising, considering it was Prost who couldn’t cope with Ayrton’s attitude and had already decided to quit the McLaren team at the end of the season.  A year later, Senna looked even more fed up with the politics in the sport, especially against the controversial FISA president Jean-Marie Balestre.  He was convinced that Balestre was cooperating with his fellow countryman Prost for the championship both seasons.  In 1990, Senna walked out of the drivers briefing after Nelson Piquet raised a controversial point about the chicanes at Suzuka and he was furious that the other drivers agreed with Piquet, who disliked Senna anyways.  When pole position was refused to be moved onto the cleaner side of the grid, the consequences became inevitable for the tangle in the first corner.
SMASH: This crash led to another clash between Senna and Balestre
     A year later, Senna clashed again with Balestre, this time over chicanes at the German circuit, Hockenheim.  Ayrton had escaped unharmed from a spectacular crash in practice for the Mexican Grand Prix, which had been made worse by the lack of absorption from the tyre barriers.  He was furious to find tyre stacks put at the end of the three long straights on the Hockenheim track.  He bickered with Balestre, insisting that cones should be used in place for safety.  This time, the other drivers agreed with the world champion and it is believed that this confrontation of views led to Balestre’s downfall and eventual departure as FISA president.
     Senna’s death at the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix rocked not just the world of Formula One and sport, but the worldwide news, which showed the significant impact he had on the sport.  His country Brazil went into national mourning.  Brazil was going through some difficult times and alongside Pele, Ayrton Senna gave them a glimmer of hope and belief that united a country full of divisions.  Watching Senna in the movie on that Imola weekend was sad.  He never smiled on the weekend and looked to be occupied with other matters.  It was interesting to see new camera angles of the terrifying startline crash which saw spectators injured, Ayrton’s reaction to Roland Ratzenberger’s fatal accident on the Saturday, his fury at how slow the Safety Car was going whilst the debris was being collected up, moments before his demise. 
     I was only five when Ayrton Senna was killed.  I remember fuzzily watching some of the race on Eurosport, although I can’t honestly remember the accident.  However, Senna was one of my inspirations in life and his legacy on the sport will never be forgotten.  Ironically, another of my inspirational figures in Nelson Mandela, who at the time, was being sworn in as the president of a previously divided South Africa.  He is still missed, even 17 years on from the tragic accident.
     The Senna Movie is a chilling, emotional and passionate piece of theatre and I’d urge everyone, even those who don’t have any following with motorsport to watch the movie.  It is very powerful and a fitting tribute to a Brazilian legend.   

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

F1 classic races - Europe


IN A new series, I will be looking back at six classic races every weekend from the country about to stage an event in the 2011 FIA Formula One World Championship.  This is my selection, of races held under the banner of the European Grand Prix, largely at the Nurburgring, with servings from Jerez and Donington Park between 1993 and 2010.  Enjoy the archive!

1993 (Donington Park)
EFFORTLESS: Senna completes 'The Greatest Lap Ever,' passing Prost
WINNER: Ayrton Senna (McLaren Ford), 2nd: Damon Hill (Williams Renault), 3rd: Alain Prost (Williams Renault)
AYRTON Senna’s greatest drive came on a damp and soggy Easter weekend in 1993.  The Brazilian started fourth on the grid and got crowded out at the start, dropping to fifth.  Unbelievably, he took the lead by the end of the first lap in the ‘Greatest First Lap’ ever driven.  First, he slipped down the inside of Michael Schumacher into Redgate and then drove around the outside of Karl Wendlinger’s Sauber at the tricky Craner Curves.  After a couple of fantastic corners, he muscled his way past Damon Hill and went after Alain Prost, edging past Prost in the Melbourne Hairpin section.  He went on to win by a full minute.  Wendlinger was taken out on the first lap by a hopeless Michael Andretti whilst Prost made seven comical pitstops on his way to third.  He only got the podium after Rubens Barrichello cruelly stopped with four laps to go; his Jordan starved of fuel pressure when a rostrum in just his third ever race was on the cards.

1995 (Nurburgring)
WINNER: Michael Schumacher (Benetton Renault), 2nd: Jean Alesi (Ferrari), 3rd: David Coulthard (Williams Renault)
THIS was the day when Michael Schumacher virtually wrapped up his second championship with a stunning drive, that even Damon Hill couldn’t complain with.  On a day when Hill needed to win, he drove appallingly.  He made a bad start and then blew his chances by trying an ambitious lunge on Jean Alesi which saw the Williams front wing removed.  Recovering and chasing down team-mate David Coulthard, Hill lost control on lap 59 and smashed into the tyres.  Alesi had been brave enough to start on slicks on a damp track and led from the 11th lap onwards.  However, he struggled to hold off a quicker Schumacher on worn rubber and with four laps to go, the German made an aggressive move in the final chicane which looked risky, but paid off.  Alesi backed off and Schumacher went on to record his eighth win of a sensational 1995 season. 

1997 (Jerez)
WINNER: Mika Hakkinen (McLaren Mercedes), 2nd: David Coulthard (McLaren Mercedes), 3rd: Jacques Villeneuve (Williams Renault)
THE title decider in 1997 was between Michael Schumacher and Jacques Villeneuve.  Schumacher was one point ahead heading to Jerez, and the title rivals started on the front row together after an unbelievable qualifying session that saw Villeneuve, Schumacher and Heinz-Harald Frentzen set the same exact time of 1.21.072!  At the start, Villeneuve got Wheelspin and dropped to third behind the two Germans.  Frentzen let Jacques go on lap nine, allowing the Canadian to closedown Schumacher’s 4.1second advantage.  On lap 47, the Williams driver made his move into the Dry Sac bend.  He slithered down the inside, as Schumacher made a blatant attempt to turn in on his title rival.  It was significant contact, but Villeneuve continued, whilst the Ferrari rebounded into the gravel trap and out of the race.  The Williams was damaged and Villeneuve backed off dramatically on the last lap, to allow the McLaren’s of Mika Hakkinen and David Coulthard through, as he only needed fifth for the title.  Consequently, this meant that Hakkinen won his first race in Formula One, at his 96th attempt.  Schumacher was blamed and vilified for the collision with Villeneuve and got a fine and expulsion from the final 1997 driver’s championship table for his actions.

 
1999 (Nurburgring)
WINNER: Johnny Herbert (Stewart Ford), 2nd: Jarno Trulli (Prost Peugeot), 3rd: Rubens Barrichello (Stewart Ford)
JOHNNY Herbert gambled correctly in an ever-changing race which left the world championship wide open and gave the Stewart team their maiden victory, before Jaguar took over in the year 2000.  The race started dramatically, when Alexander Wurz, attempting to avoid Damon Hill’s slowing Jordan, clipped Pedro Diniz’s Sauber.  The Brazilian was launched into a terrifying barrel roll, which saw the rollover hoop collapse, but Pedro escaped unharmed.  Heinz-Harald Frentzen saw his title hopes die as his Jordan coasted to a sudden halt out of the pits, whilst leading.  David Coulthard also lost his championship chances by chucking his McLaren off the road in wet conditions.  Giancarlo Fisichella was another leader who spun off and a puncture ruined Ralf Schumacher’s hopes of a maiden victory after he had driven faultlessly.  Herbert had only started 14th, but was on the right tyres at the right time to win.  Prost earnt their best ever result, courtesy of Jarno Trulli, as title rivals Mika Hakkinen and Eddie Irvine floundered in fifth and seventh places.  Irvine wasn’t helped by a cataclysmic pitstops when the mechanics only put three wheels on his car!

2005 (Nurburgring)
WINNER: Fernando Alonso (Renault), 2nd: Nick Heidfeld (Williams BMW), 3rd: Rubens Barrichello (Ferrari)
A LAST lap grandstand finish was set-up by a seriously vibrating tyre on Kimi Raikkonen’s leading McLaren.  Raikkonen led from the start, but made a mistake at half-distance and took a trip across the gravel, which gave Nick Heidfeld a brief lead.  Later in the race, Kimi flat-spotted his tyre badly lapping Jacques Villeneuve’s Sauber, which allowed Fernando Alonso close right up on the McLaren.  As tyre changes were not permitted in 2005, the Finn had to battle on, but as he begun lap 60 (the final lap), the front suspension collapsed under extreme stress and pitched Raikkonen off the circuit at turn one.  Alonso was left to collect the unlikely spoils and strengthen his grip on the world championship.  Three-stopping Heidfeld and Rubens Barrichello were promoted onto the podium, whilst a pitlane speeding penalty cost David Coulthard a rostrum; he finished fourth for Red Bull.  A first-lap accident took out Mark Webber in the second Williams and spun Juan Pablo Montoya down to a distant seventh place finish.  So, it was a black day for McLaren and a pivotal day in the world championship battle of 2005.

2007 (Nurburgring)
WINNER: Fernando Alonso (McLaren Mercedes), 2nd: Felipe Massa (Ferrari), 3rd: Mark Webber (Red Bull Racing Renault)
FERNANDO Alonso overcame severe thunderstorms and a strong Ferrari challenge to claim a much-needed victory in 2007.  The race build-up was dominated by a serious accident for Lewis Hamilton in qualifying, caused by a faulty wheel gun.  Although he spent the night in hospital, Hamilton was allowed to start from tenth on the grid, but he ended up having a bad day.  First, he collected a puncture when the BMW Sauber drivers of Nick Heidfeld and Robert Kubica stupidly collided on the second corner of the race.  Next, he went off at the first corner in conditions more akin to a swimming pool flood!  The monsoon downpour claimed Jenson Button, Adrian Sutil, Nico Rosberg, Scott Speed and Vitantonio Liuzzi and Hamilton lost a lap sitting in the gravel.  The race was suspended until conditions improved, which left Marcus Winkelhock, a one-off replacement for the sacked Christjian Albers in the Spyker team, in the lead.  Winkelhock was soon gobbled up by the quicker cars however.  Kimi Raikkonen retired with a hydraulic failure and a bad tyre choice left Hamilton stranded in ninth.  Alonso hunted down Felipe Massa and passed the Brazilian with three laps to go to claim a sensational and dramatic victory.  Mark Webber finished third for Red Bull.

Wimbledon - 125 years of great memories


WIMBLEDON is the greatest tennis tournament around.  For a fortnight every June, the sporting world sets its sights on SW19 for another doze of spectacular tennis action.  Dreams are crushed, champions are made and stories are made which live for generations to come.  In 2011, the glorious tournament in South West London will be celebrating its 125th year.  Below are some of my favourite moments from the history of the championships.
     In the last 125 years, Wimbledon has seen some great champions and periods of dominance in both the men’s and women’s game.  The new millennium saw the genuine arrival of the Williams sisters on the game.  From a background where they had to work hard for everything, both Serena and Venus have graced the game and saved their best form for the grass court season.  When Venus beat Lindsay Davenport to win the title in 2000, few could have thought that both she and Serena would monopolise the first Saturday in July so often.  Eight times in the last ten years has seen a Williams sister walkaway with the famous dish at the end of Wimbledon.
COMFORT: The Duchess of Kent consoles Novotna after 1993 collapse
     Before their arrival, it was Martina Navratilova and Steffi Graf who claimed the most glory at Wimbledon.  Navratilova won the ladies singles title a staggering nine times, between 1979 and 1990.  It would have been ten, but for a shock loss in the final to the unfancied Conchita Martinez of Spain in 1994.  Twelve months earlier, Graf was part of one of the most memorable finals in Wimbledon history.  With chief rival Monica Seles missing, after being stabbed in the back by a crazed fan in a pre-tournament match in Hamburg, it was expected for the German Graf to walkaway with another Wimbledon title.  Czech Jana Novotna had other ideas and played some sensational tennis.  Novotna won the second set of the final, then pressured Graf into some high-profile errors and landed a double break to lead 4-1 in the deciding set.  Tragically, Novotna choked at the critical moment as Graf stormed back to win 6-4 and another Grand Slam.  Afterwards, Novotna was inconsolable as she broke down on the shoulders of the Duchess of Kent.  The Duchess told Novotna she would have another chance.  In 1997, she was overpowered by Martina Hingis in the final, but in 1998, the popular Czech finally won the title that eluded her in 1993.  French veteran Nathalie Tauziat couldn’t cope with Novotna’s desire and lost in straight sets.  It was one of the most popular and emotional occasions in SW19’s colourful history.
     There was British success in the ladies singles in 1977, when infront of the Queen in Silver Jubilee year, Virginia Wade won the title.  However, in the men’s game, it has been a painful 75-year wait for a British winner, since Fred Perry in 1936.  In recent years, the Brits have come close.  Andy Murray has reached two semi-finals and Tim Henman four.  In 1998, 1999 and 2002, Henman had little chance against Pete Sampras (twice) and Lleyton Hewitt.  However, 2001 was Tiger Tim’s best chance which even he admits he would love to play again if he had again.  On semi-final day, he was two sets to one up against Croatian wildcard Goran Ivanisevic, having won the third set 6-0 in just 14 minutes!  Unfortunately, the rain came down and continued to fall the following day.  When they finally resumed play on the Sunday morning, Ivanisevic, ranked no.125 going into the tournament, came out a different player and turned the match around.  Henman had no answer and bowed out in five sets.  24 hours later, Ivanisevic returned to play Australian veteran Pat Rafter in a gripping final.  In a breathtaking final, lasting just over three hours, Goran won 6-3, 3-6, 6-3, 2-6, 9-7 to become the first ever male player to win a Grand Slam, having been awarded a wildcard entry. 
ANNUAL: Sampras kisses the trophy after traditional win in 1998
     Some players have been unlucky to have never won Wimbledon.  Ivan Lendl lost two finals; Andy Roddick has been beaten in three, whilst Seles, Aranxta Sanchez-Vicario and Justine Henin are amongst the massive women’s names to never win the tournament.  Others just find themselves on home at SW19, Pete Sampras and Roger Federer are the two recent prime examples.  Sampras won his first Wimbledon in 1993, beating former no.1 and fellow American Jim Courier in the final.  He then went onto dominate Wimbledon in the 90s.  The words; ‘Game, Set, Match Sampras,’ became very common with a lot of spectators.  Sampras won the title in 1994, 1995, 1997, 1998, 1999 and 2000.  ‘Pistol Pete’ was a seven-time winner, with his Wimbledon reign being ended by the young pretender Federer, in the fourth round in 2001.  After a surprise early exit to Mario Ancic the following year, Federer put his own stamping mark on Wimbledon in the new century.  He beat Mark Philippoussis in straight sets in 2003 and won it six times since.  He broke Sampras Grand Slam record, when he won his sixth Wimbledon against Roddick in 2009, with Sampras in attendance in the Royal Box.  However, he lost the greatest final of all time, to his main current challenger, Rafael Nadal in 2008.  Some of the tennis played between these two players on that Sunday afternoon/evening was simply awe-inspiring.  It was a joy to watch and if there was one game where no-one deserved to lose, it was this match.
     Not forgetting Arthur Ashe becoming the first coloured player to win the singles in 1975, the epic Borg/McEnroe tiebreak of 1980, Boris Becker winning the title in 1985 at just 17, Pat Cash climbing into the Royal Box after his 1987 win against Lendl in straight sets, Maria Sharapova’s attempts to call her mum and hold up the trophy presentation after her 2004 win and the epic first round clash between John Isner and Nicholas Mahut last year, with Isner winning through 70-68 in the final set!
     Wimbledon has given us so many memories.  I was privileged enough to visit SW19 on ladies semi-final day in 2003, to witness two of the men’s quarter-finals, featuring Roddick and Philippoussis.  I would love to go again at some point, because there is something special about the place.  Will the British wait end this year?  Let’s hope so.  Here’s to the next 125 years!