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Sport and the British Week One

The Birth of Modern Sport in 18th Century England

Details of the five programmes broadcast 30 January - 3 February:

1. The Rise of Olympism, 30 January

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This scene-setting programme – partly recorded at the new Olympic stadium in London – looks at Britain’s relationship to the Olympic movement and its role as the birthplace of modern sport. Although it is a Frenchman who is credited with reviving the Olympic games in 1896, it was the way that sport was played in Britain – with its values of fair play and honest endeavour – that provided the inspiration for the modern games.

Clare Balding begins the series by looking at the games since 1896 with professors Richard Holt and Tony Collins of De Montfort University (DMU).

Clare Balding presents Sport and the British on Radio 4, BBC Website 

2.  A Level Playing Field, 31 January

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The emergence of sport in 18th century Britain brought the population together, albeit in a strictly socially segregated way. But cricket brought together landowners and their agricultural workers on the same pitch, in the same team, on a level playing field. In this programme, Clare Balding visits Broad Halfpenny Down in Hampshire, widely regarded as the birthplace of cricket, to discuss why social mixing should not be confused with social harmony with DMU’s Professor Richard Holt.

3.  The Bare Fists of Boxing, 1 February

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An ability to box defined the 19th century alpha male. No gloves or weapons, pugilism was pure, painful and deeply patriotic. Even though prize fighting was technically illegal, it thrived under the support and protection of the aristocracy. In this programme, Clare Balding explores the relationship between boxing, masculinity and patriotism with the help of DMU’s Dr Neil Carter.

4. The Unsporting Side of Sport, 2 February

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Clare Balding heads to Epsom Downs to watch the Derby and reflect on the socially unifying power of the racecourse and the way sport and gambling have become inextricably linked. The presenter examines the British passion for betting with the help of DMU’s Professor Richard Holt and learns how the extravagant losses of 18th-century aristocrats led to the introduction of more stringent legislation.

5. The Making of Men, 3 February

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Public schools in the mid-19th century were on a mission to produce masculine, tough young men – and playing ‘hard’ games, like rugby, was seen as essential to safeguard against effeminacy and ensure that the schools produced men with the qualities needed to be the country’s next heroes and leaders. In this programme, Clare Balding looks at the relationship between men and sport – and the historic role of sport in developing masculinity.  

1908 Olympics Great Britain womens swimming teamSports historians from DMU’s International Centre for Sports History and Culture (ICSHC) have been working on the scripts with the BBC for more than three years. Learn more about our historians

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Sport and the British has been produced by the BBC as part of its programme of events in the run-up to the 2012 London Olympics. The production team at BBC Birmingham comprises Lucy Lunt, Sara Conkey and Garth Brameld.

Clare Balding

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