During the heatwave summer of 1976, a team from Newbury took part in the long-running BBC tv game show “It’s a Knockout.
“Knockout” and its European version “Jeux sans Frontieres” regularly drew huge television audiences throughout the 1970s (when most people had access to only three tv channels).
Teams of young athletes in cumbersome fancy dress clambered over and under inflatable obstacles whilst enduring imaginative and wide-ranging indignities, usually including a thorough soaking, all in the name of good clean family entertainment. Eddie Waring and Stuart Hall provided the corny commentary.
Newbury Round Table came up with the idea of putting the town on the tv map, and naturally appealed through the Newbury Weekly News for volunteers.
Over a hundred young people came forward to be put through their paces by PE teacher Mike Hart of St Bartholomew’s School. Around a dozen made the final cut. Camp Hopson supplied the sports clothing, and many other local companies and residents were involved in the preparations for battle. A hot-air balloon named “Jack of Newbury”, after the medieval gentleman often credited as the founder of Newbury’s trade and prosperity, became the team’s somewhat unusual mascot.
Local businessman and property developer John Norgate was the manager and the team was coached by Mike Hart and Sue Robertson. Team members, aged between 16 and 30 (in 1976) included: Richard Smith, John Bauer, Moyna Turner, Louise O’Neill, Rachel King, Douglas Smith John Rice, Wendy Rice, Hilary Bowden (a past winner of Pontin’s Lovely Legs competition), Mark Morris, canoeist Tim Cornish, Alasdair Ross, Sue Grantham and youthful rugby player and later business man and hairdresser Julian Hendy, who became the proprietor of Julian’s Hair salons in Newbury and Thatcham.
The team’s first triumph came on Easter Sunday 18 April 1976 (televised on 4 June) at historic Sudeley Castle in Gloucestershire, where they saw off the opposing teams from Winchcombe and Cirencester, in a close, nail-biting finish. Their winning streak continued when they represented Great Britain at the international contest at Caslano, Switzerland on 23 June. But the pressure showed when only a couple of days after their return from Switzerland, the intrepid athletes were off again to compete in the all-British winners’ competition staged at Charnock Richard in Lancashire. The exhausted travellers were defeated, coming sixth out of the seven teams taking part.
Said Mike Hart at the time “It would have been nothing short of a miracle to win at Charnock Richard after Switzerland. We were unlucky to be competing twice in a week. We were a little disappointed, but still had the memory of our Switzerland victory to keep us going”.
The team returned to Newbury as heroes nonetheless, and were treated to a civic reception. Their final battle, as a result of their Swiss victory, was at the September intercontinental finals in the European holiday hotspot of Blackpool. They put up a brave fight, but finished fifth overall. Then it was back to the day job. Reminiscing five years ago, Mike Hart said “It took over the whole summer. I ended up opening a couple of fetes; I even opened one with Ernie Wise. It was like a level of minor celebrity. As we were coming back to Newbury on the coach, the streets were lined with people. The town was very excited and I like to think we helped put Newbury on the map in our own way.“
Indeed they did.
Were you in the team? Or were you in the audience? Did you watch it on tv? Share your memories and photos with us on our Newbury Today Facebook page.