David Attenborough reveals how he brought colour television to Wimbledon

The BBC broadcasting legend tells how a race to beat the Germans to colour TV turned Centre Court green


I was controller of BBC2 in 1967 and had the job of introducing colour. We had been asking the government over and over again and they wouldn’t allow us, until suddenly they said, “Yes, OK, you can have it, and what’s more you’re going to have it in nine months’ time,” or whatever it was.


I mean, a ridiculously short period. They had no idea of the complexity involved. Even then, the cameras were changing. The engineers didn’t want to buy a complete set of studio cameras that would be significantly outdated within a year. So I had to predict when we would start – and, in a childish sort of way, I wanted to be first.

True, the Americans and the Japanese had both got colour, but Europe hadn’t. I heard the West Germans were doing it and I discovered that they were planning to launch it very close to when we were. But what I couldn’t do was to start a complete kind of service. The best that I could do would be to have what I called a piebald service, so there was some colour every night, but the whole service wasn’t in colour.

And it suddenly dawned on me that the one thing we did have was outside broadcast units. I thought, “Blimey, couldn’t we deploy them?” And then I thought of Wimbledon. I mean, it is a wonderful plot: you’ve got drama, you’ve got everything. And it’s a national event, it’s got everything going for it.

I was as proud as a peacock. It was absolutely terrific. It was a big moment in my life.


You can find our full guide to Wimbledon 2017 coverage here.