On Sunday Spiceball Park will be the setting for the Banbury and District Show. This year’s event includes a revival of ‘It’s a Knockout’. Organised by the Rotary Club, the competition is billed as ‘back by popular demand’. In 1972 the thrills and spills regularly filled our television screens, as on May 28 when the pictures were relayed from the Cheshire town of Congleton.
The occasion was the meeting between teams representing Banbury and the home side.
Viewers were attracted by the fun and excitement. However participants saw the need for careful preparation and achievement of fitness levels.
If for no other reason this approach was made necessary as Congleton’s team was trained by the renowned Olympic athletes Robbie Brightwell and Anne Packer. The response locally was to secure training space within Banbury Tea Warehouses on the Beaumont Industrial Estate and to call upon the services of Ray Phillips (he gave remarkable pep talks) and Brian Stone, manager of Banbury United Football Club.
Stamina was all important so three to four nights were earmarked for getting into the right physical shape.
The importance of being ‘up for it’ was highlighted on April 20 when a practice of the Jelly Run took place in the Horse Fair.
Some 600 people were on hand to observe this and were horrified when Helen Jarman fell heavily at the end of the apparatus line and tore leg ligaments.
Kit and equipment were prime needs. Local businesses rose to the occasion and the likes of Banbury Sportswear, Export Packing, Design Furniture and Trinder Bros ensured they had most of what they needed.
The choice of blue as their kit colour inspired a version of the then well-known Chelsea Football Club song. Cheerleaders soon learnt the revised words that began, ‘Blue is the colour, Knockout is the game’.
On the day there was huge support from Banbury including a civic party led by the Mayor Dick Keys. What they saw kept them absorbed in the different games.
The contest was level pegging until the Jelly Run, which was won by Congleton’s Anne Packer (Olympic gold medallist) and Sandra Dyson (former British hurdling champion) who pipped our girls Ann Mullard and Louise Belcher. However Banbury drew level in the Water Race. They managed to salvage a greater quantity of water and this was confirmed by Eddie Waring’s famous dip stick.
The outcome meant that the sides were level on four games each. Then came the announcement by Eddie that Banbury had been successful in the Marathon and this gave them precious extra points. The scoreboard registered Congleton 10 Banbury 12 and inspired Mike Swann’s comment about the team ‘they were tremendous, just absolutely magnificent. They really were’.
Stuart Hall had another view of their success. He wondered if Congleton had over-indulged in Banbury Cakes brought as a present for team members. Could this have been our Joker?
Victory in Cheshire meant a place in Europe for Banbury and a visit to Berne for Jeux Sans Frontières.
For that occasion red kit replaced blue and inspired thinking by Christine Harper ensured that our cheerleaders had cockhorses to ride. Sadly fewer people followed the side but Banbury girl Janet Hodges who worked in a Berne Hospital drummed up some support in that part of Switzerland.
Unlike Congleton the outcome was not good. A late change in the rules of one of the games wrecked Banbury’s chances of success. We finished last despite a vigorous protest by the BBC.
It’s a Knockout will always be remembered for the sports personalities who added their touch of flair. Stuart Hall, Arthur Ellis, Eddie Waring and Banbury’s very own Mike Swann were larger than life. Although Stuart’s infectious laugh will not be heard across Spiceball Park, teams as diverse as Café Nero, Dogs for the Disabled and Wykham Warriors will I am sure revive memories of the event’s magical mix, athleticism and tomfoolery.
q I am grateful to Mike Swann for memories and memorabilia and would like to hear from any members of the Banbury team of the 1970s.