Peter Purves: Question of Sport is 'unwatchable' after Sue Barker left

Peter Purves says Question of Sport is ‘unwatchable now’ after BBC replaced host Sue Barker with Paddy McGuinness and blasts corporation over ‘terrible decision’ to axe Steve Wright from Radio 2 afternoon slot

  • Peter Purves blasts Question of Sport after BBC replaced its host Sue Barker with Paddy McGuinness last year
  • Former Blue Peter host Purves, 83, was himself dropped from Channel 4’s coverage of Crufts after 41 years
  • He has lamented exit of Barker, 66, and arrival of McGuiness, 48, on BBC show – saying it is a ‘great shame’
  • Purves also says it is a ‘terrible decision’ by BBC to axe the Radio 2 afternoon show fronted by Steve Wright

Veteran television presenter Peter Purves today blasted Question of Sport as ‘unwatchable’ after the BBC replaced its host Sue Barker with Paddy McGuinness, saying the change was a ‘great shame’.

Former Blue Peter host Purves, 83 – who was himself dropped from Channel 4’s coverage of Crufts in 2019 after 41 years – has lamented the exit of Barker, 66, and arrival of McGuiness, 48, on the BBC quiz show.

Purves also told ITV’s Good Morning Britain today that it was a ‘terrible decision’ by the BBC last week to axe the Radio 2 afternoon show fronted by Steve Wright, 67, who will be replaced by Radio 1’s Scott Mills, 49.

The BBC announced in September 2020 that former professional tennis player Barker would be leaving Question of Sport after 24 years, with team captains Matt Dawson, 49, and Phil Tufnell, 56, also departing.

Barker took over as presenter in 1997 from David Coleman – who died aged 87 in 2013 – but she was replaced in July 2021 by Top Gear presenter McGuinness, along with new team captains Sam Quek, 33, and Ugo Monye, 39.

Veteran television presenter Peter Purves speaks out about ‘ageism’ at the BBC while being interviewed on ITV this morning

Paddy McGuinness (centre) took over on Question of Sport last year with new team captains Sam Quek (left) and Ugo Monye

McGuinness had appeared as a panellist on a number of occasions before taking over as Question of Sport host last year

Sue Barker on Centre Court during day seven of the Wimbledon Championships in South West London yesterday

Sue Barker left Question of Sport after 24 years, with team captains Matt Dawson (left) and Phil Tufnell (right) also departing

And Purves said today: ‘Often changes made for a reason doesn’t seem to work. You’ve got to look at the lovely Sue Barker, she has been wonderful on the tennis and she apparently has said that she is standing down so we won’t be seeing her there. But it happened when she left Question of Sport – look what happened there. 

‘I mean I find the programme unwatchable now, and I think it’s a great shame. People get used to a certain thing and they like the style, and because people get older I don’t think they should just be dropped like that – maybe it should be their own decision.’

‘We’re going to be lost without you, Sue’: John McEnroe moves BBC’s Sue Barker to tears with emotional farewell

Sue Barker sheds a tear at Wimbledon yesterday 

Sue Barker shed a tear on Centre Court yesterday as she received a standing ovation at her last Wimbledon tournament after 30 years of presenting the BBC’s coverage.

However there was an awkward moment for Barker as her fellow presenter John McEnroe referenced her previous relationship with singer Sir Cliff Richard, after the pair dated between 1982 and 1986.

Sir Cliff had rewound the clock to sing ‘Summer Holiday’ a capella in the stands yesterday – some 26 years after he rose from his seat to entertain the crowd with an impromptu performance during a rain delay in 1996. 

And McEnroe said: ‘Let’s hear it for Sir Cliff Richard! Sue, didn’t you have a…’ An embarrassed Barker replied: ‘No, stop, stop, stop… we’ll move on, thank you John’ to raucous laughs in the crowd.

Also yesterday, some 26 Wimbledon champions spanning 60 years lined up for the centenary ceremony as they stood shoulder to shoulder to mark 100 years of action on the hallowed grass in South West London. 

Barker, 66, and McEnroe, 63, introduced them in order of how many Championships they had won, before Barker shed a tear. And McEnroe said: ‘One final word to the crowd. On behalf of all the players, I just want to say that we’re going to be lost without you. After 30 years of covering this tournament magnificently, please give it up for Sue Barker.’

The ‘lost without you’ phrase was a reference to British singer Freya Ridings having performed her song Lost Without You on a white piano as the grand slam winners looked across the grass and some spectators wept. 

Following a lengthy applause, Barker said: ‘Just to say thank you so much, but this is about the tournament and all I can say is that from now on John McEnroe’s going to be commentating on Court 17 after that, going off script. But thank you, that really does mean the world to me, it really does.’

Writing in his book My Life, My Way in 2008, Sir Cliff had previously said of Barker: ‘I seriously contemplated asking her to marry me, but in the end I realised that I didn’t love her quite enough to commit the rest of my life to her. There were no broken hearts.’

Former England rugby star Dawson and ex-international cricketer Tufnell had led their teams on the show for 16 and 12 years respectively. Their final series together was broadcast last year. Referred to by the BBC as ‘the world’s longest running TV sports quiz’, the first edition of Question of Sport aired in January 1970.

When McGuinness took over, he said it was ‘an honour and opportunity I’m certainly not taking lightly’. He also said of Barker: ‘She will always be a Question of Sport icon, but I’ll try my best to stamp my own mark on it.’

McGuinness had appeared as a panellist on a number of occasions before taking over, and was also seen in a special show to mark its 50th anniversary in 2020.

Quek, who won a gold medal at the 2016 Olympics, is the first female team captain in the show’s history. And former England wing Monye said upon joining that it was ‘an incredible honour’ to become involved.

Purves also spoke out about Wright, who announced last Friday that he would be stepping down from his afternoon show at the end of September after 23 years, as part of Radio 2’s schedule shake-up.

Purves said: ‘I think it is ageism. Yes change is important. But the BBC has so many different platforms so they can put out different things on different platforms for different audiences, and audiences like to see the same thing.

‘They get used to voices, they get used to faces. And they get very upset when it changes and they don’t always agree with the change. They never come round to accepting it.

‘It happened to me with Crufts. I wasn’t presenting anymore, but I was doing the commentating. My voice doesn’t change. The fact that I’d been doing it for 41 years didn’t count for anything. I think the same here with Steve (Wright). I think it’s a terrible decision for a lot of people who won’t come round to that.

‘Radio 2 used to be called the light programme. It was the home service and the BBC was very fuddy duddy, but in fact now with Radio 1 and BBC Three and various things there’s plenty of opportunities for younger people to advance in the business. I think it’s very sad that Steve has had to stand down. I thought he was being very diplomatic outside the BBC.

Wright announced he would be stepping down during his show, Steve Wright in the Afternoon, on Friday saying: ‘I can’t hold the slot forever, so let’s give somebody else a go.’

Towards the end of the programme, he said: ‘I’ll try not to become emotional or self-indulgent, this is going to be a little bit difficult. At the end of September, I’ll be taking a break from daytime radio. In other words, stepping down from this programme.

‘At the beginning of this year, my friend and boss Helen Thomas, head of Radio 2, said she wanted to do something different in the afternoons.

‘I’ve been doing this programme for 24 years at Radio 2, and so how can I possibly complain? The support and creative freedom as I’m given is fantastic at Radio 2, and really I can’t hold the slot forever. So let’s give somebody else ago.’

He has presented Steve Wright in the Afternoon on the Radio 2 slot since 1999 and also presents Steve Wright’s Sunday Love Songs on the network.

Mills, who will step into the afternoon slot currently held by Wright, has been a radio presenter since the age of 16 – at which time he presented a show on his local Southampton radio station Power FM.

Sue Barker is pictured on Question of Sport with Matt Dawson and Phil Tufnell in 2008 – when Tufnell joined the team

Barker is pictured in 2002 when Frankie Dettori (left) joined Question of Sport as a team captain – along with Ally McCoist 

Sue Barker with team captains Ally McCoist (left) and John Parrott (right), who both joined in 1996. Barker began in 1997

After joining the BBC in 1998, Mills presented the BBC Radio 1 breakfast show until 2004 after which he moved to a weekend afternoon slot for six months.

He currently presents the Scott Mills show on Radio 1 between 1pm and 4pm, along with co-presenter Chris Stark, as well as The Official Chart Show on a Friday since 2018.

Speaking about the move, Mills said: ‘Time actually does fly when you’re having fun, and that’s certainly been the case over the past 24 years at my beloved Radio 1. The station I pretended to be on in my bedroom from the age of six. The station I told my mum I wanted to work at, but never in a million years thought I would.

‘There are too many people to thank from my Radio 1 journey. So to the immensely talented people I’ve worked with along the way, to our incredible listeners that have made us part of their everyday lives for so long and of course to Chris – not just my co-host, but one of my best friends in the world, which of course he will be forever. Thank you.

Steve Wright walked out of the BBC in London last Friday after announcing his tenure on Radio 2’s afternoon show was ending

Scott Mills (right, with his sidekick left) will take over on Radio 2 as he leaves BBC Radio 1 following 24 years at the network

He added: ‘I really cannot believe I’m going to be calling Radio 2 my new home! I’m beyond excited to be joining the team and working alongside my radio idols and friends at the legendary Wogan House.

‘I would like to wish all the best to Steve, who is one of the finest broadcasters in the world and someone whom I look up to so much.’

Stark, 35, joined Mills as a co-presenter on the show in 2012 and the pair became popular thanks to a number of humorous segments including Innuendo Bingo.

As part of the schedule shakeup on Radio 2, Sara Cox’s current 5pm to 7pm show will be extended by one hour, starting from 4pm, giving listeners three hours of music, and an extended All Request Friday each week.

MailOnline has contacted the BBC for a response about Purves’s comments today.

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