Snags galore - but Games will be a hit, says Beeb's Bernie

THE 19th Commonwealth Games have already been marred by controversy - but Philip Bernie, the head of BBC TV Sport, is sure the event in India will turn out to be a winner.

Security, stadia and transportation issues dogged the build-up to the "Friendly Games" - but the home nations have bagged medals galore and that will be the main memory for sports fans.

"India is a great country, but it's a shame the event has been marred by the controversy about how it prepared," said Philip.

"It will be a challenge for the team out there to convey the event in the best way possible, but I think it should be a really interesting event."

Born in Maidenhead, Philip, 48, joined the BBC in 1984 as a production trainee after graduating in history at Oxford University.

And since joining the Beeb, Philip has been editor of institutional TV sports programmes including Football Focus, Match of the Day, Grandstand and Sports Personality of the Year.

In addition, he has been at the helm of the Olympic Games, World Cup and Wimbledon.

Founding editor of BBC One series On Side and BBC Two series Match of the Day 2, prior to his current role Philip was head of programmes and planning in BBC TV Sport and head of TV Sport editorial.

His rise to the top is a far cry from when he started out at the BBC in Radio Sport and Breakfast Time TV.

But his move into the world of sport is not surprising from the formative years growing up in Berkshire.

"Sport has always been a massive part of my life," explained Philip, who has four sisters and is the only son of Ronald and the late Yetta Bernie.

"My father was a good sportsman, playing cricketer and football to a decent level.

"We shared a huge sporting passion from the start. He has been a massive influence on my love of sport and remains, at 87, unbelievably interested in and committed to sport.

"Football was my No 1 sport, but I also played cricket, tennis, rugby and athletics, and still retain a big interest in all of them.

"I played football to a reasonable level in my teens around Maidenhead, but there was never any danger of me being picked up professionally. I also played cricket to a decent level."

Regarding his Jewish heritage, Philip noted: "The family name was originally Bernstein, but my grandfather shortened it in the 1930s.

"My grandparents lived in London's East End but were bombed out during the war so moved to Maidenhead.

"My grandfather, Murray Bernie, helped found the Jewish community and was instrumental in founding Maidenhead Reform Synagogue. And my father was chairman for long time.

"It was a relatively small community when I was born, but has mushroomed. I lived in Maidenhead till I was 18, then London before going off to university."

Sport - and especially football - played a major role in his roots, which continues today.

"My grandfather was a huge Tottenham Hotspur fan and though unemployed during the Twenties and Thirties still travelled to see them home and away," Philip said.

"My father and his brother were also very keen Spurs fans. And it was Uncle Len who took me to Spurs for the first time in 1971.

"Tragically, I was born a year after Spurs last won the league title, but FA Cup wins in '81 and '82 were at the heart of my watching Spurs."

Philip added: "Glen Hoddle was a fantastic footballer to watch and epitomised what Tottenham was all about.

"Tougher teams could out-muscle him, but in terms of watching great football with amazing cross-field passing and football skill, Hoddle was terrific.

"In the early Eighties, Tottenham had a really decent team with Ardiles and Villa at the centre of it, and Archibald and Crooks as a strike force. It was a joy to watch."

Commenting on the current side led by Harry Redknapp, Philip noted: "It's great at the moment but supporting Tottenham involves a lot of disappointment.

"They normally let you down, but last season against tough competition, to get into the Champions League was a fantastic achievement."

Looking back at his BBC career, Philip recalled: "In my teens I thought about doing some sort of journalism so broadcasting was appealing. It seemed such an ambitious thing as it's hard to get into. I've been unbelievably lucky.

"Like all jobs, the further up you get in leading large numbers of people and big corporations there are issues and challenges, but it's a wonderful professional life to have led."

Of his involvement with iconic shows such as Match of the Day he noted: "However strong and established a programme is, you have to try to push it forward.

"As you get older, you get more confidence, assurance and judgement about what you can and can't do. I've always tried to attempt even more things.

"With sports programmes you need to know your audience and care about what you do.

"Sports watchers want to see sport but want them well-covered. They are not watching to see what brush strokes you can put on it unless you think you can improve what they watch.

"It's a question of getting the mix right - freshening the output, appealing to different views but not to muck around with the sport that alienates viewers who want to see the action."

Regarding the recent World Cup in South Africa, he said: "It was a massive event with huge audiences and a very big profile.

"There is a huge amount of scrutiny in terms of what footballers are doing, how the football went, how it was covered, how BBC was compared to ITV and so on.

"There are all kinds of pressures, but you have to take it in your stride and do the best professional job."

Live television offers massive highs but also terrible moments.

"You get tragic stories and I was around when Hillsborough happened in the 1989 FA Cup semi-finals," he recalled.

Fortunately, Philip has witnessed far more highs than lows.

"The '92 Olympics was when the event got back into its own. Barcelona helped transform the Olympics in terms of its perception," he said. "It also helped that Barcelona was a big success for Britain than previous Olympics.

"Sydney 2000 was a fantastic Olympics as it was a wonderful city with great British success."

Returning to his first passion of football, he said: "The World Cup in 1990 was my first as assistant editor. I was instrumental in the use of Nessum Dorma. The theme tune took off, which was heart warming.

"It was not the best football tournament, but England did really well and were so close to getting to the final.

"Euro '96 was similar and, of course, the nation got behind England who did really well."

Philip added: "Some of the great moments have come at Wimbledon. The great Nadal v Federer matches has been extraordinary."

Away from major sporting events, as editor of Sports Personality of the Year, Philip got to meet a legendary figure who in his view is simply the greatest.

It occurred when he was at the helm of Sports Personality of the Century in 1999.

"Muhammad Ali won," recalled Philip. Getting in the studio and seeing the extraordinary reaction was a special moment.

"Ali was not well, but I saw what he did in the Seventies. His stature, brilliance and what he did for boxing makes him for me the greatest sportsman of all time."

Ali aside, Philip has seen other sports stars perform amazing feats.

"Usain Bolt has been the biggest phenomenon recently," he said.

"Bolt has had an amazing couple of years and what he did in Beijing was extraordinary. But as a huge tennis fan Federer has been the most remarkable single figure in the last decade because of what he has done and way he has done it." Working on Wimbledon has enabled Philip to work with one of his teen tennis heroes.

"John McEnroe is an unbelievable character and unbelievable broadcaster," he noted.

Looking ahead, London 2012 is looming large on the horizon.

"We have a big team working specifically on London 2012," he said.

"Beijing was huge but London will be bigger and we must make sure that we deliver it properly.

"The key is GB success, we have had fantastic success at the Olympics and I'm sure we'll have more in London.

The balance of GB versus world star success is always a challenge.

Philip added: "I was there when Linford Christie won the 100 metres, which is the blue ribbon event, and when Sebastian Coe won a second 1500 metres gold in '84 and, of course, Redgrave and Pinsent in the rowing.

"I've seen GB athletes win at the highest level, but when you get phenomenal achievements elsewhere like swimmer Michael Phelps getting a clutch of medals you have to make sure you cover them properly."

When it to the issue of new technology in sport, Philip has seen plenty of advancement and is pro change.

"We are always looking for new technology, which will improve how people view sport," he said.

"With Hawkeye it can be really revelatory as it's been seen in cricket and tennis.

"That was a particularly bold initiative and I hope goal line technology comes in soon for football.

"The technology is there so there's no reason why you can't have a very swift way of seeing or knowing and communicating whether a ball has crossed the line or not.

"Penalty incidents are more complicated but when you talk about line balls you can do it very quickly.

"Other than that it's more about types of camera and the shots you get.

"There are extremely high motion cameras where you see incredibly sharp slow motion pictures, there are also graphic and traffic systems that show movements of players around football pitches which are very useful as analysis tools.

"It's amazing what you can do with computer graphics and visuals. It's a burgeoning area."

Finally, regarding a dream trio of successes in his role, Philip romanticised: "England winning a football World Cup, a British person winning Wimbledon, and Spurs winning the Premier League.

"But sadly the third is least likely."

© 2010 Jewish Telegraph