Superstars: The Best of the Best Review
Superstars has just been revived, but in its original incarnation it ran on BBC1 for twelve years, from 1973 to 1985. At its peak it attracted eighteen million viewers, who tuned in every week to watch the top sportsmen of the time compete against each other. Footballers versus athletes versus judokas versus rugby players, battling it out head to head on the running track and the swimming pool, in pistol shooting and cycle racing. There was UK Superstars, which led to European Superstars and World Superstars and even a Challenge of the Champions. All of this was topped and tailed by the unflappable David Vine, with commentary from the very excitable Ron Pickering, an ex-coach with an encyclopaedic memory.
Reader, I was one of those eighteen million. (And that’s an audience you very rarely get for anything these days, but for most of those twelve years there were only three TV channels.) Much of this is engraved on the memory of those of a certain age: the way Vine pronounced the title (“Syoo-perstars”), Kevin Keegan’s bicycle crash, judo star Brian Jacks establishing a record for squat thrusts and dips that stands to this day. The stuff of water-cooler conversation, if we’d had such things as water-coolers at my secondary school. There’s clearly also the potential for rampant nostalgia in a kitschy I Love the Seventies way: certainly this DVD disinters fashions and hairstyles from history’s graveyard, such as Joe Bugner’s truly frightening sideburns.
There was always a basic contradiction at the heart of Superstars. At the same time the programme was outright entertainment, but somehow it seemed a little ashamed of this. No, this was serious sport, with records, statistics and league tables. And something that this DVD glosses over is that not every sporting superstar was a Superstar. We concentrate via footage and newly-shot interviews with the successful ones, the Brian Jackses, Malcolm Macdonalds, the David Hemerys and so on. But as Gareth Edwards points out, there was always an element of schadenfreude: someone might well excel at their own sport but they could still be shown up as pretty crap at someone else’s.
The main part of this DVD is an entertaining run-through of the history of the programme, narrated by Andrew Castle with interviews with Vine (Ron Pickering being no longer with us) and many of the more successful Superstars. The main documentary runs 56 minutes, with the credits rolling in Chapter 16. However, the DVD is authored so that we go straight into Chapter 17 and a twelve-minute documentary on the two presenters. As these two are designed to be watched as a whole, the running time above
The presentation is in 4:3 with mono sound, as you’d expect for what is primarily TV material from the 1970s and 1980s. The newly-shot interview material is pin-sharp, with dense colours and strong blacks. To be kind, the extracts from the programme itself reflect the age of the material and the quality of the videotape it was recorded on: slightly washed-out and riddled with artefacts.
Like most BBC DVDs, this disc is encoded for both Regions 2 and 4. Subtitles are provided for the main feature and the extras.
The principal extra is “additional footage”, in other words short items that act as outtakes from the main feature. These are “Why Superstars was so Popular” (3:08). “Kevin Keegan Bike Crash – Extended Version” (3:44), “Bath Bike Race” (1:16), “David Hemery Gym Controversy” (2:53), “Rifle Shoot Off” (1:44), “Steeplechase Showdown” (2:12), “Pole Vaulters & Rugby Players” (2:05), “Gareth Edwards Fights Flu” (1:28) and “Brian Hooper Bike Drama” (1:45). In addition there are text biographies of eight key competitors (those listed after Vine and Pickering in the “starring” box, left). Finally, for the real obsessive, there are “athlete statistics”. These are divided into three sections: UK Male Competitors by Programme with Final Positions, Female Superstars Competitors 1977-1983 (which shows up one gap in the main documentary – you could be forgiven for thinking that the programme was all-male) and Male Superstars Competitors 1973-1985.
I suspect you have to be of a certain age to even consider watching this DVD, but given that it’s an entertaining hour and a bit for nostalgics on a decently-produced though oddly-designed disc.