NBC & Nike


The month of June arrived and it was time for Wimbledon. I was engaged by the American Broadcasting Company NBC to drive as one of their fleet, which meant, I was to drive anyone when needed. There were four drivers and a bus. One minute I was driving a world champion, the next, I might be driving an errand boy. There were several companies from all over the world including the BBC, which was the largest, and three from America. The NBC had so many staff that it was impossible to know them all. Some worked at night some very early in the morning. But on most of my mornings I drove the chief commentator, probably the best commentator in all sports in America. (This commentator may have been Dick Enberg. He commentated for NBC at Wimbledon. He was married twice (Jerri Taylor 1959-1975 and Barbara Hedbring 1983-the present.) He was born in 1935 and is still living. In 1973 he was the first US broadcaster to visit the Peoples Republic of China.)

I got on well with everybody except one who was an English driver. It was quite an experience to see what goes on behind the scenes in outside broadcasting; all the cable laying, all the engineers all the special cameras and photographers, the different commentators, several managers for different departments with the directors supervising. All of this, taken together with the payment to Wimbledon, meant that NBC’s costs ran into millions. But even so these companies make millions over the year. During the play many stars of film, stage and all sports come to watch and sometimes I drove one. I found most people I drove had stories to tell. Americans as a rule are very open and friendly and willing to talk. The commentator I drove in the mornings became a great friend. Before becoming a commentator he had been a teacher (an assistant baseball coach at Northridge State University). We would discuss all kinds of topics. He liked doing crossword puzzles and I tried to help when he came across some odd English word or name. He had married for the second time and he had a baby son. I got his son a huge teddy bear for his birthday. (The teddy bear might have been made by Stanley Greenfield as that was his business and he often made bears and other toys to order for the likes of the BBC, famous people and his neive Marilynn.)

The centenary of the Wimbledon Club was in 1977 and there was a great celebration. All ex champions men and women and all the famous people connected with the club were invited. Stars of all branches of the entertainment world came and I was used frequently so I was able to be in close contact with some. In some cases their fame changed their character. The oldest living ex-champion was a lady living just a few miles from Wimbledon. She still visited the club as an esteemed member. I was sent to her home to bring her to the NBC section where they were going to interview her. She was very pleasant and asked me to take her the same route she always used going through Richmond Park. We chatted away merrily. As we were approaching Wimbledon I had to drive to the part where NBC were. She called out, “That’s not the way!” I said, “Yes it is.” She became very agitated and thought I was about to kidnap her. I accelerated and got to the entrance where NBC were, with a huge crowd waiting for her. She was so relieved, she leaned over and kissed me and was all smiles as she was greeted as befitted a famous champion. She had always used the main entrance and never been to any of the other entrances. (Kitty McKane Godfree received a centenary medallion on the centre court in 1977.)

American Independence Day, July 4th, always comes during Wimbledon. I was about to drive an ex ladies champion and her husband when she looked in on some American players. They were celebrating with a barbeque. I was invited in and forced to eat bangers and mash. An English man celebrating America’s independence from England!

Another year I was to look after a man suffering from multiple sclerosis and his wife. Although he was in a wheel chair most of the time he was able to stand for a few minutes. When they arrived from Palm Beach I met them and took them to an apartment where they were to stay. The next morning I picked them up to take them for a little tour. When I reached the building he was standing outside holding two walking sticks looking very glum faced. As I approached he said, “What time do you call this?” I asked what the trouble was. He said that I was an hour late and that he didn’t want a driver who would be late. I said, “Excuse me sir. I am fifteen minutes early.” He replied, “What do you mean?” I asked him to show me his watch. It turned out that when he had altered his watch to make up the time difference from his home, he had altered it one hour too much. He felt like a fool. He said, “You had better call my wife and explain. She wondered why her breakfast was late.” After that, he was my best friend. During their stay they wanted to go to Wimbledon to watch the tennis. The wife was a keen player and a fan. I was not working for NBC that year but everyone knew me. I got the programme and went to all the stars I could find and got them to autograph it for her and to her.

NBC broadcast other events from England, mostly sports. Golf and boxing were popular but they decided to try to make American football more popular here and in 1983 they hired the Wembley stadium to stage a game between the two greatest teams of the year in the States. I was to drive the commentators of the game to watch them in training. As they were wearing protective outfits I got close to them. Most of them were the most enormous men I had ever seen. There were more people interested in American football than I had expected. The stadium was full. Everyone was pleased and it turned out to be thrilling with an exciting finish. (1983 John Marshal, an entrepreneur, hired Wembley and brought over the Minnesota Vikings to play against the St Louis Cardinals. 30,000 people watched the game.)

NBC must have been happy because they decided to do it again the next year and I was employed to drive for them again. All the teams had black players, many of them great stars. I noticed that some had changed their names on becoming Muslims. One black commentator who was in the hall of fame, asked me to take him to the district where many blacks lived. I took him and he spoke to some as he looked around. I never asked him why. He was married to a star black actress. He wanted me to drive them when he arranged to come to come again for a tour but I didn't have a suitable car for him and his family.

The NBC supervisor asked me to take him and his wife to a quaint restaurant for dinner. I took them to one I thought he would like and to see someone that would surprise them. I was with them and while we were eating a man dressed in a long coat, a three-cornered hat and a bell arrived. It took me some time to explain what a town crier was. They were amused. He said he would like to see the town crier perform and he would pay him. He thought it was like an act. I spoke to the town crier who was only too pleased to earn a little extra cash. The supervisor said that it was great and he would use him at Wembley for the game. On match day I made sure he had all his regalia as I was about to drive him to the stadium. Everything was fine. A few minutes before kick-off he appeared at the centre of the field with a spotlight on him. There was the sound of drums and then the voice of the town crier. "Hear yee, hear yee, it's almost eight o'clock and all's well!" and as he rang the bell, he announced, '”the game is now due to commence and may the best team win." There was a round of applause and much laughter. Of course it was not such a surprise to the English fans as it was to the Americans but in the history of the stadium in which so many great things had occurred, the novelty of the town crier was a singular event never to be repeated. 

I was working for NBC again in 1985 at the time of the golf Ryder Cup. It was held near Birmingham and all the one-way systems round the city got me bamboozled. However, I became acquainted with a few American ex stars and the Europeans won so I was happy. (In 1985 the Ryder Cup was held at the Belfry and Tony Jacklin was the captain of the European team. Europe won 16½  points to USA 11½.)

The NBC began to economise and several of the staff were asked to accept lower salaries or were being dismissed but no director was involved. The transport arrangements were changed and I was affected. But the manager recommended me to the enormous sports clothing company, Nike, with whom they did business. Whenever there was a big sports competition where clothing was needed Nike was there to provide clothing free of charge to all the participants, but mainly to the men. The manager engaged me as a driver while any tournament was in play. He was with his wife and two children. They were lovely people and they treated me like family. NBC must have given them very nice references. All the staff were so nice that I was prompted to write a poem about their kindness and attitude. Later I met the owner of Nike and his wife. They had seen the poem, which was kept in the general office back in Portland.

On one occasion they were doing a publicity stunt. They asked me to bring my wife to meet them. An open top bus was hired and as it drove around the streets of West London. Those of us who were sitting on top were throwing soft tennis balls with ‘Nike’ written on to the people below. There was a group sitting outside a pub drinking. A ball was thrown and a man holding a glass of beer in one hand, attempted to catch it but in doing so he upset his drink over all his companions. On another publicity stunt we went to a popular club and they dressed me up to look like one of the tennis champions. Girls were having their picture taken kissing me. I knew that the companies were making their billions by obtaining the clothing from very cheap labour but at the same time they were generous. I had a cousin in a Hospice dying of cancer and Nike gave them some clothing to sell to raise money.