Captain Henry Blythe Thornhill (Teddy) Wakelam (May 8, 1893 – July 10, 1963) was an English sports broadcaster and rugby union player.
He played rugby for Harlequin F.C. and became its captain. On January 15, 1927, Wakelam gave the first ever running sports commentary on BBC radio, a Rugby International match, England v Wales (final score 11-9) at Twickenham. By today’s standard it sounded really odd: to give listeners an idea what it actually was they were hearing a picture was published in the Radio Times of the pitch divided in numbered squares. And as Wakelam described the run of play a voice in the background mentioned the square the play was happening in. It is believed the phrase “Back to Square One” comes from this, long abandoned, practice.
Wakelam was an expert on a wide variety of sports. A week after his broadcasting debut he and C.A. Lewis gave the first football commentary on British radio, Arsenal – Sheffield United, 1-1. Later in 1927 he would also cover cricket and Wimbledon. It was in London SW19 that he would prove to be an unflappable character: in the mid ’30s he accidentally set fire to his notes but kept on commentating as if nothing had happened.
The first sports commentator on BBC radio also became one of the first on BBC television in 1938, when he covered the test match at Lord’s. He also gave commentaries on boxing and even non sporting events like Tidworth Tattoo, but rugby union always remained his specialty. Only a handful of his commentaries have survived, but apparently Wakelam was quite a good reporter. John Arlott called him “a natural talker with a reasonable vocabulary, a good rugby mind and a conscious determination to avoid journalese.”
Teddy Wakelam also was rugby correspondent for The Morning Post. He wrote a number of books including ‘Harlequin Story’ (1954) about the history of his old club. He is namechecked in the title of a sports book, “After Captain Teddy” by Mike Jeffrey.