It was Frank Bough’s time of year. His undisputed kingdom was on Saturday afternoons in fall, with the rain ripping the windows outside and nothing to do.
Imagine it is the late 1970s and there is no iPhone or social media to banish boredom; no live football on Sky or BT Sports.
In fact, there are only three channels on the family TV. One of them – ITV – shows a wrestling fight between Giant Haystacks and Big Daddy, more scripted pantomime than sports.
Another – BBC2 – offers, as usual, a dreary drama in black and white costume.
But on BBC1 Frank Bough presents Grandstand, and you know the afternoon ahead will be like relaxing in a hot tub.
Fallen Star: Frank Bough with wife Nesta (pictured circa 1980) whom he married in 1959, had three sons and lived comfortably by the River Thames near Maidenhead
Bough was the accomplished broadcaster who emerged from a milder athletic age. Today, continuous news and sports coverage are the wallpaper of our lives. But it was Bough, who passed away last week at the age of 87, and a handful of other presenters who paved the way for live television with his ability to hold our attention during those long, damp afternoons.
He looked like a good-humored teacher in him. Charming, if slightly dull. Except that under his comfortable golf sweater beat – on occasion – the heart of a sexual libertine who was totally at odds with his public personality.
Today’s Snapchat videos of wealthy young footballers inhaling “hippy crack” or stories of “high class” courtesans from their bedding were an old hat to him. A bald, middle-aged ‘Uncle Frank’ had been there, done it over 30 years ago, and paid the professional price.
Like Icarus in a Pringle sweater, he had flown too close to the sun. Or, to be precise, too close to News of the World, which in 1988 revealed the participation of Bough, dressed in female lingerie, in a series of parties featuring cocaine and prostitutes.
Back then, it was a bit like learning that the Archbishop of Canterbury was leading a protective racket. But even that would have been less shocking, especially for older women who had viewed Bough, always a courteous interviewer, as their ideal as a clean family man.
It was synonymous with respectability. And then suddenly he was no longer respectable and was gone from our screens forever, although he was never abandoned by his faithful wife, Nesta.
The story that revealed her secret life: The front page of News of the World, which in 1988 revealed lingerie-clad Bough’s participation in a series of parties featuring cocaine and prostitutes
It is a pity that he is remembered more for the circumstances of his downfall than for the excellence in broadcasting that preceded. Bough was born in a terraced house in the pottery town of Fenton. Her mother painted porcelain in a factory, her father was a furniture upholsterer.
Frank turned out to be a good athlete – a county sprint champion – and did well academically, earning a place at Merton College, Oxford, where he studied history and won a soccer blue. .
After his national service in the Royal Tank Regiment, he joined the chemical giant ICI and in 1959 married Nesta. Everything was ready, it seemed, in the satisfied darkness.
But Bough wanted to try his hand at broadcasting. After several years of harassment, the BBC gave him a chance.
He began his new career as a sports correspondent and local news anchor in Newcastle and in 1964 was chosen to host the show which would become the BBC’s Sports Personality of the Year.
Another major breakup occurred when he was sent to comment on the 1966 World Cup match between Italy and North Korea, which turned out to be the shock of the tournament when the Koreans won.
Within 18 months, Bough presented the grandstand, which would cement its place as a household name. The format was simple yet intimidating: Bough presented what became five hours of live television every Saturday, covering a variety of sporting events as they unfolded.
In any given edition, he might feature some racing commentary from Peter O’Sullevan and then Rugby League’s Eddie Waring to describe in his own distinctive style a clash in the Yorkshire mud between Hull Kingston Rovers and Castleford.
There could be more mud and crashes as Ford Escorts and Vauxhall Chevettes competed in the Brands Hatch rallycross. All the while, “Uncle Frank” would follow the events of Old Trafford or Anfield closely; everything would be revealed in the “Final Score” segment, by the stammering teleprinter.
Bough died last week at the age of 87 as former colleagues remembered him with respect and affection
If Giant Haystacks had barged into the studio and put Bough in a head lock, he arguably would have continued to perform his duties as presenter as if nothing untoward was happening.
“I have a very long fuse,” he explained one day, delighted to be spinning so many plates at once.
But sometimes the circumstances were exhausting even for him. It anchored live BBC coverage of the 1972 Munich Olympics in which terrorists killed 11 Israeli athletes. He found it hard to understand that the games continued in the midst of the massacre.
His work was not entirely sports related. He interviewed prime ministers and covered the general election. In 1972, he was given a leading presenting role on Nationwide, the BBC1’s early evening news program.
At that time, he was presenting 12 hours of live television a week and was one of the most famous faces in the country. This was confirmed when – along with Eddie Waring and others – he performed a number of the South Pacific on the Morecambe and Wise Christmas Show of 1977. A record 21 million plays.
But television was changing, and when the BBC prepared to launch Breakfast TV in 1983, Bough jumped at the chance. He was an obvious leader for the company, sharing a couch with Nick Ross and Selina Scott. And it was a big hit.
Offscreen, life was good too. He and Nesta had three sons and lived comfortably by the Thames near Maidenhead.
But after four years, the early hours of the morning started to fade. In 1987 he resigned to become a presenter of the BBC Holiday program. Soon after, his secret life was sensationalized. The world has fallen on its head.
“Frank Bough: I Did Drugs With Vice Girls” was the headline on the front page of News of the World. “Frank watched the party junkies have sex together,” read the caption under a large photo of the host next door.
Bough’s response was to respond to the allegations head-on. He claimed that the prostitutes he was partying with introduced him to Class A drugs. But the more he spoke, the deeper the hole he had dug himself into.
He has never been abandoned by his faithful wife, Nesta. She said she was ‘very hurt and angry’ with her husband: but stayed by his side (pictured together attending the Rainbow Ball for terminally ill children)
He told the newspaper: ‘I’m not a bad man, and I don’t want to hurt or hurt people either. I made mistakes, but everyone has the right to do so. No one suffered except my wife, my family and myself. It was a brief but dreadful period in my life. Don’t condemn my entire career for a brief episode that I regret.
Nesta stayed by his side, saying, “I know this will not happen again because of the shame it has caused her family. “
The BBC was less lenient and he was unceremoniously sacked.
Bough was treated for his most unlikely hard drug problem and began to rebuild his shattered image and career on independent TV and radio stations, hosting LWT’s Six O’Clock Live.
Rehabilitation appeared to be progressing well when he was chosen to cover ITV’s coverage of the 1991 Rugby World Cup.
Alas, his resurrection will be short-lived.
In August 1992, under the title “Sex Slave Bough’s Den of Evil”, the Sunday Mirror explained in detail how the broadcaster was a regular in a sadomasochistic “dungeon” in central London, run by a “mistress Charlotte”, a dominatrix covered in rubber.
Confronted at his home by the ‘investigators’, the dismayed Bough choked:’ I’ve been through it all before. I may never work again if this story gets published.
And that’s how it happened.
There were more thoughtful but no less painful mea culpas. “I have caused a lot of pain to my wife and my family and I bitterly regret all of these things,” he said in a television interview shortly after.
Poor Nesta, then his 37-year-old wife. She said she was “very hurt and angry” with her husband: but she stayed by his side.
Except for a brave appearance on the satirical show Have I Got News For You, which had ruthlessly torn him apart over his scandals, Bough has largely disappeared in isolation. (It should be noted that the main executioner, presenter Angus Deayton, would, nearly a decade later, be fired from the show after revelations in the papers regarding his own use of cocaine and prostitutes.)
Former colleagues remember him with respect and affection. Yesterday Nick Owen tweeted, “RIP Frank Bough. I considered him to be the ultimate broadcaster that brilliantly combined news and sport. Whatever scandals erupted around him, he was an inspiration to me when I first started on television over 40 years ago.
Obviously, there was some torment behind Uncle Frank’s calm professional face.
If he had remained an ‘up and under’ Waring colleague of Eddie rather than entering the showbusiness-obsessed world of morning television, would he have strayed from the Corinthian sporting path he seemed to embody?
What a tale of morality. Still, it was all of our fall Saturday afternoons. For that, at least, thank you Frank Bough.