Forgotten hero fooled the Nazis

IT was a dashing tale involving wartime heroism, broadcasting in the face of adversity and the strangest ever Edinburgh football derby.

And now the famous 1940 New Year’s Day game between Hibs and Hearts is set to thrill radio listeners again when a play about it is broadcast across the UK on January 1.

The game made a legend out of radio commentator Bob Kingsley, who was sent to cover it for the armed forces’ service as a treat for soldiers overseas.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Unfortunately for Bob, the match was played in a thick fog at Easter Road - so he could not see any of the game from his seat in the commentary box.

But BBC chiefs were ordered to provide a full commentary so that the Nazis did not find out that there was a heavy fog over the Firth of Forth.

From his seat in the stand, Bob set about covering the match, even though he could see nothing on the pitch.

Inventing descriptions of marvellous saves and scorching efforts on goal, he bravely soldiered on .

A complex system of runners and information chains was set up by the struggling BBC man to make sure he covered the game’s major talking points, such as goals and corner kicks.

The game itself ended with Hearts winning by six goals to five.

But the real winner was Bob Kingsley, whose herculean efforts to commentate on a game he couldn’t see won him the admiration of colleagues for years to come.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

The tale inspired Edinburgh playwright Andrew Dallmeyer, who thought the incident would make a fantastic farce.

And now, after two years of work, his play, Playing a Blinder, is being broadcast on Radio Four on New Year’s Day.

Starring Scots actor Andy Gray as the determined commentator, the radio play is sure to be a hit with city football fans. Mr Dallmeyer said: "When I read the story many years ago I thought it would make a brilliant farce.

"Bob’s story was a true example of the human spirit and how we can pull together in the face of adversity.

"I’m delighted with the result and I just hope Hearts and Hibs fans will be sober enough to tune in at 11.30am on New Year’s Day to hear it."

The Hibs fan added: "The lead role is played by Andy Gray, who has told Hibs manager Alex McLeish about it, so we hope Alex might be listening in.

"Hearts pulled off a win this time, but I’m sure Hibs fans will find it fascinating as well."

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Mr Dallmeyer, who has written extensively for the stage and radio since 1973, now hopes his play will be transferred to the stage.

He added: "It is such a good story I’m sure it would be a big hit on the stage."

No tape of the legendary commentary exists, and Mr Kingsley sadly died some years later.

But the playwright has stayed true to the main events of the game and the events surrounding it.

Football historian Bob Crampsey claims that Mr Kingsley’s commentary was now part of football folklore.

He said: "Kingsley turned up expecting to be sent home early because of the fog.

"To his consternation the BBC’s head of outside broadcasts, Leo Hunter, informed him the match would go ahead and he would have to give a commentary.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

"To Kingsley’s very reasonable questions as to whether they might consider calling it off, the reply came that to do so would alert the Germans as to the state of the weather in Edinburgh, and that on no account must he mention the weather.

"Kingsley watched in stunned horror as the teams came out of the fog and passed the broadcasting hut, and then disappeared into the murk.

"Responding to the finest instincts of sports broadcasting he simply made up the run of play." The commentator himself talked on for 15 minutes after the game had finished before discovering the match was over.

It was not only the commentator who struggled however.

After the game had finished two of the players did not know the full-time whistle had gone, and lingered on the pitch for an extra ten minutes.

Mr Crampsey said the commentary was a "bravura" performance, adding: "Kingsley was buoyed only by the knowledge that if he could not see the pitch, few people were in a position to contradict him."