Sue Barker on A Question of Sport at 50: 'I’m still trying to get Roger Federer on the show!’

Sue Barker A Question Of Sport host
(Image credit: BBC/Vishal Sharma)

We chat to A Question Of Sport host Sue Barker on celebrating the 50th birthday of the famous BBC1 sports quiz…

Over the years A Question of Sport, currently hosted by Sue Barker, has seen hundreds of sporting heroes grace the BBC1 studios, including Jessica Ennis-Hill, Tom Daley, Chris Hoy, Anthony Joshua and Michael Owen.

To celebrate its 50th (yes, 50th!) birthday there are two shows looking back at the golden moments since its debut on January 5 1970, when the first A Question of Sport was hosted on BBC1 by the late David Vine, with boxer Henry Cooper, footballer George Best and Olympic athlete Lillian Board answering questions.

First up is the documentary A Question of Sport at 50 (BBC1, Friday December 27, at 8.30pm), then there's a celebratory epsiode of the sports quiz A Question of Sport: 50 Not Out (BBC1, Friday 3 January at 7.30pm).

Here, former tennis star Sue Barker, who's hosted the A Question of Sport since 1997, reveals what’s in store, as well as her most memorable moments from the past 50 years and why Roger Federer would be her dream guest…

Did you watch A Question of Sport growing up?

Sue Barker: "Yes, it’s something we watched as a family. I did go and live in the States when I was 17 so I only saw bits and pieces when I was back home, but it was always something I knew about. And of course once I returned to the UK I was an avid fan. There are very few shows that even get to 25 years, let alone get to 50. It’s remarkable."

Before hosting A Question of Sport, had you ever been a contestant?

SB: "Yes and I understand why everyone is so terrified, particularly the first time they come on, because I was really scared. I was first on in 1984 and I was on Emlyn Hughes’ team with Gareth Edwards and on Bill Beaumont’s team were Sam Torrance and Willie Carson so I was in great company. They knew a heck of a lot – I was absolutely terrified!"

You were also a Mystery Guest on A Question of Sport a couple of times, weren't you?

SB: "The first time they thought I was Ray Clemence, the Liverpool goalkeeper, or another thought I was the boxer Alan Minter! I was reasonably covered up but I was really offended by that! Then they dressed me up as Santa Claus a few years ago and either Ally McCoist or Tuffers (Phil Tufnell) guessed that I was Chris Hoy. I don’t think my thighs are quite like Chris Hoy’s! I haven’t let them forget it."

That’s just one of many classic faux pas there have been over the years…

SB: "And poor old Emlyn Hughes was probably the worst of the worst. I recently watched again that moment when he got it wrong thinking Princess Anne was the jockey John Reid. I mean you couldn’t make a bigger faux pas than that and he was absolutely mortified! She came on the show to be on Emlyn's team later in 1987 and that was such a fun epsiode."

As host of Question of Sport for 22 years now, who would you say have been the most fun guests?

SB: "It’s impossible to say, there have been so many. But I’ve had some great captains over the years. I started out with Ally McCoist and John Parrott and they were just fantastic captains, and so naturally funny. And of course now Phil Tufnell and Matt Dawson have just taken that on and they’re wonderful as well. As far as guests we’ve just had so many who aren’t afraid to make fools of themselves! I remember one of the most incredible programmes featured Seve Ballesteros, Jonah Lomu, Evander Holyfield and Maurice Greene, the world record sprinter, and it was like, wow! I had to pinch myself. It just shows that people love coming on the show."

Sue Barker

For A Question of Sport: 50 Not Out, Sue Barker, Phil Tufnell and Matt Dawson are joined by Laura Davies (golf), Beth Tweddle (gymnastics), Ally McCoist (footballer and former captian), Martin Offiah (rugby)

Do you socialise with the guests between filming?

SB: "Absolutely. That’s what’s wonderful about it. Because we have to do three or four shows in a day and it’s a quick turnaround, we always tend to stick around the make up room and wardrobe and you get these wonderful sporting people arriving early or staying late. Sometimes you’ve got about ten sports people sitting around talking about their sport. To me it’s my dream job. I host Wimbledon and I do A Question of Sport and you can’t get better than that, end of!"

What do you think is the secret of A Question of Sport's success?

SB: "It’s stayed very true to its roots and the show still has some of the rounds that were on in the 1970s. Although the production team has moved it on and made it more current it still has the bones of why it was on the air in the first place – just a good honest sports quiz. Of course we have a lot of fun with it and Phil and Matt aren’t afraid of making fools of themselves, so it’s got entertainment but a quiz element to it as well."

Given your tennis background, do you help to get the tennis stars on the show?

SB: "I’ve tried over the years and we’ve had John McEnroe, Boris Becker, Andy Murray, Jamie Murray and Tim Henman has been a regular for years, he’s brilliant. I’d certainly love to get more tennis players on. I'm still trying to get Roger Federer on the show. I don't think it will happen, but you never know!"

A Question of Sport at 50 is on BBC1, Friday December 27, at 8.30pm

A Question of Sport: 50 Not Out is on BBC1, Friday 3 January at 7.30pm

Join Sue Barker, Matt Dawson and Phil Tufnell for the stage tour, A Question Of Sport Live, with shows across Britain during April and May 2020.

Nicholas Cannon
TV Content Director on TV Times, What's On TV and TV & Satellite Week

I'm a huge fan of television so I really have found the perfect job, as I've been writing about TV shows, films and interviewing major television, film and sports stars for over 25 years. I'm currently TV Content Director on What's On TV, TV Times, TV and Satellite Week magazines plus I previously worked on Woman and Woman's Own in the 1990s. Outside of work I swim every morning, support Charlton Athletic football club and get nostalgic about TV shows Cagney & Lacey, I Claudius, Dallas and Tenko. I'm totally on top of everything good coming up too.