REWIND. Back in the day I was always Team Ovett rather than Team Coe. Sporting rivalries always require you to pick a side and when it came to the Moscow Olympics in 1980 it was Steve Ovett I was cheering on to gold in the 800m final.

I can’t remember why now. Some gut instinct. Coe entered the race as favourite only to run “the worst race of my life”, he once said. He still came second. He then redeemed himself by beating Ovett in the 1500m. I was gutted.

The rivalry between the two British athletes’ rivalry was at the heart of the first episode of the new series of The Reunion (Radio 4, Sunday and yesterday), presented by Kirsty Wark.

“I was trying to explain to these youngsters yesterday, athletics had become so big,” fellow athlete Steve Cram said, pinpointing that moment in the culture – a moment that stretched to a few years – in the 1980s. “People in pubs would be ‘Who’s your favourite?’ I had a guy tell me a couple of weeks ago they cancelled a Saturday night out to watch athletics on TV. It was that big.”

In 1980, the British athletes were in Moscow against the wishes of then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. The Americans had boycotted the Olympics because of Russia’s invasion of Afghanistan the year before. Coe’s own parents were approached by the government – in the shape of Douglas Hurd – to put pressure on their son not to compete. As Coe himself recalled, they told him politely to get stuffed.

This throwback to 1980s athletics was a nostalgic treat with athletes Cram, David Moorcroft and Brendan Foster, plus coach Frank Dick, all providing good value.

Unfortunately, when it came to the rivalry at its heart, we only got to hear one side of the story as Coe was interviewed but not Ovett. Still, the former did offer a neat insight into his rival. On Christmas Day, 1979, Coe recalled going for a 13-mile run uphill. Later in the afternoon he thought Ovett was probably still training so he went out again and ran another five miles.

Years later he told Ovett about that Christmas Day and his second run. “And he looked at me,” Coe recalled, “and said, ‘Did you only go out twice that day?’”

After a whole month off the air (to the day), Ken Bruce returned to the airwaves at 10am on Monday morning on Greatest Hits and the station was making the most of it. His debut even made the Greatest Hits news bulletins at 9am and 10am. In between there were copious mentions. On Greatest Hits Scotland Ewen Cameron and Cat Harvey rounded off their breakfast show with a “top 10 ’til Ken” feature.

Bruce even turned up on his own trailer proclaiming the arrival of his show with the announcement, “we make history”. Hmm. I know he’s a decent broadcaster, but …

Cameron cued him up just before 10. “The legend, the icon, you’ve been waiting for nearly a month …” There was then an ad break and another news bulletin. Finally, Bruce himself turned up.

On Radio 2 he had signed off by playing The End by The Beatles and he kicked off the new show with John, Paul, George and Ringo too. Come Together in this case.

Apart from the ads and the jingles, Greatest Hits have been smart enough not to change anything and this sounded much like a normal Ken Bruce show on Radio 2 up until a month ago. Bruce was just Bruce, Popmaster and all (Falkirk High and Falkirk Grahamston even got a mention during the latter).

The only difference was the playlist didn’t feature any records that were made after 1991 by my reckoning (although the We Buy Any Car ad got an airing which is a riff on Push the Feeling by the Nightcrawlers, released in 1992).

In short, it’s as if the 21st century didn’t exist. Some people might wish that were the case, I suppose.


LISTEN OUT FOR The Girls in the Pictures: Joan Eardley and the Samson Children, Radio 4, Tuesday, 11.30am. Audrey Gillan meets Ann and Pat Sampson who, as children, were the subjects of paintings by the artist Joan Eardley in Glasgow in the 1960s.