A look at the career of Brendan Foster, who retired after 37 years as one of the country's most popular sports commentators following 2017's World Athletics Championships.
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It's really a very simple story. Local lad Brendan makes good.
When I think about him, I just have to smile.
-This folk hero in the North-East adds another title.
Brendan Foster is a great athlete.
What he's achieved on the track is incredible.
-Foster, the gold medal for Britain. That was devastating.
We've always had great competitors.
Very few have gone on to put as much back as Brendan has.
-He's a Geordie, and he's great.
-Nobody didn't like Brendan.
Everybody loved Brendan.
MUSIC: Walk Of Life by Dire Straits
Brendan, you only need to talk to people about why we're up here
to talk to you, and they've all got a story about you as a lad, seeing you running.
Tell us about your early running experiences
and what it was like growing up in this area as a young athlete.
Well, before I was growing up as a young athlete,
I was growing up as Newcastle's next centre forward, really.
My dad brought me to St James' Park with my brother.
And in this part of the world, football was everything.
So I wanted to be the next Jackie Milburn.
-Milburn. It's there!
A couple of years later, Derek Ibbotson broke the world record for the mile
on a Friday night at the White City
and the next day, he came to Hebburn, where I lived, where I was born.
Meeting this guy who was, like, a real legend,
the world record-holder for the mile,
that kind of started my interest.
And then I watched the 1960 Olympics.
I used to run home after school and get home in time for the athletics.
I'll never forget Peter Snell in the black vest of New Zealand.
-Peter Snell wins the gold medal.
I was inspired by him, but then I saw Abebe Bikila, and there were these
grainy pictures of Abebe Bikila running through the streets of Rome.
And the track was lit by candles on the side of the Appian Way.
And he's padding along in bare feet.
You know, all these other things were
stimulating my interest in sport and in running.
But this was, like, real inspiration, that was like...
I almost decided, "That's what I want to be, I want to be a runner."
Brendan comes from a working-class family, the oldest of six children,
with the grades to get himself selected for a grammar school
where, quite by chance, there was a teacher able to discover
what this lad was good at.
We had a teacher who came along, who was interested in athletics,
found that I was reasonably good at it.
From then on, it was, like, my football career was stuttering.
I had met my coach, Stan Long, who was a real inspirational figure.
Let's just talk about that relationship with Stan,
because it would seem to me, looking through your life,
that you're brilliant at helping other people.
But it's also apparent that you really like a mentor yourself,
whether it's later on in your broadcasting career with David Coleman,
and the first person perhaps who fulfilled that role was Stan Long.
-How important was he?
-He was fundamental.
Stan came along to me, watched me in a school race, and I finished second.
And he got me. He said, "Come here, young 'un.
"Why don't you come and join Gateshead Harriers?"
So I joined Gateshead Harriers and I met Stan
and worked with Stan and trained with Stan.
Later on, I met guys like Lindsay Dunn, who encouraged my career,
and has done the same with lots of athletes.
And people like John Caine, who were inspiring.
And then Charlie Spedding was another one.
So it became like a unit.
MUSIC: Children of the Revolution by T.Rex
I joined Gateshead Harriers as a kid in 1963. So what's that?
55, 54 years. When did you get to know him?
Oh, it must have been about three or four years later.
And he tripped me over. That was the first time I know who he was.
He tripped me over. It was an accident.
When he did it later on, it wasn't.
Well, I'm younger than you lot, of course.
I first joined Gateshead Harriers about '69 or '70.
I didn't know who he was. I just remember him taking the mickey out of everybody
the first time I met him.
We just had a stupid sense of humour, I think, we got on really well.
And I remember his sister, we used to do a training session,
and we'd get a huge plate of chips cooked by his sister
after every run.
-He still likes a plate of chips, doesn't he?
We were like real amateurs.
We didn't know about running, so we had to read about it.
We used to read everything we could
and try to meet these international athletes and ask them questions.
We learnt empirically, we learnt just by practice.
And at that time, we were little, tiny, little Gateshead Harriers.
And, you know, we kind of became on a bit of a mission.
And eventually, we won the national championships,
we won the national cross-country, won the national road relay.
And suddenly, Gateshead Harriers had a little chapter.
That group of youngsters in the 1960s grew up together,
competed together and got better together.
And, eventually, Bren was the best of the bunch.
I get up at 7.30 in the morning, and then I'm out on the road.
In terms of time spent running, I would say about three hours a day.
And then the rest of the 24 hours I spend thinking about running.
He'd done nothing to make anybody believe
he was going to be a great athlete.
And he believed at that stage that he'd make the Olympic team.
And that's easy to say, but I knew he utterly believed it.
I don't know where that confidence comes from.
Getting fitter and getting faster as an athlete,
thousands, if not millions, of runners do that.
But it was the development of his belief in himself.
And it happened, and it started getting better and better.
And he started going to major championships from 1970 onwards.
Would you say that was a moment where your perception
changed about what you could do in this sport?
1970 was like the first time I ever represented Great Britain
or England. I'd struggled to get into the trial race to be selected.
And then I finished second in the trial race, I was on my way there.
So I went to the Commonwealth Games, I'll never forget.
The guy that, two years earlier,
had been sitting in a student flat in Brighton watching a television
that we didn't even pay a licence for, we opened the cupboard to watch
the Olympics in '68, and Kip Keino winning the gold medal in the 1500.
And here I was in 1970 running against Kip Keino.
-Quax, New Zealand lead, Keino, Kenya, second.
Brendan Foster of England is third.
I couldn't take my eyes off him, you know, I was like, "Oh."
-Magnificent frontrunning by Keino.
He wins the title for Kenya.
And a tremendous fight for third place.
And Brendan Foster just beats Peter Stewart for bronze medal.
My friends and family travelled up to Edinburgh.
Here I was on the rostrum. The Queen was there watching as well.
So it was like, "My goodness, you know, I think I've arrived here now."
This lad really has had a fantastic first international season,
Brendan Foster of Gateshead.
When I went on to do other things and win other medals,
and gold medals, I do remember that my wife
and I were never more excited than the first one.
Did you come back home and think,
"OK, I've got to be aiming for Olympic Games now.
"I've got to be aiming for bigger and better things"?
No, it probably wasn't that.
It was probably more like, "OK, now you're on the first rung of the ladder."
And I realised you had to work hard for this thing,
and that was the lesson I took.
Brendan was born within sight of Gateshead, in Hebburn,
part of the sprawl that sprang up alongside the great River Tyne
during the Industrial Revolution.
I think what people saw in Brendan, in the North-East, was just
he was one of them, you know,
he spoke like a Geordie and he just seemed as though
he wasn't a super gifted, you know, sportsperson
who was swanning around or anything.
He was real in the sense that he had to graft for what he was getting.
You know, it wasn't glamorous, it was that, "Get stuck in."
And when he raced, his head used to roll. You know, it looked hard work.
And that's what the people of the North-East see in themselves.
I would class us Geordies as very hard-working.
Very, very loyal.
Very supportive. Demanding, honest.
And I think that's us in a nutshell,
and I think that's Brendan in a nutshell.
They love to see people doing well,
and they love to see people giving it everything they've got.
And that's what Brendan did.
You know, when you think about it, as a runner, when I used to
watch him, you know, he didn't always win the race,
but you know something, there was nothing left in his tank
when he finished. He gave it everything he'd got.
I suppose my first memory of Bren was
the European Championships back in 1971 in Helsinki.
-The Britons battling like mad.
And Arese is going to take it, Italy's medal.
And Szordykowski second, Foster gets third.
That was a fine 1500 metres by any standard.
He started to really develop as an athlete,
and I guess the thing I will always remember Bren for was
his win in the European Championships in Rome in 1974.
It was such a huge year for you. What was going on at that time?
Why did the stars align then?
Well, I had been training hard and I'd moved through from 1500 metres.
I ran the Olympic Games in '72 in the 1500 metres, finished fifth.
Which was a credible performance, you know, that said, you know,
you're kind of in the world-class but you're not world-class.
And I realised then, you know,
I was getting better over longer distances.
-And away they go.
And then '73, I went to Crystal Palace
and broke the world record for two miles, which was my first real kind of step forward.
MUSIC: I Believe in Miracles by The Jackson Sisters
-Brendan Foster of Gateshead adds another notch to a remarkable belt.
Did you notice a difference in your fame then,
when you broke a world record like that, in front of a home crowd?
We were amateur athletes, we weren't attention...
We didn't brush our hair and wear smart kit, we were runners.
That's what we were.
But in those days, athletics was a very popular sport,
people watched it hugely.
We talk about the golden area of Coe, Cram and Ovett,
but really, before that, you had Bren and Dave Bedford,
who were really kind of showing the youngsters coming through
what you could achieve.
And I know for Crammy then coming through later, Bren was a big mentor in
just how to behave in training, on the track and off the track as well.
I had this what at the time was this big star, you know,
kind of really accessible, really close.
So inevitably, I looked up to him from a very,
very early age as somebody who I wanted to emulate.
-Angela Pigford, five-star award. Well done. Great.
The thing for me with the training and the social interaction
in the club and the kids being able to rub shoulders with the top athletes,
and at that time, we've got Brendan Foster who's winning gold medals and breaking world records
in the same changing room environment with all these
young lads who are starstruck and just wanting to be like him.
And all the mickey taking that's going on all the time, and the banter.
It's pretty difficult for somebody to sort of develop
an aura of superiority.
You had to have respect for what he was achieving
if you were an athlete or an athletics fan, which everybody had.
But it didn't make him different when you were with him.
Do you remember the national at Luton, national cross-country?
So I'm last onto the bus, trying to get my bag in.
There was loads of bags there, so I couldn't get it in.
So I climbed partly in to push it in.
The next thing I hear is the door slamming behind me.
And somebody shouts, "OK!" The next thing, we're going up the motorway.
-I'm in the boot. And...
-With the suitcases?
Nobody would admit who it was.
And do you know what, he admitted it two years ago.
-Took him 40 years to admit...
-That he'd locked you in the boot?
When Brendan first reached towards the highest
honours in athletics, his first world record in 1973,
he was a schoolteacher, an ideal job for an athlete.
-Tell us what the job was like?
-We were amateurs.
Normally, I would run to school and run home.
The only people in it were people who loved it, who were there
because they wanted to be runners.
And they all had jobs and then they found time
here and there to fit their training in.
I mean, the sport was almost designed
to stop you from earning money.
I mean, I broke the world record at Crystal Palace in 1973.
I didn't get paid for it, the sponsors decided,
"It was such a good performance, we should give Brendan something."
So they gave me a silver salver, you know. "OK, great."
In '74, Gateshead Council put on a function at the town hall
where they gave me an award for breaking the world record.
We'd heard a rumour they were building a tartan track.
And after a couple of drinks, I get up and reply to the guests,
as the guest of honour, and I remember saying,
"If you do refurbish the track and make it into a tartan track,
"I'll come and I'll break the world record."
A typical piece of Geordie bravado,
but the people of the North-East really bought into that.
He challenged, as he often does,
Gateshead Council to turn what was a pretty dilapidated stadium
into a venue that could host world-class athletics.
Because he basically said, "You build the stadium,
"you put the money up, and I'll get the athletes to come." Simple.
I was working in London at that time,
I drove from London to Gateshead to watch that meeting.
And I remember the stadium being absolutely jammed.
I ran one of my best physical races
ever in that race and broke the world record by a couple of seconds.
The world record smashed by 2.4 seconds, a present to Gateshead.
It was a difficult time in the North-East of England.
The shipyards were closing, mines were closing.
It was quite a depressing place to live.
Gateshead, a town of the Industrial Revolution,
suffering from unemployment.
And houses which stand back-to-back
because they seem to be ashamed to look each other in the face.
This is old Gateshead.
The reason why it's particularly valuable for a sports centre is
because of the great number of people who are living here.
So far, the new running track is the only part of the plan
that has been finished.
It's not just for big games, it's part of the concept that
Gateshead encourages sport for all its citizens.
This is the stadium.
This is where it all started, really, in terms of your track life, wasn't it?
-And it didn't look like this when you broke your world record.
-And there we go, that's what we've come to see.
The council has kindly... Let's see if I can...
Can't get it off, so it will have to stay.
So, tell me, when you walk out here, what kind of emotions
and feelings and memories come to mind?
Great memories, because there's been some great occasions here.
Great athletes have come here.
You know, we've had Linford Christie running against Carl Lewis here.
It was so busy that day, they had to import stands from the Open golf
and put them on the far side.
I think I've probably always felt part of what
we should do is bring the very best to the region
because you inspire people to take part in events by seeing them...
Everybody taking part.
But you inspire excellence by seeing the very best.
I mean, you're literally standing here in the fourth lane here.
That's the lane where Asafa Powell broke the world record for the 100 metres.
-And that's a little bit of... That's a little bit of history.
Because there aren't many stadiums in the world
where the 100-metre record was set.
You have just seen the fastest man on earth.
You would be doing track sessions here regularly ahead of your big events.
You would have been down here putting in those hard sessions
that you were learning and picking up from the best in the world.
I probably was never in lane four. I probably was always on the inside.
Lane four was only for you and world-record holders.
For the slow joggers on the outside.
Yeah, we used to come here and we used to have jogging.
Even then, we were encouraging participation.
People used to come to the stadium to jog on the track.
Jog on the outside lanes.
The Commonwealth Games in '74 were out in New Zealand
and I set British records
for 1500m and 5000m
and narrowly lost the 5000m in one of the great 5000m races.
It would have been greater if I'd won it but...
Jipcho coming. They've got about 50 metres left
and Foster's coming back.
The lap runner may be in the way, but Jipcho's getting it.
For Foster, the silver.
When I went to the European Championships, I was favourite,
but I was running against Lasse Viren,
who was a double Olympic champion.
And I thought, "The only way I'm going to beat him
"is to make it hard all the way."
So I had a couple of guys sharing a room with me and I said,
"Look, don't tell anybody, but I'm going to try and break away from the field.
"So if you go in the back straight
"and take the bedsheets from the room,
"when I get a good enough gap, start waving the bedsheets,
"then I'll know that I've got a good enough gap and I can just keep going."
He just demolished the field
and you're talking about Lasse Viren in the field.
You know, he was the Mo of his era
and right in the middle of that era, Bren took him on and took him apart.
Foster, the man who has led from gun to tape.
Foster the gold medal for Britain.
Brendan was a very tough and formidable athlete.
I think if you were racing Bren,
you must have known that you were going to have a hard race.
And I think we forget a little bit, until you look back at clips,
just how well he judged races.
That was my best year, '74,
and I won the BBC Sports Personality Of The Year.
I cut myself shaving just before the programme
and I had a plaster on my cheek.
-But it wasn't...
But it wasn't showbiz, it was different.
It wasn't showbiz in those days.
Howay the lads! Brendan Foster.
It was a big programme, it was a big show.
It's an honour to win it, especially when you look at the names next to you.
It's been a fantastic year for athletics
and I accept this award on behalf of my sport
and also on behalf of the North and the North-East of England, who I represent.
It was great, but the thing about it was the next morning,
I'd be out training because that's what we did.
So when you talk about celebrity and showbiz, this was the '70s.
But you must have had some occasions that you found yourself at
where you thought around that time, "This is amazing."
Funnily enough, I was invited by Harold Wilson to Number Ten
for some kind of function.
At the end of the sort of rather dull affair,
a tap on the shoulder and, "Harold would like you to come up
"to his private rooms upstairs for a nightcap."
So my wife, Sue, and I went upstairs to his room,
we were standing around.
There's a piano in the middle and suddenly the door opens,
in walks this little guy, comes up to the piano
and starts playing the piano and it was Frank Sinatra.
Did he ask you for tips on his running?
No, but you would have thought he could have said,
"Brendan, can you just sing My Way and I'll accompany you," but he didn't.
Yes, Alan. It's about this fixture at Gateshead...
You were working for the council.
-So you'd stopped teaching at this point.
And I think that's what a lot of people at that period
saw you as somebody who was an activist almost, I suppose.
Because once you get into a political role like that,
you champion causes, don't you? And you see how things work and...
That's an interesting point.
I'd never thought of myself as an activist,
but there weren't that many people running. It wasn't like it is now.
-You were on a mission.
-It wasn't like a political mission or anything like that.
It was like, "This is good fun, it's good for you.
"Why don't you try it?"
He started inviting me to the international meetings
that he organised and I remember having supper with him and Sue
and I must have spent the whole evening just quizzing him about his mileage
and what he did in training and his attitude and all that sort of stuff.
So if there is one single person beyond the inspirational training
of my father, who got me to understand just what it was going to take
to become a world-class athlete, it was Brendan.
And for that, I will be eternally and mountainously grateful.
I used to go and see him regularly in his office as a teenager,
when I first started to go well and he was my mentor.
He'll be supportive but, on the other hand, he'll never kid you.
You know, he'll be straight and that's how he used to run.
There was no fluff and nonsense with Brendan.
You know, when you go and perform in the world arenas,
there's 600 million people watching you running in the Olympics,
you know, you've got to be a brave man to actually step out there to begin with.
You know, if you make a fool of yourself, then you're a pretty famous fool.
I first met him when I was a junior.
I remember one time I walked in the BBC and said,
"I was supposed to do well in that race, but I didn't do it as well."
I went and knocked on the door and said,
"Are you going to interview me?"
And then he was like, "Erm, maybe when you win medals."
All over Britain, there are men running through the night.
Amongst them is one man with real hopes
of doing what no British athlete has ever done before -
win an Olympic gold medal in one of the three classic distance events.
How important was an Olympic medal to you at that point?
Well, in '76 when it came to the 10,000m, I was one of the favourites.
Lasse Viren was the big favourite and I was...
Judging by everything I had done,
I was in a position to challenge Lasse Viren.
And everyone else thought that as well.
I think he's the best in the world
and I think he's going to win tonight.
If he does win, I hope they build a bigger stadium for children.
That night, it wasn't only the lads of Gateshead who went home to watch the telly.
600 million people around the world tuned in
to this strange bowl in Montreal.
He was never one for excuses, he never made excuses.
But in Montreal, he had a really bad stomach upset.
SHOUTS OF ENCOURAGEMENT
He told me later that after he'd gone five or six laps,
he really felt he couldn't do another lap.
So he just told himself,
"One lap at a time."
And he still hung on for another 20 laps.
Just let him get a medal.
So Viren wins his third Olympic gold medal
and he's the 10,000m champion once more.
Lopes in second place.
Brendan Foster, for Great Britain, comes in with the bronze.
20 million people watched your final on television in the UK.
That's right. I mean, that was a huge audience in that year
and the first thing I felt was disappointment.
You know, I felt as though I'd let those people down.
Third - Brendan Foster.
I didn't run well and I was disappointed with that.
But, you know, I came away with Britain's only medal that year.
The greatest athlete in this country that's been produced
in the middle distance by a long way.
And I think everyone's proud, not only in the North-East
but surely all the country. They must be.
He went to every major Games from 1970 to 1976,
and every time he went,
he either came back with a medal or a British record.
He never didn't deliver.
It was then that I thought, "Right, keep going. Do the same again."
And I managed it at '78, won the Commonwealth Games
in the 10,000m, so I'd had bronze in my first Commonwealth,
silver in my second Commonwealth, and then gold in the third.
Got the full set.
So this man, who's really a folk hero in the North-East,
adds another title.
Foster wins the Commonwealth Championship.
In 1980 in Moscow, which was a difficult time,
difficult Games, I was disappointed with my own performance.
I finished 11th and I should have been in the first three or four.
And that's when I retired.
Did you set out at that point thinking,
"I'd like to be a broadcaster now"?
I finished in 1980, and I finished in the 10,000m,
and then the head of BBC Sport came to see me.
He said, "We've got the big Coe-Ovett race
"coming up in a few days' time."
And I'd been sharing a room with Seb.
And he said, "Would you come into the BBC commentary box
"and join David Coleman, and give your view of the race and tactics?"
And I said, "Oh, that would be quite good."
So I went to see the head of the British Olympic Association,
and he said, "Once you're safely back to London,
"I can discharge you from the British Olympic team,
"and then you can come back to Moscow, and..."
-And work for the BBC.
-"..join the BBC."
I said, "Hang on. They're just over the road there.
"Why don't I just go from here to there,
"and they'll sign bits of paper, and you sign bits of paper,
"and then I can commentate on the biggest race of the century?"
"No, no. You can't do that."
So I got to London, rang them up, said, "I'm not coming back."
So I didn't.
So my first commentary would have been Coe versus Ovett
in the Olympic final...
And Coe gets the revenge he wants!
Did you feel at that point that there was this exciting
crop of runners coming through, and the sport was in good nick?
It was great at the end of my career,
because I'd been in the Olympics in the 1500m in '72,
as the only Briton in the final,
and then here I was in 1980 where Coe and Ovett were the rivals,
and a young Steve Cram in the same race,
which is why one of my favourite ever race commentaries
was in 1984 in Los Angeles, when,
coming down the home straight with a lap to go, there was
Coe, Ovett and Cram all vying for the lead,
and I thought, "If that's anything to do with me having been
"influential with these guys in those early years,
"then I'll take that one."
Sebastian Coe, back at his best, is the Olympic champion again.
Cram gets the silver.
establishing himself as the world's premier 1500m runner again.
It was an incredibly glamorous Games, wasn't it?
Funnily enough, and I'll bring you back to earth, here,
because the first ever commentary I did
was with David Coleman at a cross-country
-in Gateshead in November.
-I'm not saying you didn't do the groundwork.
No, no, no, no, but the reason I'm saying it is
because we met for a drink, and then at eight o'clock,
"Right, that's it, I'm off,
"so I can study the form on the runners."
So I went home that night, thinking,
"Here's the greatest commentator who's ever lived,
"and it's a cross-country in Gateshead in November of 1980,
"and he's going upstairs to his room to learn about what's happening
"and who's running, and all of that."
And I thought, "I didn't realise it was like this."
I thought it was like showbiz, you know? Then he said to me...
on the day, he said, "And just be a bit careful." I said, "Why's that?"
He says, "Don't speak until you've got something to say." And I said...
I thought, "Yeah, OK..."
And I didn't realise that was a great lesson.
-A very testing course.
If someone can come out of this winning it
in convincing fashion, then he could sort of clinch himself a spot
maybe as number one in Britain.
-Commentating on something which you love,
and that you know a little bit about,
is a total honour and privilege.
There's so many great moments for you to look back on
through your commentary career. Where would you start?
Where would you be compiling your top list?
Actually, that's a really... That's a really good question.
It probably would be Coe, Ovett and Cram in the 1984 Olympics,
but that'll be different if I say it again in a week's time.
-The great Mo Farah.
He really is one of the greatest of all time.
I never, ever thought I'd see the day we'd witness
a sight like this in London.
Paula Radcliffe, on her way to a famous victory.
Gebrselassie won this race because he doesn't know how to lose.
There goes David Rudisha, a proud Maasai warrior.
That's the best I've ever seen, and it's better than that.
It's better than anything I've ever read about.
It's been a pleasure watching you. Well done, Catherine.
Why, thank you, Mr Foster.
You hear him before you actually see the events.
You know, you could be off making yourself a cup of tea or coffee,
and that voice just booms through your television.
I just love listening to him
and Crammy alongside each other for the long distance races,
because they brought such passion to it,
and Brendan, particularly, was almost telling us the tactics,
reliving the race as if he was running it as well.
The secret of distance running is unfolding here,
and every inch of the way, he's getting faster.
He's honest, when he commentates. He tells you how it is.
It does help you a lot, when you look back and go,
"Yeah, you were right, Brendan."
Gather yourself again, Mo.
Looking over his shoulder's not the thing to do.
You've got to look ahead of yourself.
I think Bren enjoys seeing good athletics. He's just a fan,
and I think sometimes when you hear in his commentary
how he gets excited,
you can see it's because he has that huge passion for the sport.
I can see when Brendan
and I are getting almost emotionally involved in it, because
we know how good it is, we know what we're watching, we're enjoying it,
hoping that you are all enjoying it at home as well.
If nobody's listening, though, we're having a great time.
Farah is going to make it two gold medals for Great Britain!
The place erupts.
Mo Farah, double Olympic champion. I'll never get tired of saying that.
When you do the London Marathon,
so many people say they can hear Brendan Foster. Paula said it.
-She can hear you in her head.
-That's a bit scary, isn't it, that?
Well, no. I mean, that's because...
I was privileged to have done every London Marathon,
and it was from the first, when I thought it was really exciting
and all that, to all those years of a wonderful event.
When I first joined the athletics team, it was all new to me,
and the one person I could rely on was Brendan.
He not only gave me support, but gave me so much information,
and for someone to be that generous
when they're already busy themselves just meant so much to me,
and we just became incredibly close friends as well.
So the training is over. It is now time to deliver.
-Thank you very much.
That wasn't very nice, the way you said that!
When I think about him, I just have to smile.
You know, when I came into the team, the BBC sport team, he was one
of the first people to make me feel very welcome, welcome me in, um...
Showed me the ropes.
He likes to guide people.
He likes to be the man in charge,
but he does it with such a lovable, caring way.
My first memory is of being invited into the commentary box
up in Durham at the cross-country,
and being invited in with David Coleman and Bren,
and I was watching out of the window,
and Bren asked me a question and I wasn't looking
and paying attention, and he told me off for that.
I think he's at his very best whenever there's an issue,
or something happens at a major Games.
I've just been handed a piece of paper here that,
if it's right, it'll be the most dramatic story
out of these Olympics or perhaps any others.
You've been there throughout those highs and lows in athletics.
There've been times, obviously, with great controversy.
1988 was when all of the rumours
about what was going on
in the sport actually came out.
It's Johnson away...
and the world record
has gone again!
And Johnson's answered everybody.
You sometimes wonder whether the damage is irreparable,
because, at the end of the day,
when Ben Johnson won the Olympic 100m gold in Seoul,
and then was banned, he destroyed that Olympic Games, really.
I know how strongly he feels about people doing...
doing the sport properly.
You know, he came through a system where if you made it to the top,
you made it to the top because it was hard work.
You had good natural talent.
And I know Brendan has a real problem with people that just
don't see the sport as being based on those fundamental pillars.
Men's 100m final.
Well, I think there was a lot of tension,
a lot of emotions at play in that stadium in Beijing.
It was kind of like the good
and the evil of the sport racing against each other.
When Usain Bolt won,
that erupted into almost like a reggae festival in the stadium,
and so Bren just, as we all did, I think was really caught up in it.
He was dancing, and I videoed it, and I think I tweeted it.
I have to say, I didn't think he had the moves myself, but he surprised
a few people, and it went viral,
much to the delight of his granddaughter.
The only time ever in my commentary career where
I ever got emotional was a few years ago.
We had Haile Gebrselassie, Mo Farah,
and Kenenisa Bekele, running together in the Great North Run.
-These three athletes running past Gateshead Stadium...
It warms my heart, actually, watching them.
It's absolutely fantastic to see. They're three of the greatest.
I was very proud that there they were doing it on the road
out there, passing the stadium where it started for me.
I think the Great North Run will be the thing which, you know,
people will always associate with Brendan, his vision
and his dream for what was possible, and again, no barriers around,
"Hey, why don't we do it in the North-East?
"We've put a track in place. We've brought world-class athletics.
"We've done that. So why don't we go the next step with this?"
They come from all parts of the world to run in it, to enjoy it,
not just the professionals, but people running it to have fun.
For Brendan to have created all of that is one hell of an achievement.
Everything stops for the Great North Run,
and when you've got such a vantage point, it's a shame to waste it.
The question that we have to ask is, "Why? How? Where?"
Where do you get off coming up with this idea that you're
going to take thousands of people from Newcastle to Sunderland
on a run?
Well, like all good ideas,
you've got to copy it from somebody else, haven't you?
So I was in with Dave Moorcroft.
We were in New Zealand in 1980, training for the Olympics,
and we were invited to run in a race called
Round the Bays in Auckland, and there were about
10,000 people running.
He's running along, and he says, "This is great.
"We finish at the beach and everyone's having barbecues
"and picnics. It's wonderful.
"I'm going to organise one of these when I pack in next year."
We'll have a run starting in the city, in Newcastle,
and we'll finish at the seaside, just like Auckland. It's like...
-You're not supposed to laugh.
The first obstacle was,
"How do you get to the beach without going over the Tyne Bridge?"
"Yeah, yeah. We'll get to that."
Isn't it true, or is it an urban myth that you didn't actually get
permission, did you, for the first Great North Run?
That's a very raw point, because we still don't have permission.
I wrote a letter to the Chief of Police, saying,
"We're thinking of organising this fun run,
"and we may need to close a few roads," and his reply was,
"We don't normally encourage activities like this
"on the highway."
So when we've gone back in recent years to find out
the paper trail, there isn't a paper trail.
It stops after the Chief of Police saying, "No, you can't do it."
So I don't know how it happened, but it happened, you know?
To get to the point where you've had the millionth finisher,
that's pretty incredible, isn't it?
Yeah, well, the Chief of Police wouldn't stop us now, would he?
One million! One million runners.
One million stories, and a million smiles as well.
You've had this rich heritage of starters who have always...
-You've tapped into North-East icons, haven't you?
I mean, to be honest with you, it's amazing.
The first starter was a guy called Mike Neville,
who was our local TV...
He was our local TV hero, and from then on, you know,
Bobby Charlton and Jackie Charlton, and Alan Shearer and Bobby Robson...
-..Jonathan Edwards, Sting...
And believe it or not, and they'll deny it when they see this,
but Ant and Dec asked me if they could start, and they're, like...
They're icons of British entertainment.
Well, they looked at the list and thought, "Why are we not in there?"
-I tell you what - the first marathon prize of the day
has got to be for Ant and Dec.
I mean, they literally have clapped
and shaken hands with a hell of a lot...
He's weary now.
That's Dec. Sorry, that's Ant, Steve.
Mark Knopfler from Dire Straits,
obviously a huge band from this area, and Local Hero, is...
..synonymous with the whole city,
but especially with the Great North Run.
He's told me since that when he hears it on the Great North Run,
he sees all those people running across the Tyne Bridge,
the hairs on the back of his neck stand up.
MUSIC: Going Home by Dire Straits
-People called it a fun run at the time.
-I don't know.
If you ever do it, the last thing you think about is fun.
It's a long way, 13.5 miles, I don't care what you say.
I got this kit design where I was half Newcastle and half Sunderland.
I've never run it. I have no desire to run it at all.
I couldn't, because of my knees and my ankles and back.
-That's my excuse, anyway.
-I'd got some new shoes,
and I got about four miles into the run, and they were killing me,
so I stopped, and there was a kid at the side of the road
with his dad. He'd be about 10, 11 years old. I said, "Will you swap?"
He said, "Yeah," and I took his shoes. I took this kid's shoes,
and I ran the rest of it in comfort in his shoes.
I don't think I'll be playing football this year again.
You used to be able to take part in the Great North Run...
You know, they have on the Saturday where you do the one mile,
two mile events, and one day I said to him,
"Brendan, I'm going to win the Great North Run one day.
"I'm going to cross that bridge, be in the lead."
And he's like, "OK, I look forward to that day," and ever since then,
you know, I turned up,
and I've got a hat trick now, Shearer-style.
I wasn't aware of what he did, and then all of a sudden,
my phone went berserk. He did the one-armed celebration.
He got a great reaction from the North-East public.
I'm not going to pretend that everything Brendan does
is altruistic in the sense that, you know,
"I want to do something for the community."
He's a businessman, you know, and he's a very,
very good businessman, but there's nothing wrong with that,
because the result is something that the North-East of England
is incredibly proud of,
and year on year has grown into an event
that is renowned around the world, and that is something which I think
even Brendan probably didn't see in those early days.
It was one of the most popular events that I did in my career.
It was such fun. A moving event.
-So many wonderful human interest stories.
It's the most successful half-marathon,
not just here in the UK, but in the world, and that really has come
from that single man's enthusiasm and his desires for his community.
I'm really proud to say that I know that man.
I'm most proud of the fact that it will be here in 50 years' time.
-That's real legacy.
In an area, historically, with some quite deep-seated, you know,
challenges - economic, social, certainly health - I think Brendan
has made a seismic contribution to the health and fitness agenda,
and I think if you pressed him on that,
he'd probably tell you he's prouder of that than anything
he did in winning Commonwealth or European titles.
It really is the greatest
half-marathon in the world, isn't it?
I was so sad when Brendan phoned me to say that he was retiring
from the commentary box, because it just won't be the same without him.
Brendan's told me about four times he's retiring.
In 2012, we stood up, quite emotional, to be fair,
after Mo had won the 5,000m, and he said, "This is it for me.
"This is... It cannot get any better than this."
-I would do the Mobot, Mo, but...
-Can you do the Mobot now?
-Go on, Brendan.
-I'm not flexible enough.
-How do you do it?
-Come on, Brendan.
I think he had a bit of a rethink, quite naturally,
and he's thinking, "Hang on. Mo Farah?
"I'm going to see more of Mo Farah." We all want to see more of Mo Farah.
I wanted to commentate with Brendan on Mo Farah,
and, thankfully, we've had a few more years of that.
-He's a one-man world superpower. It's gold for Farah!
-For me, that was the best ever.
-That was the best ever.
The best ever, his last ever 10,000m in a championship
in his favourite stadium and, Steve,
there's nowhere in the world you would rather be tonight.
It's been brilliant, for me, anyway, in the last 20 years or so
and all of the time before and thank you
for all of your wonderful moments.
Thank you for being here with me and we'll be sad to see you go.
We'll miss you incredibly.
Brendan, that's definitely it, is it,
when that microphone goes down tonight?
Well, I tell you what, I'm enjoying this little bit so who knows?
Frank Sinatra had plenty of comebacks, didn't he?
I sometimes jokingly raise the topic with him.
"What are you going to do when you retire?"
I don't know any hobbies.
He isn't going to go gardening, he's not going to do DIY,
and he sure as hell isn't...
Driving. He isn't going on driving holidays.
Oh, his driving!
-It's appalling, isn't it?
We were working together at Gateshead Council,
and he went home one winter's evening in this VW Beetle,
and it was snowing like hell, driving through Low Fell,
and not only did he hit a pedestrian in the snow,
but he hit a pedestrian on a zebra crossing.
And this bloke bounced off the front of the car,
landed on the road, and Bren jumps out the car, goes round.
The guy's lying there in the snow, and he recognises Bren.
This is at the peak of his fame, breaking world records.
And he says, "Hello, Bren. Can I have your autograph?"
I think he'll miss it.
I think we'll miss him more, but I'm hoping,
and I believe, that he will still be heavily involved in athletics,
certainly in this country,
and we'll still see him at a lot of the big events.
He's loved in the sport,
so we certainly don't want to lose that kind of insight.
He's a very important conscience for the sport as well.
He's prepared to say things that others won't say.
He's a lovely man, and I'm going to miss his commentary,
but I'm always going to value him as a great mate.
He's somebody who, even if the young people never saw him run,
they know who Brendan is, you know?
He's that man off the telly or he's the man who organises
the Great North Run,
he's somebody who sort of permeates North-East culture and tradition,
and if you said to anybody walking down the street in Newcastle
or Sunderland or Middlesbrough or Alnwick or Hexham or wherever,
"Name me three famous North East people,"
I'd be gobsmacked if his name doesn't come up in there.
-You're still in love with the sport?
-Oh, I love it.
It's been my life.
It's in our DNA.
Now he comes home to take the gold medal.
It was my hobby.
The world record smashed -
a present to Gateshead.
It wasn't for fame and riches.
The North East's a proud area.
Brendan Foster's done us well.
It's been a pleasure.
A look back at the career of Brendan Foster, who retired after 37 years as one of the country's most popular sports commentators following 2017's World Athletics Championships. The former European 5,000m gold medallist and Commonwealth 10,000m champion began his commentary career in 1980 and has gone on to cover nine Olympic Games for the BBC.