Wednesday 20 April 2016

Tell me how it really happened

Just yesterday we were discussing the surprise appearance of chess, in the shape of the 1984 Karpov-Kasparov match, in the longrunning Spanish soap/period drama Cuéntame Cómo Pasó, and the accompanying RTVE piece on chess which interviewed Leontxo Garcías and Miguel Illescas.

I have a few bones of contention with the piece, notably the claim that thirteen million TV viewers in Spain followed the final game of the 1987 match in Sevilla. The piece tells it thus:
TVE retransmitió en directo la final: "Se trataba de un programa deportivo que iba cambiando entre el match de Sevilla, la última partida Kaspárov-Kárpov, y un encuentro de Copa Davis de India con Suecia, y los espectadores llamaban indignados para que dejaran de conectar con el encuentro de Copa Davis, porque '¿a quién le interesa el tenis? Por favor, ¡qué nos pongan el ajedrez!", narra Miguel Illescas.

Hasta 13 millones de espectadores en España llegaron a estar pendientes de la partida, "desde entonces, los únicos acontecimientos que han reunido a 13 millones de espectadores ante un aparato de televisión fue cuando España fue campeona del mundo de fútbol o cuando el Barça ganó la Copa de Europa", explica Leontxo.
In English:
TVE showed the final game live. "This involved a sports programme which switched between the match in Sevilla, the final game between Kasparov and Karpov, and a David Cup clash between India and Sweden. Angry viewers called to demand that they stopped showing the Davis Cup match, because 'who cares about tennis? Please, put the chess back on!'" as Miguel Illescas tells it.

As many as 13 million viewers in Spain ended up following the game - "since when the only events that have attracted 13 million viewers have been Spain winning the World Cup or Barcelona winning the Champions' League"
1, states Leontxo.
I'm not saying that this isn't true. I am saying that I want convincing that it's true.

The population of Spain in 1987 was about 38 million people, roughly two thirds the population of the UK at the same date. So thirteen million people watching a television programme would be like twenty million in the UK: a lot, but it's been done, and bettered, so on principle at least we're not outwith the bounds of possibility.

Now finding out similar information, for Spain, as in the link above, is not so simple: I got as far as a 2008 El País article entitled The Most Watched Programmes In History but frustratingly, there is no text attached to it. (I'll track down a copy if I have to. EDIT 2 May: see comments! - ejh.) Still, after much thrashing around I came across an intriguing if not definitive chart in a book called Fútbol, fenómeno de fenómenos by Francisco Alcaide (Leo, 2009). This chart lists the most-viewed programmes in Spanish history at the time of publication.

You'll notice that our programme doesn't appear on that chart, but in some ways it's not actually the chart that you need to be looking at: it's the phrase
en nuestro país desde que en 1992 se iniciase le medición de las audiencias
which means "since audiences in our country were first measured, in 1992". If this is so, it's kind of hard to explain how we could know that thirteen million people watched a sports programme involving chess, five years before they started measuring audiences.

But perhaps they did. Odd, though, to come across this letter in El País, 30 December 1987, bemoaning the coverage devoted, by TVE, to that year's world championship match in Sevilla. The writer complains that
un programa diario de apenas 10 minutos es todo lo que ha ofrecido el ente
- all the channel offered us was a daily programme of scarcely ten minutes' duration - which was transmitted at...
aproximadamente la una de la madrugada
...round about one in the morning.

No sign there, of these thirteen million viewers and people demanding the tennis be taken off. (And bear in mind that until 1990, in Spain, TVE was all there was.)

Now an awful lot of cobblers gets written in letters to the newspapers and one indignant correspondent is a very long way from proof of a didn't-happen. Still, on the basis of what I have, so far, I don't think I'm unjustified in asking - where do Leontxo and RTVE get their thirteen million from?

1 Or I could have translated it "European Cup", since Barcelona have, since then, won the competition in both past and present form.


Christian Sánchez said...

The article with text is here:

ejh said...

Thanks. I notice "desde 1992", as per the chart in the book.