United Kingdom

It was the downfall of Frank Bough (and the wife who stood by him) that was such a tale of our times

This was Frank Bough’s time of year. His undisputed realm was Saturday afternoons in the autumn, with rain lashing the windowpanes outside and nothing much to do.

Imagine it is the late 1970s and there are no iPhones or social media to banish the tedium; no live football on Sky or BT Sports.

In fact, there are only three channels to be found on the family television set. One of them — ITV — is showing a wrestling bout between Giant Haystacks and Big Daddy, more scripted pantomime than sport.

Another — BBC2 — is, as usual, offering a dreary black and white costume drama.

But on BBC1, Frank Bough is presenting Grandstand, and you know the afternoon ahead will be like easing into a warm bath.

Fallen star: Frank Bough with his wife Nesta (pictured circa 1980) who he married in 1959, had three sons with and lived comfortably by the Thames near Maidenhead

Bough was the consummate broadcaster who emerged from a more gentle sporting age. Today, rolling news and sports coverage are wallpaper to our lives. But it was Bough, who died last week aged 87, and a handful of other presenters who blazed a trail in live TV with his ability to hold our attention through those long, wet afternoons.

He had about him the air of a good-natured schoolmaster. Charming, if slightly dull. Except that underneath his comfy golfing jumper there beat — on occasion — the heart of a sexual libertine which was altogether at odds with his public persona.

Today’s Snapchat videos of wealthy young footballers inhaling ‘hippy crack’ or tales of their bedding ‘high class’ courtesans were old hat to him. Balding, middle-aged ‘Uncle Frank’ had been there, done that, more than 30 years ago and paid the professional price.

Like Icarus in a Pringle sweater, he had flown too close to the sun. Or, to be precise, too close to the News of the World, which in 1988 revealed Bough’s participation, clad in female lingerie, in a string of parties featuring cocaine and prostitutes.

At the time, it was rather like learning the Archbishop of Canterbury was running a protection racket. But even that would have been less shocking, particularly to women of a certain age who had considered Bough, always a courteous interviewer, to be their ideal of a clean-cut family man.

He was a by-word for respectablility. And then, suddenly, he was no longer respectable and was gone from our screens for ever, although he was never abandoned by his faithful, long-suffering wife, Nesta.

The story that revealed his secret life: The front page of the News of the World, which in 1988 revealed Bough’s participation, clad in female lingerie, in a string of parties featuring cocaine and prostitutes

The pity is that he is remembered more for the circumstances of his downfall than the broadcasting excellence which went before. Bough was born in a terrace house in the Potteries town of Fenton. His mother painted porcelain in a factory, his father was a furniture upholsterer.

Frank proved to be a fine athlete — a county sprint champion — and did well academically, winning a place at Merton College, Oxford, where he studied history and won a football blue.

After National Service in the Royal Tank Regiment, he joined the chemicals giant ICI and in 1959 married Nesta. All was set, it seemed, for contented obscurity.

But Bough longed to try his hand at broadcasting. After several years of badgering, the BBC gave him his chance.

He began his new career as a sports correspondent and local news presenter in Newcastle, and in 1964 was chosen to host the show which would become the BBC Sports Personality Of The Year.

Another significant break happened when he was sent to commentate on the 1966 World Cup tie between Italy and North Korea, which proved to be the shock of the tournament when the Koreans won.

Within 18 months, Bough was presenting Grandstand, which would cement his place as a household name. The format was straightforward but daunting: Bough fronted what became five hours of live television every Saturday, covering a variety of sports events as they happened.

On any given edition he might introduce a couple of Peter O’Sullevan racing commentaries and then Rugby League’s Eddie Waring to describe in his own distinctive style a clash in the Yorkshire mud between Hull Kingston Rovers and Castleford.

There might be more mud and collisions as Ford Escorts and Vauxhall Chevettes duelled in the rallycross from Brands Hatch. All the while, ‘Uncle Frank’ would be keeping a close eye on the events at Old Trafford or Anfield; everything would be revealed in the ‘Final Score’ segment, by the stuttering tele-printer.

Bough died last week aged 87  as former colleagues remembered him with respect and affection

Famously unflappable, if Giant Haystacks had burst into the studio and put Bough into a head lock, he would no doubt have continued to perform his anchorman duties as if nothing untoward was happening.

‘I’ve got a very long fuse,’ he once explained of his delight in keeping so many plates spinning at once.

But, sometimes, the circumstances were gruelling even for him. He anchored the BBC’s live coverage of the 1972 Munich Olympics in which terrorists killed 11 Israeli athletes. He found it hard to comprehend that the games went on amid the slaughter.

His work wasn’t all sports-related. He interviewed Prime Ministers and fronted General Election coverage. In 1972, he was given a main presenting role on Nationwide, BBC1’s early evening current affairs programme.

By then, he was presenting 12 hours of live television a week and was one of the nation’s most famous faces. This was confirmed when — along with Eddie Waring and others — he performed a number from South Pacific on the 1977 Morecambe and Wise Christmas Show. A record 21 million tuned in.

But television was changing, and when the BBC prepared to launch Breakfast TV in 1983, Bough leapt at the chance. He was an obvious front man for the enterprise, sharing a sofa with Nick Ross and Selina Scott. And he was a great success.

Off screen, life was good, too. He and Nesta had three sons and lived comfortably by the Thames near Maidenhead.

But after four years, the early morning starts began to pale. In 1987, he quit to become presenter of the BBC’s Holiday programme.Shortly afterwards, his secret life was sensationally revealed. The world fell on his head.

‘Frank Bough: I took drugs with vice girls’ was the News of the World’s front page headline. ‘Frank watched as party junkies had sex together,’ read the caption under a large photograph of the presenter alongside.

Bough’s response was to meet the allegations head-on. He claimed the prostitutes with whom he partied had introduced him to Class A drugs. But the more he talked, the deeper was the hole he dug himself into.

He was never abandoned by his faithful, long-suffering wife, Nesta. She said she was ‘very hurt and angry’ with her husband: but she stuck by him (pictured together attending the Rainbow Ball in aid of terminally-ill children)

He told the paper: ‘I am not a wicked man, nor do I mean any harm or evil to people. I’ve made mistakes but everyone is entitled to do that. No one suffered but my wife, my family and myself. It was a brief but appalling period in my life. Don’t condemn my entire career for a brief episode I regret.’

Nesta stood by him, declaring: ‘I know this won’t happen again because of the disgrace this has brought on his family.’

The BBC was less forgiving and he was sacked without ceremony.

Bough had treatment for his — most unlikely — hard drugs problem and began to rebuild his shattered image and career at independent TV and radio stations, presenting LWT’s Six O’Clock Live show.

The rehabilitation seemed to be making good progress when he was chosen to front ITV’s coverage of the 1991 Rugby World Cup.

Alas, his resurrection was to be short-lived.

In August 1992, under the headline ‘Sex Slave Bough’s Den of Evil’, the Sunday Mirror set out in lurid detail how the broadcaster was a regular at a sado-masochistic ‘dungeon’ in Central London, run by one ‘Mistress Charlotte’, a rubber-clad dominatrix.

When confronted at his home by the ‘investigators’, the appalled Bough choked: ‘I’ve been through all this before. I may never work again if this story is published.’

And so it came to pass.

There were more considered but no less painful mea culpas. ‘I caused a lot of pain to my wife and my family and I bitterly regret all these things,’ he said in a television interview shortly afterwards.

Poor Nesta, by then his wife of 37 years. She said she was ‘very hurt and angry’ with her husband: but she stuck by him.

Save for a brave appearance on the satirical show Have I Got News For You, which had ragged him mercilessly about his scandals, Bough largely disappeared into seclusion. (It should be noted that the chief tormentor, the presenter Angus Deayton, would, almost a decade later, be sacked from the show after newspaper revelations concerning his own use of cocaine and prostitutes.)

Former colleagues remember him with respect and affection. Yesterday, Nick Owen tweeted: ‘RIP Frank Bough. I regarded him as the ultimate broadcaster who combined news and sport brilliantly. Whatever the scandals that broke around him, he was an inspiration to me when I started in TV more than 40 years ago.’

Clearly, there was a degree of torment behind the calm professional face of Uncle Frank.

If he had remained a colleague of Eddie ‘up and under’ Waring rather than breaking into the showbusiness-obsessed world of morning TV, would he have strayed from the Corinthian sporting path that he seemed to embody?

What a morality tale. Yet he was all our autumn Saturday afternoons. For that, at least, thank you Frank Bough. 

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