The BBC's "Sports Personality of the Year" show is an annual review show with lots of sporting footage from the calendar year. It attempts to compare and contrast the performances of sportsmen and women over the past year and award some prizes. It's an annual tradition and a bit of a laugh.
A key thing to realise is that this is nominally a competition of sporting personality rather than sporting achievement. However, what it tends to measure in practice is sporting achievement with a twist; that is, relatively modestly-talented sportsmen with prominent personalities don't automatically perform unduly well, but you need to get yourself noticed. That is, the consistent rock-solid defender doesn't have a realistic hope of a nod; in order to stand a chance, you either need to play an individual sport or to be highly prominent among your team. (Inevitably, among the national team.) There is also a reasonable degree of "Buggins' turn" to the proceedings; I can think of a few instances where deserving cases won in "the wrong year" - that is, not one in which they had their most outstanding accomplishment.
The ceremony was inaugurated in 1954 when the splendidly-named Chris Chataway won the first award. The BBC tell us that he broke the world 5,000m record that year by overtaking Vladimir Kuts in the last ten strides. However, this was the same year that Roger Bannister ran the world's first four-minute mile. A questionable start to an award which has thrown up some strange choices over the years.
The main award is supposed to be declared by public vote: originally, by quantity of written nominations only; recently, by nominations producing a short-list of five or six and televoting on the night picking a winner. For a long time there were accusations that the public's nominations may not have been taken seriously; apparently there were overwhelmingly strong campaigns among the fishing world for champion angler Bob Nudd to earn the award which were ignored year after year. Furthermore, there was a junk e-mail going round a few years ago suggesting a mass campaign for Justin Fashanu, Britain's first million-pound black footballer - also the first high-profile one to come out as homosexual - who was at the time playing at a low, barely semi-professional level. (Yes, I voted for him!)
Since 1960 there have also been awards for Team of the Year and for Overseas Personality, which are fair enough; in 1999, the BBC added awards for Best Newcomer, Best Coach and the Helen Rollason Award (named after a sports presenter who struggled with cancer) for bravery. In 2001, Best Newcomer changed to Young Personality (the two winners of Best Newcomer being perennial jiggery_pokery bench-warming favourite Dean Macey and Jenson Button) and a Lifetime Achievement award was instituted. Last year's Lifetime award went to Sir Alex Ferguson, not unreasonably; this year's will go to George Best. (George was a tremendous football goalscorer many years ago who turned into a high-profile alcoholic and has been a regular "Dead Pool" pick for the last couple of years.)
The interesting thing about the award is that it is one indication of how the British perceive sports and sportspersons relative to one another. Track and field athletes have won fifteen times, by far and away the most of any sport, with motor racing second at seven. (None since '96, though - and in which year did ITV take over the UK Formula One coverage?) Footballers and boxers have each won four times, but three of the football wins have come since 1990 and I would expect footballers to win about as many as athletes over the next ten years. No rugby player has ever won, and it would be a huge surprise if a rugby player ever did, though rugby teams frequently win the team award. Cricketers? No-o-o-o-o-o-o, I can't see a cricketer winning in the foreseeable future. The BBC has lots of good info, though sadly it doesn't have lists of the "first runner-up" and "second runner-up" for the main trophy, which are awarded and which would be useful knowledge.
One sad recent development caused by the increased number of awards is the elimination of "the funny bit" immediately before the final award in which they used to get lots of sportsmen to come out and do something they weren't expecting. I very fondly remember the year that Nigel Mansell was winning motor races in the USA and Damon Hill was winning in Formula One; they wheeled out a Daytona USA arcade machine and had the two race off. (They also inveigled two others to participate. Can't remember who.) Hill won, Mansell didn't. The host asked Mansell why he didn't win; ever perfectly sponsor-conscious and quick as a wink, Mansell pointed out that it was a Sega game rather than a Nintendo game and that if it had been a Nintendo game (like, for instance, the officially-licensed Nintendo game bearing his name) then he would have won. Amused the heck out of me.
This year's fest starts in a few minutes, so I shall cut this short. Paula Radcliffe is apparently 100-1 on to win this year; she maintained a 100% winning record in the whopping four races she entered this year, but considering that those races were the London Marathon, the Commonwealth Games 5,000m, the European Championship 10,000m and the Chicago Marathon (in which she set a World Record) then I suppose she deserves it. The BBC preview the other strong contenders for all the awards, which always seems slightly fishy to me. Do they know something we don't? Well, yes, they do, actually!
There's normally a few nice clips and a few funny lines. (Oh, and they always use a particular, inspiring piece of classical music which I can't identify, but which I know I like. If you know the one I mean then I would appreciate being pointed to a MIDI or a mp3.) It's good viewing. Please regard me as out of contact for the next two hours. :-)
Oh, and thanks to amnewsboy for the link to the All-Star Blitz closing theme tune, which wins the award for the game show theme tune which sounds least like a game show theme tune... or like anything else, really. It's very strange and quite enchanting in its own way from the nutty piano at the start to the scat sections. It's... psychedelic. Sort of.