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Mr Roger Bannister (Visit To United States)

Volume 527: debated on Monday 17 May 1954

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asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs what arrangements were made by the British Information Service in New York for the appearance of Mr. Roger Bannister in a television programme sponsored by the R. J. Reynolds Tobacco Company.

The British Information Services, New York, were asked by a producer of programmes to transmit an invitation to Mr. Bannister to appear on television. The Foreign Office were glad to ask Mr. Bannister to accept this invitation as it was felt that nothing but good to Anglo-American relations would result. At the time it was thought that no difficulties over Mr. Bannister's amateur status would arise from his undertaking a visit from which he himself would receive no personal gain.

After arrangements had been made for Mr. Bannister's journey, some doubt arose on the ground that his appearance was to be on a sponsored programme. The rules on status vary from sport to sport (and appear about as complicated as those relating to offices of profit under the Crown). In the circumstances, it was decided that it would be wiser for him not to appear in that particular programme. Her Majesty's Government have assumed full financial responsibility for his visit.

The visit has been an outstanding success. I have a long list with me of the various radio and television appearances which he made, and his other public engagements. He received a great welcome in New York and says he thoroughly enjoyed his visit, and I am sure that it has been a very good thing for Anglo-American relations.

Did the Foreign Office know at the time that Mr. Bannister's reputation was going to be exploited by sponsored television to make money for a tobacco company, although the gentleman is not a smoker? Does not that show the dangers of sponsored television, and will the right hon. and learned Gentleman give us an assurance that when we have sponsored television he will not bring over here an American athlete to boost Scotch whisky although he may not be a whisky drinker?

Appearances on sponsored television are a recognised form of publicity in the United States. I am quite certain that many hon. Members have appeared on sponsored television without being contaminated thereby.

Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman think that this episode will increase the wish of the British public to have commercial TV foisted on them?

I do not think the right hon. Gentleman should introduce his monopolistic feelings or his spleen against commercial television into a matter of this sort.