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From Tea Boy to Chairman: Jeff Foulser on Pushing On and Never Being Satisfied


From tea boy to chairman: Jeff Foulser on pushing on and never being satisfied By Heather McLean, Editor

Friday, December 6, 2019 - 13:32

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Sunset Vine chairman Jeff Foulser chats with Fergal Ringrose during SVG Europe's SportTech 2019 event at Lord's Cricket Ground on 22 May

Sunset Vine chairman Jeff Foulser has enjoyed a long and illustrious career that began as a young whippersnapper at the age of 18 with a chance game of cricket at London Weekend Television (LWT) and is still going strong at the company he has helped grow from five people to an international sports host broadcaster.

After playing a lot of cricket as a youngster, to the point where he even considered taking it up professionally, Foulser decided instead he, probably ought to get a proper job, but I completely failed in that regard; I got into television! .

In those days there were only two places to work if you lived in London; one was LWT and the other was the BBC. I wrote to the BBC and they said come back when you've got a degree, but I wasn't keen on going to uni; I did my A-Levels and stuff but I wanted to get out into the world. I managed to get a job at LWT basically as a tea boy; I was called a junior clerk, he says.

Foulser continues: I was given my first job by Jimmy Hill who was Head of Sport at LWT then. He was a former footballer and manager of Coventry City. He was a really smart guy who, when he was still a professional footballer, was responsible for ending the minimum wage in football. He also advocated three points for a win and was instrumental in many changes to the game. He obviously must have seen something in this 18 year old that he quite liked and he gave me the job, so I owe him everything really.

Progressing up the ranks

On how he progressed up the ranks from tea boy, Foulser says, I just got my nose in where it was important, really . He goes on: It would never happen these days, but on my first day at work I was called in by a wonderful man called John Bromley, who was the executive producer for sport at LWT, and he said, ah, Jeffrey, you play a bit of cricket don't you?', so I said, yes, I do sir', so he said, right, you're playing tomorrow for World of Sport against Bagshot Cricket Club,'. So I got home that night and my mum asked, how was your first day at work?' and I said, great, I'm playing cricket tomorrow!'. She couldn't believe it. Anyway, within one day of joining, that night in the bar after the cricket I was one of the team already, and it was quite remarkable how quickly it happened from there.

Foulser began getting involved in the production side of sports broadcast, gaining experience on outside broadcasts and logging football matches for editing. I was the tea boy for about six months, he remembers. It was a fantastically vibrant sports department; a lot of really clever people, and you couldn't fail to learn. My mentors were Jimmy Hill and John Bromley, Brian Moore the commentator, who was fantastic, and a guy called Bob Gardam who was a pioneering OB director who transformed football coverage in the late 60s, early 70s, and he was terrific. He put his arm round me and showed me how it was all done, really. So I had some brilliant people to learn from.

My view is if you try and stay where you are, you go backwards and I really do believe that. You have to push on and push on and never be satisfied.

Other alumni from LWT during that period included, says Foulser, Mark Sharman who became head of Channel 4 sport, Robert Charles who became head of Channel 5 sport, Richard Worth who ran Team Marketing, Andrew Franklin who ran Channel 4 racing for many years, Tony Mills who became Sky's leading football director, as well as talented on-screen performers like Jim Rosenthal and Martin Tyler. Foulser adds: It was quite a hotbed. Looking back on it, I don't think we realised it at the time, but there were some pretty good people there!

At the tender age of 24, Foulser scored the job of producer of The Big Match, LWT's flagship football programme. He comments on taking on such a large role at such a young age: It is a little bit hard to believe. I'm not sure it would happen now; I think there's probably more competition for a start. There's a lot of really talented people around now. In those days there wasn't a lot of football on television, so it was a programme with eight million to 10 million people watching it on a regular basis. So to be in charge of that was pretty amazing. When you're young you don't think about it in the way you do when you look back.

Time to move on

England's Ben Stokes pumped up and passionate after his exhilarating innings at Headingley during 2019 Ashes series against Australia

As well as leading the football charge at LWT, Foulser produced the Seoul Olympics in 1988 for the channel. However, the time came when Foulser felt it was time to move on.

He explains why: I needed to do something different. I needed to test myself. I'd been part of this family at ITV and it was all a bit comfortable and I also didn't want to work on football solely, which in the end [at ITV] I did; I became the executive producer of ITV football and when football started to take off, ITV bought the rights to what was then the First Division, but then became the Premier League, and we had 21 live games a season and I was in charge of that. It was pretty high profile; big audiences.

I remember my last game when I knew I was leaving but I hadn't told anybody else in 89, when Arsenal beat Liverpool at Anfield to win the title - the last game of the season and they needed to win 2-0 and they did it with the last kick of the game - and afterwards I told Brian Moore that I was leaving, and he said, Jeff, how can you? Wh
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