Sorry, What ― David Attenborough Is The Reason Tennis Balls Are Yellow

Yes, really.
Getty Images

You think you’ve just about got the planet figured out, then boom ― a fact comes along that changes the fabric of your reality.

First, came the news that in most cases, it doesn’t matter too much whether you choose white or brown rice. And now, in another bit of chromatic trivia, it turns out that tennis balls used to be black or white until the ’70s (and Wimbledon held out until 1986).

Their colour was dictated by the colour of the court (a light ball for a dark court and vice versa, so spectators can see it).

’Twas ever thus ― until a certain David Attenborough came along.

What? Why?

The Planet Earth presenter started working at the BBC in 1952 (having only watched one TV show).

In an article with RadioTimes, David revealed that he was responsible for bringing colour to BBC2 for the first time in 1968. And he decided to focus on Wimbledon for the crowning episode of the transformation.

“We had been asking the government over and over again and they wouldn’t allow us, until suddenly they said, ‘Yes, OK, you can have [the colour TV technology], and what’s more you’re going to have it in nine months’ time,’ or whatever it was,” he told RadioTimes.

He added that he wanted to beat West Germany to full-colour broadcast ― the US and Japan had already done it by that time.

But, according to the book 2,024 QI Facts To Stop You In Your Tracks, at some point, David Attenborough noticed that the tennis balls weren’t vibrant and visible enough on screen.

So, in 1972, the International Tennis Federation made optic yellow tennis balls ― side note, they’re officially optic yellow and not green (though in my mind, they’re definitely lime).

Who knew a simple ball could have so much lore?


What's Hot