Two years ago today the ‘voice of horse racing’ Sir Peter O’Sullevan passed away at the age of 97. Born in County Down, O’Sullevan was from a generation of legendary sports broadcasters whose distinctive tones guided millions of viewers through the BBC’s weekly sports show Grandstand.
It was a time when sport provided me with a wealth of special childhood memories. Those were the pre-Sky Sports days when the Beeb predominantly owned the rights to the “crown jewels” of televised sport in the UK.
Any sport worth watching, unless you were a big fan of ostrich racing or the East Grimstead Hat Wearing Championships, was broadcast by the licence funded channel. It was predominantly left to commercial station ITV, via World of Sport, to showcase minority sports.
Unfortunately for the makers of World of Sport, log chopping competitions in Canada, a load of fat blokes scrapping in woefully choreographed wrestling, along with in-depth insights into maypole dancing held less viewer appeal than the Beeb’s offerings.
In the 1970s/80s, Auntie Beeb’s tea-time hospitality didn’t just entail a cuppa and a slice of battenburg cake, TV viewers were treat to live rugby league, cricket, rugby union, athletics and top race meetings, to name a few.
Along with live sport, Grandstand also broadcast footie highlights on Football Focus, in addition to highlights of main boxing bouts.
Not only did the BBC have the cream of the sports, they could rightly boast they possessed the best team of commentators and broadcasters.
This sports broadcasting generation became so much a part of the nations fabric they became victims of satire on Spitting Image, impersonated on the Mike Yarwood Show, and even invited to perform on Saturday evening’s TV showcase The Morecambe & Wise Show.
As well as O’Sullevan’s dulcet tones guiding us through the racing of equines, Bill McLaren’s warm Scottish Border lilt and quirky profferings enhanced rugby union broadcasts. Whilst rugby league had the eccentric but distinctive West Yorkshire delivery of Eddie Waring.
Eddie Waring commentating (below) on potentially the most dramatic ever end to the rugby league Challenge Cup Final
In addition, you always felt in good hands with the Aussie brogue of Richie Benaud, whose cricket knowledge, humour and calm demeanour were second to none. Likewise, golf with Henry Longhurst, boxing described by the inimitable Harry Carpenter, not forgetting the football with the enthusiasm of David Coleman and Barry Davies.
David Coleman commentating on a legendary save in the 1970 World Cup match between England v Brazil (below).
I vividly remember watching the Banks save live as a young boy, while sitting in the lounge with my dad and brother. We were all astonished he keep it out. In fact my dad was so moved by it he shouted to my mum in the kitchen “Marg, can you put the emersion on. love. I’m gonna get a bath when the football finishes.”
ITV’s World of Sport was hosted by Dickie Davies, an affable broadcaster who adorned a mop of black hair incorporating a distinctive grey streak. My dad reckoned it was natural, however I always argued he was balancing his pet badger Trevor on his bonce.
Dickie Davies (below)
The grey streak fascinated me as a kid. I couldn’t recall seeing anyone else with hair like it. It seemed to be in a different position in his hair every week, which I felt added fuel to my badger on his head theory. As I got older I found out that, of course, it wasn’t a badger and the streak was natural hair.
I’ve not seen pictures of him in his old age but I’d like to think his hair changed to predominantly grey with a black streak on top. He won’t have, obviously, but it’d be great if that was the case.
I always felt sorry for Dickie Davies, a decent presenter who had some real dross to work with….. To clarify, I meant sports to air, not the people who were his colleagues.
Davies’ show finished in 1995, after ecologists complained about the Canadian log chopping, not forgetting Dickie’s badger ran off.……………… It wasn’t a badger, Gary! ………… Focus for god’s sake!
As I said above, I maintain a great deal of fondness for the sporting action and broadcasters of my youth. All these years later, I often hear their distinctive voices in my head.………………. Sitting here now, those sounds bring a smile to my face; although I wish Eddie Waring’s voice would stop telling me to kill people!
David Coleman probably added the most sports broadcasting memories in the fledgling years of my existence. This courtesy of football commentaries in the early 1970’s when Leeds United were in their pomp and majesty. One of my favourite childhood memories is him exclaimed “Clarke. One nil!” after Leeds’ Allan Clarke headed the winning goal in the 1972 FA Cup Final.
Those three words, along with the accompanying monochrome TV pictures, are indelibly filed in the ‘Good Times’ folder in my cranial database.
Coleman reduced his football commentary commitments in 1973, mainly to take up the role of athletics broadcaster. Although his enthusiasm greatly added to the televisual experience of viewing track and field, there were times when he got a tad over excited!!……..