27 April 2009

Foul ... and a miss

The World Snooker Championships are on the telly at the moment and therefore most regular BBC2 programmes will be moved, delayed or just ditched altogether to accommodate it. And, well, so be it. Snooker still generates a sporting audience.

I've watched it on television all my life though as I got older, I began to pick and choose the tournaments. The world championship is a gimme, as is the Masters. I used to like the World Doubles Championships (the only time Tony Meo won anything as he hooked up with Steve Davis) but that was back in the 1980s.

It was just comfortable watching the snooker. A combination of David Vine, Jack Karnehm, Clive Everton and Ted Lowe patiently explaining the game as it dragged itself gently along was somehow appointment viewing. There were no ex-pros in the commentary box with them and none acting as pundits alongside Vine in the anchor's studio. It was unfussy, respectful stuff and yet remained very technical and, despite its image of smoky halls which preferred not to allow women along, very highbrow.

A criticism that is levelled at snooker today is that it lacks personality within its players. That's not entirely right, though it is easy to come to that conclusion. Personalities come in all shapes and forms, and I think there's as much to be had from Peter Ebdon wildly punching the air and breaking the tension with a huge "Come ON!!!" after downing a vital black as there is from Ray Reardon offering a chair to his opponent, provoking mega laughter from the stalls, because said opponent was too short to reach a pot, even with the longest available rest.

A good test of where snooker's standing lies in media circles is the number of adverts which have featured high-profile players. To be honest, I can't think of one. I don't know if Ronnie O'Sullivan has ever appeared in an advert, and he is the obvious one. But back in the heyday of the game, there were three memorable examples of snooker crossing into commercial endorsement, to wit:

1 - a childhood, adolescent and finally fully-grown Steve Davis eating Heinz Baked Beans on toast while analysing the position of the plate, cruets etc, and chalking his knife.
2 - Jimmy White watching his opponent break off and then thinking "I'll just clear this table before I have another Softmint" prior to doing exactly that in speeded-up time while his opponent got upset.
3 - John Spencer miscuing a red off the table and right into the gentlemen's area of referee Len Ganley, whose angry response was to crush the red into a pile of fine powder on to the table, prompting Spencer's opponent Terry Griffiths to say "I bet he drinks Carling Black Label".

Sadly, I can only find the latter of these on YouTube, and here it is for your enjoyment.

Not sure who the commentator is on it. I think it may be an actor trying to be Ted Lowe, though the great whisperer himself did appear on the Davis/Heinz ad ("Really ... interesting") and also voiced the Campbells Meatballs commercial in which the boy's devouring of said spheres of flesh was compared to clearing a snooker table.

Davis is actually probably the best personality, as the media would have it, in the game right now as he is still relatively successful while also being probably the most admirable exponent of self-awareness and self-deprecation of anyone in the public eye. He was a total bore and a rotten entertainer as he won endless titles in the 80s but soon realised that embracing this ironic "interesting" tag first given to him by Spitting Image would be the remaking of him for when his form ever dried up. Hence his appearance on an advert which used the "interesting" buzzword. Davis is also a funny guy, genuinely, as anyone who remembers his cameo turn at the Comedy Store will attest.

After that? Hmmmm, it's tough. O'Sullivan is a genius at the table but his personality mainly just prompts people to wonder when he is going to complain about something or threaten to quit the game next, as he has done yet again this week upon his early exit from the tournament. Jimmy White will fill any theatre or arena the world over but doesn't qualify for enough final stages. The rest take the game far more seriously than their predecessors ever did, even though the game remains as important to today's players as it was to the gentlemen who put upwards of ten million on to a channel's viewing figures a generation earlier.

Anyway, I'll keep watching. The technicalities of the game are still as worthwhile as ever - and it's easy to say that when you are like me, an abysmal snooker player - and only the presence of John Virgo in the commentary box spoils it for me these days.

If "proper" personalities in snooker chalk your cue, then remind yourself of this. If you're hearing or viewing it for the first time, I quite envy you...

1 comment:

The Joined up Cook said...

I think a lot of the changes you talk about are down to the increased choice we have now.

My wife and I used to watch snooker in the '80's. It had a larger audience then because there wasn't the diversity of channels and the web to distract people.

Also, the new generation of players seem to see it as a profession, like many sports stars.

Back then I don't think the likes of Eddie charlton (remember him?) will have entered it for the money.

He and his like came into the sport for the love of it. The modern players come into it having seen it as a means to gain real success and fortune.

It's bound to attract a completely different animal.