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TV Scoop: Top 5 TV snooker commentators

By mofgimmers on April 24th, 2009 2 comments

snooker_balls.jpgWell the first week of the World Snooker Championship is drawing to a close, and what a week it’s been. Some fantastic snooker played and over the top of it all the drone of the commentators. Unfortunately quite a few of today’s commentators have not learned the gentle art of when to shut up, and they prattle on incessantly telling you that Higgins has just missed the blue, when you’ve just watched Higgins missing the blue for yourself. It wasn’t always like this. Not so long ago, commentators were made out of better stuff.

Just yesterday I was listening to Terry Griffiths and John Virgo commentating on the Ronnie O’Sullivan vs Mark Allen. O’Sullivan took on an audacious plant at one stage, which Virgo had declared “impossible.” Naturally, he made it. After which Virgo commented several times that it had been “an outrageous plant” (meaning, presumably, one he couldn’t have pulled off) and Griffiths chipped in “I suppose he’ll go on to win the frame now like he usually does.” Honestly, they sounded like a pair of bitter old men, chuntering away in the face of the brilliance of a younger player. This is the dark side of snooker commentating. For the side of the force, in the main, you have to return to a more gentlemanly age. An age when commentary was delivered in hushed tones.

top5_ted.jpg1. “Whispering” Ted Lowe
And the tones don’t come more hushed that Ted Lowe’s. Called Whispering Ted on account of the fact that he whispered and his name is Ted, he was the main commentator for Pot Black, the show that introduced snooker to the television watching public in 1969 after the Beeb had been scratching around for formats to exploit the new-fangled idea of “colour” television. Ted Lowe’s commentary lives on in our house as I can be heard to growl “still anybody’s frame” at various humorous points in a match, most notably immediately after the break-off shot.

2. Jack Karnehm
A contemporary of Lowe’s, Karnehm was a regular commentator from 1978 until 1993. Less well known perhaps is his development of the swivel-lens glasses, from an original design by Theodore Hamblin, which were instrumental in helping Dennis Taylor to his famous World Snooker Championship victory in 1985.

top5_clive.jpg3. Clive Everton
Of the “modern day” snooker commentators, Clive Everton stands head and shoulders above the rest of the pack. His calm, measured delivery combined with years of experience, encyclopaedic memory and a total absence of showing off makes him a firm favourite. Fans were hugely annoyed to learn of the loss of his position as head commentator in favour of more “famous” colleagues, and in this year’s tournament he won’t be in the commentary box from the quarter finals onwards.

top5_willie.jpg4. Willie Thorne
Of the more recent ex-players in the commentary team, Willie Thorne is easily the best of the bunch. He has a relaxed informal delivery style, is knowledgeable, and only rarely lets his commentary get in the way of the game. His misfortune is that he is often teamed with John Virgo, so even if he wanted to get a word in edgeways he’d be struggling.

top5_steve.jpg5. Steve Davis
When he’s not playing (his first-round appearance this year was a record-setting 29th appearance, as we were regularly reminded), Steve is mainly employed by the Beeb as a studio pundit. However he does occasionally venture into the commentary box and when he does, as in all aspects of his professional life, he is the consummate gentleman, giving relaxed well-informed commentary when required and shutting up at all other times. They should make more use of him in this role!

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  • Tony Allen

    Snooker, more than any other sport, requires a quiet and attentive audience, and for the most part that’s what it gets.
    There is however an obvious major audience interruption incident just waiting to happen in the live televised version of the game. The offending noise won’t be an urging shout from an over-zealous supporter, a badly stifled sneeze, a mobile phone jingle, or even some disguised spoiling tactic from the stooge of a gambling syndicate, it will be a completely avoidable piece of mass audience disruption instigated by snipers working for the BBC.

    In recent years audiences at televised snooker tournaments have (for a small fee) been increasingly taking up the option of wearing headphones and listening in on the BBC TV commentary.

    This seemingly innocent innovation has unnecessarily placed a lot of power with the assortment of ex-players and pundits who form ad hoc double acts in the snooker commentary box

    In recent years two of them in particular, John Virgo and Dennis Taylor, have been quietly (and not so quietly) interfering with the sporting reality they are supposed to be observing and reporting on.

    The list of transgressions range from the seemingly innocuous; manipulating of the studio audience when the game is not in play ie: “Will the defending champion receive a standing ovation on his entrance?” to totally inappropriate jokey banter during the game, creating unwanted laughter in the audience and often bewildering both the referee and the players.

    Ironically, when a mobile phone goes off in the audience or a supporter gets a little too exuberant, it is Virgo and Taylor who are the first to lead the tut-tutting, but in truth it’s them who are most likely to actually disrupt the game.

    Neither John Virgo nor Dennis Taylor have hardly earned a penny from actually playing serious tournament snooker in 20 years, since then both have fancied themselves as comic performers of some stripe; Taylor as a professional Irishman working the TV panel games and Virgo as a snooker trick-shot variety act with a little bit of patter. Nowadays even these options have dried up and seemingly their only regular work is in the TV snooker commentary box

    No matter how reckless and disruptive their urge to perform in front of a live audience appears, it would be churlish to suggest that their motives are anything other than unconscious, but it also is difficult to comprehend how their behaviour can be allowed to continue.

    Unfortunately they appear to be role models coaxing the likes of Willie Thorne, John Parrot, Ken Doherty and the normally restrained Terry Griffiths into their larky double-acts. But no matter how far the others stray from the job description, they can never top Virgo or Taylor’s showbiz-style prattle and personal joshing.

    Virgo’s continual use of the adjective ‘unbelievable’ when 5 million viewers up and down the country are witness to the opposite is typical of his inaccurate cliché-ridden shtick. Virgo is the most insidious and potentially disruptive because he continually presents what in improvisational comedy terms is known as an ‘offer’ – an opening gambit which begs a reply. Of his fellow commentators Taylor is of course always the one most up for it and needs little encouragement for an off-message chinwag or worse still – a sentimental trudge down memory lane; Taylor burbling on about the past, when the match in focus suddenly demands his attention, is clearly and obviously guilty of what he so often accuses errant players – taking their eye off the ball. Taylor is at his most inappropriate when he is in collusion with the camera crew picking out celebrities and player’s wives seated in the audience, listening in on their headphones. His faux familiarity and ludicrous attempts at conversation – urging them to smile or nod their heads – is not only unnecessary and often embarrassing but is the exact polar opposite of what is required of a snooker commentator.

    Snooker commentary, like the game itself, is a highly competitive occupation and there are plenty more ex-players waiting in the wings who can doubtless do the job just as efficiently and presumably without using the opportunity to audition for pantomime.

    Tony Allen Jan 2011

  • B.ik

    What about David Icke?
    In recent years audiences at televised snooker tournaments have missed his patter. FROM KIRK STEVENS TO LIZARDS TO SELLING BOOKS FOR £17…. bell drip

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