Duncan Jones

As we settle slowly in to 2014, it seems timely to remember three voices of sports broadcasting we have lost over the last 12 months.

For a sports enthusiast growing up in the 1970s, David Coleman was the voice of television sport. Long before the “Spitting Image” pastiche and the cuddly knitware of “Question of Sport”, David Coleman bestrode the world of sports broadcasting. He combined an economy of language – the Colemanic “one-nil” – with a declamatory panache which told you all you needed to know about a sporting occasion. No-one could have told the story of Sunderland’s unlikely 1973 FA Cup like David Coleman. “Porterfield!” For once, there was no “one nil” to follow – instead there was 15 seconds of crowd atmosphere in which Coleman said nothing. Nothing needed to be said. The art of commentary.

Another giant of the BBC passed away in August. I’m too young to remember the rugby union career of Cliff Morgan but his “Sport on Four” in the late 80s and 90s was essential listening for an aspiring sports broadcaster. No-one has ever conveyed the pure unadulterated joy of sport quite like him. His interviews shimmered with sporting anecdote, celebrating participation as much as triumph. Prior to becoming a staple part of the sporting weekend, Cliff Morgan had been the top man at BBC Sport and was one of the few people to excel as both executive and broadcaster. Quite how Sir Cliff Morgan never featured in an honour’s list remains a mystery.

And the third sporting voice to leave us in 2013? The name Oates might not be as celebrated as that of Coleman or Morgan, but David Oates too brought the enthusiasm of the fan to the commentary box. His tragically premature death in February at the age of 50 robbed us of an authentic presence on the radio, a man who loved and understood sport but whose broadcasting style kept everything in perspective. I was once part of an interview panel which quizzed Oatsie about why he should become a producer with BBC Radio Sport. Proudly clad in a new shirt of tangerine in honour of his beloved Blackpool, his passion for sport and broadcasting radiated through every answer. I had never come across anyone who so wanted a job. It was a job he went on to perform with distinction.

In the age of 24 hour TV channels and rolling radio stations, sports broadcasters might seem ten-a-penny. In different ways, Coleman, Morgan and Oates have set the standard to which the class of today must aspire.

Duncan Jones


1 Comment

David Coleman not only set the highest standards for himself but also those he worked with. Woe betide any director who cut up shots not to his liking. Stories are legendary within the BBC about his little tantrums. "Cr@%, I'm not talking again until you show me something worth talking about," was a particular favourite and he'd put his microphone down until they did. Cliff Morgan never let you forget how privileged you were to be sports broadcasters and being invited into living rooms via the TV or radio carried with it enormous responsibility. My favourite David Oates story was one he told me over supper one night during the London Olympics. Tiring of mates telling him he had a cushy job and they could do it if they had half a mind, he eventually snapped: "No you couldn't. Try it. Try describing a football match for 90 minutes. You'd dry up soon enough. It's bloody hard to do it properly." That was Oatesy. A no-nonsense Northerner straight out of the Coleman school.

– Nick Mullins, February 13 2014 at 12:58

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