“Interesting… very interesting!” It’s tempting just to fill this entry by just quoting loads of BARRY DAVIES‘ memorable commentary lines, of which there were umpteen over his 40 or so years as the voice of sport. “And Leeds will go mad! And they have every right to go mad!”
Davies, who was so concerned about impartiality that he refused to say where he was born during his entire career as a football commentator (it was London, and he’s a Spurs fan), qualified as a dentist. He started in forces broadcasting in the 1950s, making the odd contribution to BBC Radio and writing for the Times.
In 1966, however, ITV was about the cover the World Cup but only had one commentator on its books. Davies was hired and spent the following three years on the light channel.
When LWT started up, he was favourite to become the channel’s main commentator and hence the de facto voice of ITV football, but Jimmy Hill hired Brian Moore instead. So after a year biding his time at Granada, Davies defected to the Beeb in 1969. He enjoyed an auspicious debut when David Coleman fell ill and Davies found himself presenting Match of the Day that night as well as commentating.
It was at the BBC that our man really became regarded as a top football commentator. He had a wonderful voice, a deep knowledge of the game, the ability to get excited when the need arose (“Look at his face! Just look at HIS face!”) and the brilliant knack of finding just the right words for the occasion.
But as well as his regular football work, Davies proved equally capable commentating on a number of other sports, turning his hand with great distinction to tennis, gymnastics, hockey (“Where were the Germans? But frankly, who cares!”), boxing (not much, though, because he didn’t like it), athletics, skating, rowing and virtually anything else the Beeb landed and about which they needed someone to sound authoritative.
It seems that this versatility stopped Davies becoming established as the corporation’s number one voice of football, as he only commentated on one World Cup Final and two FA Cup Finals during his 35 years as a regular on Match of the Day.
He did plenty of other big games, like the European Cup Final, but apparently some viewers felt he was a bit pompous and grumpy at points, especially in his later career.
Yet Davies always had class and style by the bucketload and brought a more thoughtful approach to commentary than many of the shouters who would follow in his footsteps.
He retired from working full-time work for the BBC in 2004, but has kept his hand in by virtue of broadcasts from Wimbledon. He’s also lined up to do his twelfth Olympics next year.
With one of the most distinctive voices on British television, it’ll always be a delight to hear him. “Terrible clearance by Corrigan, and Boyce said take that!”
THE DEFINING ROLE: Saturday nights in the seventies invariably meant Davies behind the mike at a mud-splattered Baseball Ground or Maine Road bringing a sense of decorum to proceedings. “And John Bond still wants to make a defensive point of cover!”