AN ERA OF ELEGANCE AND ENTHUSIASTS

The BBC commentators who personified their sports

The retirement of Peter O'Sullevan signals the passing of a great tradition, the slow ebbing away of commentators motivated by a love of sport and a desire to communicate that passion without embracing the excesses of hyperbole or narrow-minded nationalism.

Chris Maume looks at some of the men who made BBC sports coverage an institution.

HARRY CARPENTER

Born 1925, began career on Greyhound Express. First boxing commentary for BBC in 1949. Finest moment: Muhammad Ali beating Foreman. "Oh my God, I don't believe it! He's won the title back at the age of 32!" he roared. OBE in 1991, retired in '94. Not always objective: "Get in there Frank!" he yelled when Bruno fought Tyson. Catchphrase: not actually his. Know what I mean, 'Arry?

BRIAN JOHNSTON

Born 1912. Went to Eton and Oxford, served in the Grenadier Guards in the war. BBC Cricket Correspondent 1963-72, moved from television to Test Match Special in early 70s, and commentated on many Royal occasions. Most famous Johnstonballs: "The bowler's Holding, the batsman's Willey." Best Johnstonballs: "Ray Illingworth has just relieved himself at the Pavilion End."

HENRY LONGHURST

A poet of his craft. Born in 1909, became a journalist and shared a bachelor pad with EW Swanton after leaving Cambridge. Sunday Times Golf Correspondent for 21 years. "Golf is the Esperanto of sport," he wrote. All over the world golfers talk the same language, much of it nonsense." Renowned amateur who hung up his clubs when he got the yips. OBE in 1972, died in 1978.

TED LOWE

An official at the Snooker World Championships in 1946. Got his chance as commentator when Raymond Glendinning was struck with laryngitis. Started Pot Black in 1969. Retired last year after 43 years of whispering for England, but was brought back in the spring for Seniors Pot Black. Most famous Loweball: "For those of you watching in black and white, the blue is behind the yellow."

DAN MASKELL

Left school at 14 to work as a ball-boy at Queen's for three shillings a week. RAF squadron leader during the war. Never missed a day's play at Wimbledon from 1929 to Andre Agassi's win in 1991. Died December 1992, posthumously inducted into International Tennis Hall Of Fame last year. Catchphrases: "Oh I say", "Dream of a backhand". His pauses made him the Pinter of sports commentating.

RON PICKERING

Commentated on six Olympics for the BBC, uttered possibly the most famous Colemanballs, "Juantorena opens his legs and shows his class." Renowned coach - among his successes was Lynn Davies, 1964 Olympic long jump gold medallist. Leading anti-drug campaigner and president of Haringey AC. Died in 1991. Linford Christie dedicated his Olympic gold medal the next year to Pickering.

MURRAY WALKER

First commentary for the BBC was from Silverstone in 1948. Had his ailing hips replaced so he could carry on commentating - in order to be able to walk round the pits. More bloomer-prone than most, but once said: "I don't make mistakes. I make prophecies that are proved wrong." Typical Walkerball: "Unless I'm very much mistaken - I'm very much mistaken!" OBE last year, was 74 in October.

EDDIE WARING

Commentated on rugby league from 1951-81. Spawned countless appreciation societies, though 10,000 signed a petition to have him sacked. As famous for It's A Knockout. Managed Dewsbury in '40s, winning two Challenge Cups and two championships. Catchphrases: "Up and under", "Early bath". Most celebrated line: "Poor lad," as Don Fox infamously missed his conversion at Wembley.

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