Maskell, voice of tennis, dies at 84

Click to follow
The Independent Online
DAN MASKELL, the tennis commentator whose plummy Edwardian tones were synonymous with televised Wimbledon for generations, died peacefully yesterday at the age of 84.

He inevitably became associated in later years with the phrase 'Oh, I say', parodied with long pauses in between, but what he was demonstrating was that as with sport itself, the sign of true greatness is to make it look easy.

But his task as commentator for the BBC - because it retains the monopoly of live Wimbledon coverage it has enjoyed for nearly half a century - was harder than that of a professional sportsman.

He had to produce a commentary that made the game clear to the millions who would never have been near the Centre Court, or perhaps even a tennis racket, but at the same time maintain the respect of players and adminstrators who spent the 50 weeks between Wimbledons on or around the professional game.

Just as a perfectly timed shot has more power than a wild frantic swipe, a single apposite comment at the end of a rally, explaining why a point was won, is far more telling than a babble throughout. Being in at the start of the medium, he was able almost to invent the art of the tennis commentary, and to the eternal relief of millions he never fell into the common trap of describing what was obvious to anyone with their eyes open.

Even 'Oh, I say' was reserved for the remarkable. And his secret was that he could tell the remarkable shot from the good or flashy one. He knew because, although it seemed unlikely to those who only heard the slow drawl and saw the white-haired old man, he had been one of the finest tennis players of his generation. But then you needed to be a rich amateur to play the top tournaments including Wimbledon.

The seventh of eight children from a working-class family, he started in 1923 as a ball-boy at Queen's Club in London, going on to become a teaching professional and, in 1929, the first professional coach at the All England Club.

He was world professional champion in 1927, and British professional champion 16 times, and began commentating for the BBC in 1952. He had attended every day of Wimbledon for 60 years until his retirement after the 1991 championsips. He was as astute about commentating as about tennis, knowing to quit while still at the top.

Obituary, page 27

Dream team man, page 36

Comments