Bard of the airwaves Stuart Hall stuns show with 'black-up' rant

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The Independent Online

His weekly outpourings of loquacious prose from the football grounds of northern England have made Stuart Hall one of Britain's most enduring sports commentators.

But the BBC has been forced to confirm that his immediate professional future is intact after Hall said that white Zimbabwean cricketers should "black up" and branded the Zimbabwean President, Robert Mugabe, a "witch doctor".

Hall has always revelled in an un-PC style. But his response to the question of which team he would like to see make a comeback, delivered on Radio Five Live's sporting panel show Fighting Talk, left his fellow contributors in stunned silence.

Hall chose Zimbabwe's cricket team, which has been thrown into chaos by claims of racism and a boycott by its leading white players. "Zimbabwe is a wonderful country," he said. "I have been there umpteen times and it is being brought to extinction by Mugabe. The average life expectancy is 33, so if you are not dying from Aids, malnutrition, starvation, deprivation or stagnation, don your flannels, black up [and] play leather on willow. Mugabe as captain and witch doctor, imagine him out at Lords casting a tincture of bats' tongues and gorillas' gonads ... Give cricket a shot in the bails it needs!"

A pregnant pause followed, with the broadcaster and journalist Danny Kelly and the boxing journalist John Rawling equally uncertain of what to say next. "Let's have a break for the news so we can think about our careers," said the programme's host Christian O'Connell.

Hall went on to defend footballers' rights to use foul language on the field. "This is all nonsense, people are getting hot under the collar about nothing," he said. "Your average 10-year-old can instruct you in oral or anal sex." Following this comment, one of Hall's fellow panelists could be heard saying: "Welcome to the last ever Fighting Talk."

Hall's irrepressible nature has been evident since the 1970s, when he wore vivid ties to present the news on the local BBC magazine programme North West Tonight. He graduated to the corporation's It's a Knockout in the 1980s.

Many of Hall's florid match reports on the BBC's Saturday Sports Report have been delivered from Manchester City's ground. But this season he has found himself frequently relegated from Premiership games to more lowly locations such as Burnley and Preston.

A BBC spokeswoman said the corporation had received no complaints from listeners about Hall's comments, though two complaints had been received about a reference he made to travellers elsewhere on Saturday's programme.

The spokeswoman said his comments - delivered on a programme which has often made fun of President Mugabe - were not considered racist and would not result in Hall being fired. "On this programme guests often say things which are lively and provocative," she said. "But we believe our listeners recognise these comments are satirical banter."


"To damn with faint praise or t'were there one whose fire through genius kindles and fair flame inspires." (A recent description of Leeds beating West Ham 1-0)

"He thinks he is clever but garbage comes out of his gob. I don't like cutie-pies like him on TV." (On the ITV football pundit Ally McCoist)

"If a week is a long time in politics then, for Ron Atkinson's Manchester United, the last seven days have been an equinox."

"You were once a legionary, then you were a centurion. How does it feel to be Caesar?'' (To the former Liverpool manager Roy Evans, whose team had just beaten Norwich 4-0);

"You don't half talk some rubbish. I don't know what you're on about half the time." (Evans' reply to Hall)