My Life in Media: Sports commentator Barry Davies
'I sometimes give opinions, but am basically there to jolly the viewers along, without getting between them and the match'
Monday 24 March 2008
Sports commentator Barry Davies, 70, has been broadcasting for over 40 years. He has covered 10 World Cups, 10 Olympic Games, seven Winter Olympics, seven Commonwealth Games and many Wimbledons. On Saturday he reprises his role as "Voice of the Boat Race", commentating for LBC Radio. He lives in Datchet, Berkshire, with his wife Penny, whom he met on his first job for BBC Radio. Their daughter, Giselle, is director of communications for the International Olympic Committee, and their son, Barry, is managing director of the online betting shop Betfair.
What inspired you to embark on a career in the media?
I sort of fell into it via being a medical student and a dental student, then getting caught by National Service and being asked to broadcast while I was in the army.
When you were 15, which newspaper did your family get, and did you read it?
My father liked to get the News Chronicle. It matched his politics: he was something of a liberal by heart. We used to get The Daily Telegraph as well. I remember reading EW Swanton.
What were your favourite TV and radio programmes?
At the age of 15, in 1952, we didn't have a television set. I remember that radio tended to be a Saturday night thing. My parents liked to listen to In Town Tonight and Saturday Night Theatre.
Describe your job.
I'm a communicator. I try to put the viewer into a seat at the venue, and to assist in terms of the information and help their enjoyment. I sometimes give opinions, but am basically there to jolly them along without getting between the viewers and the match.
What's the first media you turn to in the mornings?
I get woken up by Today – whether it's a really good interview, which one hears relatively often, or the exact reverse, when I find myself shouting: "For God's sake, let him answer the question!"
Do you consult any media sources during the day?
I regularly get The Daily Telegraph and dip in and out of others. My computer is set to BBC news and sport, and I use various websites depending on what I want to do. I do go into Wikipedia quite often but worry about its accuracy.
What do you tune into when you get home?
I work quite a lot from home and usually have Classic FM on in the background. I am not a regular television watcher but we never miss Mastermind or University Challenge, and often Sky +. I enjoy politics and current-affairs shows but am a bit more choosy with sport since I've not been working in television. I watch major events like the Six Nations.
What is the best thing about your job?
That I get paid for a hobby. I've been to all the major sporting events over the last 40 years. It's a privilege and it's fun.
And the worst?
Hobbies you can normally put away, but when your hobby is your job – and it's in the sporting world, which is constantly moving on – it's very difficult to shut out. You need to have good friends and family who bring up other subjects.
How do you feel you influence the media?
I'm not sure I do, but television clearly does. It can distort a picture because of its emphasis on a particular thing. Words are still important and can sometimes be forgotten because there's a dramatic picture to be looked at.
What's the proudest achievement in your working life?
When the Royal Society of Television awarded me a lifetime achievement award in 2004, just after I'd retired from Match of the Day. Some people say that means "goodbye", but I have managed to carry on working.
And what's your most embarrassing moment?
I presented tennis for the first time at Bournemouth hardcourt championships, and Match of the Day that week was at Brighton. From Bournemouth I said, "Good afternoon and welcome to Brighton!" When we came back a few minutes later I said, "I would like you to know that I've run like mad and have now arrived in Bournemouth, where this championship is." It was amusing, but as it was the first time I'd been given the chance to present tennis it could have been disastrous.
What is your Sunday paper, and do you have a favourite magazine?
If I've had The Telegraph in the week I might buy The Observer. Occasionally I don't get one at all, as they take about three weeks to read and you spend half your time removing sections and taking things out of plastic covers. We get The Week, and my son got me a subscription to Prospect that I shall certainly renew.
Name the one career ambition you want to realise before you retire.
I always wanted to cover the November 11 celebrations at the Cenotaph. I would also like to do the ceremony at London 2012, but as it's been taken over by BBC News there's precious little chance of that.
What would you do if you didn't work in the media?
If I had been a teacher of English I could have got into the debate about the development of language, or incorrect language.
Who in the media do you most admire and why?
David Dimbleby, who is a consummate professional broadcaster, and Jon Snow, who I think is the best news anchor on television.
1960 Joins British Forces Broadcasting Service
1962 Works on the BBC's Sports Report for nine months before moving to The Times' sports desk
1966 Takes all his annual leave to present the World Cup for ITV
1968 Covers his first Olympic Games
1969 Joins the BBC to cover major sporting events
1983 His first Wimbledon
2004 Presents 12th Boat Race. Retires from Match of the Day; awarded lifetime achievement award. Continues to commentate on a freelance basis
2005 Receives the MBE
2008 Becomes "Voice of the Boat Race" on LBC Radio 97.3FM
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