Sid Waddell: My Life In Media
'Phil Taylor heard me going berserk in the commentary box when he was about to throw for a nine-darter. He missed'
Monday 18 December 2006
Sid Waddell, 66, is Britain's voice of darts. He grew up in Alnwick, the son of Northumberland miner, and got a scholarship to Cambridge, where he read modern history at St John's College. In 2002 he was voted commentator of the year by 70 fellow sports commentators. His coverage of the darts world championships begins this evening on Sky Sports. He lives with his wife, Irene, in Pudsey, Yorkshire.
So what inspired you to embark on a career in the media?
In 1964 I was part of a satirical singing duo called the Gravyboatmen. I was tone deaf and my partner had two chords on guitar. That did not stop us starring on BBC's Tonight. We were later booed off stage by 400 punters at South Bank Sporting Club, Middlesbrough. A year later I wrote a TV play about a rough Geordie at Cambridge University and it won a competition. The prize was a week at BBC TV Centre in London where Tony Garnett, of Cathy Come Home, encouraged me to write a drama documentary about the Animals pop group.
When you were 15, which newspaper did your family get, and did you read it?
We got the Newcastle Journal every day and I read the sports bit first. I was a Toon fan and read the rugby. I was sometimes mentioned because I played county schoolboy rugby. We also got the News of the World. I remember it was good for sport.
What were your favourite TV and radio programmes?
My favourite TV at that time was BBC sport, soccer and rugby union. Radio was the iconic What Cheer Geordie?, local droll humour with Bobby Thompson.
Describe your job
Since 1978 I have commentated on darts for television. From 1978 to 1994 I was BBC's lead commentator. Since mid-1994 I have commentated for Sky Sports. Aim of job: by wit, knowledge and enthusiasm to help viewers to appreciate repetitive skills of Jocky Wilson, Eric Bristow and Phil Taylor.
What media do you turn to first thing in the morning?
I read The Guardian - sport first.
Do you consult any media sources during the working day?
Planet Darts website about latest events.
What is the best thing about your job?
Seeing one's enthusiasm bear fruit in greats like Taylor averaging 106 per visit and spotting new lads like Adrian Lewis.
And the worst?
I am asthmatic and have had to have voice coaching to breathe properly. We do sometimes eight to 10 live hours of darts a day at Sky Sports in places where people smoke.
How do you feel you influence the media?
The national papers called me everything from "a banshee with piles" (1982) to the "black pudding of commentary" (1985). But I think now the press take me seriously and there are more accolades than brickbats. One year ago The Independent said I was "maybe the best commentator on any sport anywhere" and the words "legendary" and even "genius" have been used. I think my wild eccentric words have focused them on the skill and character of darters.
What's the proudest achievement in your working life?
In 2002 70 other sports commentators voted me Commentator of the Year in a special poll. In 2005 I was voted seventh in a poll for Greatest Ever Northumbrians. Jack Charlton was sixth and Sir Bobby 10th.
And what's your most embarrassing moment?
In 1998 Phil Taylor heard me going berserk in the commentary box when he was about to throw for a nine-darter. He stopped. Looked at me and then promptly missed. I collapsed on the floor of the box feeling terrible. But he rang me the next day to say that I didn't put him off. A true gent.
At home, what do you tune in to?
Baseball on TV. Rock'n'roll on tape.
What is your Sunday paper? And do you have a favourite magazine?
The Observer. Private Eye, though they don't feature me now. They were told I said daft things deliberately.
Name the one career ambition you want to realise before you retire
Write a good, funny but deep, memoir of my childhood in Lynemouth, a Geordie mining village, near Ashington. Title: Wor Sid.
If you didn't work in the media what would you do?
I'd work as a market trader and try stand-up comedy in working men's clubs.
Who in the media do you most admire and why?
Richie Benaud for his calmness. Geoff Boycott for his trenchant analysis. Jeff Stelling for his sheer attack.
1962 After Cambridge University, takes job in the Social Studies department at Durham University but quickly leaves to join Tyne Tees TV as a news producer.
1966 Moves to Granada TV in Manchester, then Yorkshire TV producing sports and science documentaries. Publishes Teach Thissen Tyke, a guide to Yorkshire patter. Of 300 copies printed, 13 are sold.
1976 Joins the BBC in Manchester and became a darts commentator.
1994 Broadcasts the line: 'We couldn't have more excitement if Elvis walked in and asked for a chip sandwich.'
1994 joins Sky Sports to commentate on its live darts coverage.
1999 Sacked as the Voice of the Balls on National Lottery Red Alert after one show for 'being too Geordie'.
2003 wrote The Power: The Autobiography of Phil Taylor with Phil Taylor
2007 Will publish next summer Bellies and Bullseyes, the true story of darts.
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