Sport on TV: Old snooker players never dye, they just lose their ball control

Eight hours and 50 minutes, the average length of time it used to take Cliff "The Grinder" Thorburn to complete a frame at the Crucible, is this year the amount of time BBC2 devoted each day to coverage of the first week of the World Snooker Championship from the storied Sheffield venue.

So instead of getting a life, you could have spent two and a half days last week musing on eternal snooker questions such as: who will be the first commentator to refer to the Crucible as "the white-hot cauldron"? Is Willie Thorne's head really getting bigger every year? And are Dennis Taylor's glasses getting smaller?

The principal attraction of the first round is seeing how many of the old shootists can navigate their way past the young guns. First legend to fall was Steve Davis, dispatched to the Boot Hill of the commentary box by the Aussie Neil Robertson. Davis made his first appearance at the Crucible 29 years ago, three years before Robertson was born, but he never looked likely to add to his six titles, subsiding 10-2. He even came second in the hairdo contest, his former glowing ginger locks reduced to a greying crop, while Robertson sported a Bondi-blond bed-head look.

At 40, Stephen Hendry is 11 years younger than The Nugget, but has one more world title, seven against six. He saw off another former winner, Mark Williams, in the first round, then opened proceedings in the second by easing past the 22-year-old Chinese hotshot Ding Junhui. Cue a Stat Attack from the commentary team, who went into rhapsodies as Hendry completed his 1,000th frame at the Crucible; add phrases such as "rolling back the years" and "a record unlikely ever to be beaten" to taste.

The biggest age disparity by far, though, came on Thursday in a sideshow tournament called Super 6s, snooker's answer to Twenty20 cricket: a sudden-death, one-frame affair with only six reds. In the final, the former world No 2 Tony "Bad Boy" Knowles, now 53, beat the 13-year-old Junior Pot Black champion, Ross Muir. Call that fair, Knowles? Pick on someone your own size, and age. You could have scarred the lad for life.



* Flicking through the channels on Friday night while waiting for the snooker highlights unearthed one called Discovery Shed, which wins a small prize in a crowded field for most obscure and randomly punctuated title. But their series The Compleat Angler is a little gem. In each half-hour episode the actor Geoffrey Palmer is instructed how to fish for a different species, following the precepts laid down by Izaak Walton in his eponymous book.

The boyish delight the 81-year-old Palmer showed when landing a sizeable carp was infectious. However good Stephen Hendry is, I doubt we'll be seeing him still active on our screens in his eighties.

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When I was supporting Ray La Montagne I was six months pregnant. He had been touring for a year and he was exhausted and full of the cold. I was feeling motherly, so I would leave presents for him and his band: Tunnock's Tea Cakes, cold remedies and proper tea. Ray seemed painfully shy. He hardly spoke, hardly looked at you in the face. I felt like a dick speaking to him, but said "hi" every day. </p>
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He was being courted by the same record company who had signed me and subsequently let me go, and I wanted him to know that there were people around who didn't want anything from him. At the Shepherds Bush Empire in London, on the last night of the tour, Ray stopped in his set to thank me for doing the support. He said I was a really good songwriter and people should buy my stuff. I was taken aback and felt emotionally overwhelmed. Later that year, just before I had my boy Louis, I was l asleep in bed with Radio 4 on when Louis moved around in my belly and woke me up. Ray was doing a session on the World Service. </p>
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