Peter West

Versatile BBC sports commentator
Click to follow
The Independent Online

Peter West, sports commentator and television presenter: born Addiscombe, Surrey 12 August 1920; married 1946 Pauline Pike (two sons, one daughter); died Bath 2 September 2003.

Peter West will be remembered for his bluff, straightforward commentaries on rugby union and cricket, principally on television, but also on radio. For nearly 20 years he was BBC Television's "front man" for their coverage of Test cricket. He was also a long-standing presenter of Come Dancing.

Having, by his own admission, devoted most of his time at Cranbrook School to sport, at which he excelled, he was invalided out of the Army in the latter stages of the Second World War with back trouble. In 1945 he embarked on a journalistic career working as a sports reporter for the Exchange Telegraph news agency.

He made his broadcasting début in 1947, commentating for radio on the South African cricketers playing Warwickshire at Edgbaston, following a recommendation to the BBC from no less a figure than C.B. Fry.

Despite his being born in Surrey, on the southern outskirts of London, and raised and educated in Kent, it was in the West Country that he cut his broadcasting teeth, coming through the excellent school of the regional half-hours of county cricket radio commentary. Working for BBC West Region it was inevitable that he would also start commentating on rugby, his other great sporting love, quickly moving in to television.

His 18 years, from 1949, as a television rugby commentator contrasted - sometimes uncomfortably - with his compering of Come Dancing; taunts from rugby fans on that score were among the few things that really irritated him. In the early 1970s he was taken back by radio where, with Chris Rea and Ian Robertson, he completed an authoritative and eloquent commentary team, not bettered since.

From 1971 to 1982 he was rugby correspondent for The Times, which put him in an ideal position to report on England rugby tours abroad for radio as well as for his newspaper. However, a lack of commitment by the paper to his covering a British Lions' tour of New Zealand led to his resignation with some bad feeling.

West was a television commentator and often interviewer at Wimbledon for 27 years, the role only ending because of a clash of commitment with the 1983 Cricket World Cup in England.

His versatility made him an obvious choice for BBC television teams covering Olympic and Commonwealth Games, when commentators have to hastily mug up on Greco-Roman wrestling, badminton, fencing, volleyball or judo. A puff of the ever-present pipe over the relevant research notes would quickly bring West up to speed. He covered the 1948 Olympics in London and all the Games from 1960 to 1976.

Peter West had a clean-cut image, which led to presenting roles on many non-sporting TV programmes, including the 1950s favourites What's My Line, Guess My Story and Good Companions and even Miss World from 1961 to 1966. But he is probably best remembered for his immaculately groomed, dinner-jacketed appearance on Come Dancing, which he compered from 1957 to 1972.

West always worked as a freelance broadcaster with the BBC, despite one suggestion that he apply for the post of one of the regional Outside Broadcast producer/broadcasters. However, in the late Sixties he thought it prudent to look for the comparative security of a partnership in an agency dealing with sports sponsorship. With Patrick Nally, he founded West Nally, which in cricket guided the hugely successful involvement of Cornhill and of Benson & Hedges, as well as setting up significant sponsorships in rugby, football and tennis. On his retirement he helped a fellow director, Karen Earl, set up her own agency, which blossomed in a way that brought him huge satisfaction and delight.

The most enduring of Peter West's broadcasting commitments was that with televised cricket. From his earliest commentary in 1949 to his departure as anchorman in 1986, he relished his involvement with the game and those who played it. A consummate professional in all he took on, he nevertheless remained unashamedly keen to see Kent prosper.

Close of play would see him discussing the day for the BBC cameras with E.W. Swanton, or later Jim Laker, Richie Benaud or Ray Illingworth. Then came the interviews with victorious players, including some that shook him. In 1981 he was set to interview the winning England team at Headingley; the players felt the media had hounded Ian Botham out of the captaincy and a surprised West found himself first in the firing line on the dressing-room balcony.

It was a regret to West that he went a long time before covering an England cricket tour. The call finally came in 1986, a few years after he had left The Times, when The Daily Telegraph had a hiatus in the post of cricket correspondent and a tour of Australia was looming. Subsequently he had to temper an unhappy clash of wills and style with his sports editor to remember that this was an ambition fulfilled - with a great story to report, as Mike Gatting's side unexpectedly swept all before them in defending the Ashes and taking two one-day series, too.

His retirement in Gloucestershire with his beloved wife, Pauline, whom he married in 1946, was welcomed by his roses, which received minute attention and flourished.

Peter West would have deplored the concept of "image"; but he was absolutely the right "image" for the sports he was covering on television in the time that he was covering them. He was utterly professional and polished and adept at the great art of concealing the art.

Peter Baxter