Reg Gutteridge: Commentator known as ITV's 'Voice of Boxing'
Tuesday 27 January 2009
For four decades, Reg Gutteridge was commercial television's Voice of Boxing, sitting at the ringside with the microphone held to his mouth to commentate on the big fights during an era that featured stars such as Muhammad Ali, Joe Frazier, George Foreman, Henry Cooper, Joe Bugner, John Conteh, Sugar Ray Leonard, Nigel Benn, Chris Eubank, Lennox Lewis and Frank Bruno.
Such was the commentator's stature that he became close to many of those boxers, especially the biggest name of all, Ali, three times the world heavyweight champion known for his self-described "float like a butterfly, sting like a bee" fighting style. When Ali faced a low-key bout against the Dutch boxer Rudi Lubbers in Indonesia in 1973, while negotiations were underway for him to fight Frazier or Foreman, he took the then unprecedented step of offering Gutteridge an interview between rounds.
"It was his idea and not mine, because I wouldn't have had the cheek to do that," Gutteridge recalled. "He suddenly looked down at me in the middle of the commentary. I looked up and he says, 'Get up here.' I'm saying, 'I can't.' I'm saying to London then, the studio, 'Ali sounds as though he wants to talk to me.' The director in London said, 'Well, he can't at the moment. We're on a betting show at Catterick races.' So I look up and say, 'The next round, the next round.' He goes, 'OK.' He's carrying this guy for another round 'cause he wants to talk. And I just poked my nose up and he did the whole thing." Sixteen years later, it was Ali's face that greeted the commentator when he woke up after being rushed to a London hospital with blood-poisoning.
The word "legend" is frequently over-used, especially in the worlds of sport and showbusiness. Ali was certainly one, but many also regarded Gutteridge as just that. Although the BBC was generally perceived as pre-eminent in television sports coverage, Gutteridge more than gave it a run for its money with boxing. That sport provided a two-horse race between the two rivals, with Gutteridge taking on the BBC's Carpenter in the commentary stakes. In 1974, several hours before Carpenter was able to tell television viewers that Ali had beaten the world heavyweight champion Foreman, many others saw the "Rumble in the Jungle" beamed live to cinemas, complete with Gutteridge's ringside commentary.
Born in Islington, North London, in 1924, Reg Gutteridge was the son of Dick Gutteridge, whose father, Arthur, was a professional boxer. Dick andhis identical twin, Jack (father of the future wrestler Jackie Pallo), were renowned boxing trainers, handling fighters such as George Dixon and Jim Driscoll. The young Gutteridge boxed as an amateur flyweight and wonseveral titles but, not believing he would be good enough to make a career out of it, he turned to journalism. He joined the London Evening News in 1938 as a junior, then became a copy boy, before wartime service in the Royal Artillery (1942-44).
While taking part in the D-Day Normandy landings with the King's Royal Rifle Corps, he had his right leg blown off by a mine. Not one to dwell on such misfortune, many years later Gutteridge unstrapped his replacement limb shortly before covering a boxing match in the South of France, hobbled to the water's edge on the Riviera, removed his dressing gown and screamed: "Sharks!" The resulting pandemonium among mostly well-coiffeured American women was a memory he treasured.
On returning to London after his ordeal, Gutteridge rejoined the Evening News as a reporter and subsequently became its boxing correspondent, remaining with the paper until its closure in 1980. Shortly after ITV launched World of Sport as a Saturday-afternoon show combining live and recorded action in 1965, Gutteridge was hired as the commercial channel's boxing commentator, and also covered greyhound racing and tug of war.
Budgets were tight, as ITV tried to compete with the BBC's Grandstand. Once, a boxing match from Puerto Rico that had taken place the previous week was screened on World of Sport as if live, but the videotape contained no sound. So Gutteridge, in theLondon studio, provided the commentary, while the crowd noise was dubbed from a previous bout at Shoreditch Town Hall and the floor manager rang a bell. When he accidentally sounded it before the end of a round, Gutteridge improvised: "They haven't heard the bell!"
For more than 30 years he wasat the ringside for some of the biggest fights in boxing history and covered six Olympic Games. In the 1980s,the former lightweight championJim Watt joined him and the pair became a commentary team wholater switched between ITV andSky when the newly launched satellite broadcaster began to secure exclusive coverage of fights.
Although Gutteridge continued commentating for both organisations until 1999, his biggest fight of thatera was the first encounter between Mike Tyson and the apparently washed-up Evander Holyfield, in Las Vegas in 1996. When Holyfield won with a knock-out, Gutteridge exclaimed: "That's the biggest upset in the history of the fight game bar none!" It might not have been entirely true, but it caught the atmosphere of the occasion.
With Joan Shenton, Gutteridge also presented 10 Million (1986), a Channel 4 consumer series for the over-sixties. He also wrote several books. Reg Gutteridge: Uppercuts and Dazes – My Autobiography (written with Peter Batt) was published in 1998 and reissued in paperback the same year as Reg Gutteridge: King of Commentary – My Autobiography. Other books included Boxing: The Great Ones (1975), The Big Punchers (1983) and the biographies Let's Be Honest (with Jimmy Greaves, 1973) and Mike Tyson: For Whom the Bell Tolls (with Norman Giller, 1987), updated as Mike Tyson: The Release of Power (1995).
Gutteridge won the Television and Radio Industries Club's Sports Presenter of the Year Award in 1991, was made an OBE in the 1995 New Year's Honours list and inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame seven years later. In 2000, he underwent a triple heart bypass operation.
Reginald George Gutteridge, boxingcorrespondent and commentator: born London 29 March 1924; OBE 1995;married 1953 Constance Chamberlain (one daughter, and one daughter deceased); died Barnet, Hertfordshire 25 January 2009.
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