Harry Carpenter, the voice of boxing, dies at 84

Stars mourn 'legendary' commentator who covered sport's greatest moments

His distinctive tones provided the backdrop to some of the most famous boxing fights in history, from Muhammad Ali and George Foreman's "Rumble in the Jungle" to Frank Bruno's ill-fated title bout against Mike Tyson. Champions might come and go, but the undisputed voice of boxing was Harry Carpenter, who died at the weekend aged 84.

The former BBC commentator and sports presenter, whose career spanned almost half a century, passed away in his sleep at King's College Hospital, London, on Saturday. His lawyer, David Wills, said he had been unwell since last summer when he had a minor heart attack. He added that a family funeral would be organised followed by a memorial service in London.

As well as his commentary, Carpenter is most likely to be remembered for his unlikely friendship with Frank Bruno, whose use of the catchphrase "Know what I mean, 'arry?" became legendary during their numerous post-fight interviews.

The pair's close relationship was never more apparent than during Bruno's failed world title fight against Mike Tyson in Las Vegas in 1989, when Carpenter appeared to momentarily lose his neutral stance, murmuring: "Go on... get in there, Frank."

Yesterday, a spokesman for Bruno said the former heavyweight champion said was "very upset" by the news. He said: "Frank has many acquaintances but not many real friends. Harry Carpenter was a friend."

Carpenter, who leaves behind a widow and one son, began his career as a sports journalist on national newspapers before joining the BBC in 1949, where he covered Wimbledon and the university boat race before carving out a niche as a boxing commentator.

In 1974, he commentated on the "Rumble in the Jungle" fight between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman. When Ali spectacularly won by knockout in the eighth round, he famously cried: "My God, he's got the title back at 32!"

Writing about the moment later, he said: "It was totally spontaneous because I didn't expect Ali to win and when he did, in such a sensational way, it just came out. I suppose it was the most extraordinary few seconds that I have ever seen in a boxing ring."

Yesterday, the boxing promoter Frank Maloney described Carpenter as "probably one of the greatest commentators of all time". He said: "His voice was so distinctive and I remember all those Ali fights and Bruno fights he commentated on. It's like a piece of boxing history has been taken away."

His talents were also recognised by other countries, and in December 1989 he was named International Sportscaster of the Year by the American Sportscasters Association. In an interview in the same year, he said money had ruined sport and that sportsmanship was not what it used to be, describing the behaviour of some tennis players as "totally distasteful".

Carpenter also presented Sportsnight, Grandstand and Sports Personality of the Year before retiring in 1994. He returned in 1999 to present Ali with the BBC's Sports Personality of the Century award, which he described later as "a wonderfully poignant moment".

Terry Edwards, Great Britain's former Olympic boxing coach, said "a true legend" had been lost. "He was Mr Boxing as far as commentary goes. When you think of boxing sometimes, their commentary was so great, detailed and passionate that you remember their voices as much as you remember the bout," he said. "If you were to ask me now who would take Carpenter's place there is nobody who could truly take his place – not with the same passion and professionalism. He was loved by everybody within boxing... He was one of those guys who never had any enemies."

Mr Carpenter once speculated that his epitaph might read: "They stopped him talking at last."

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