DAN MASKELL will always be remembered as the 'Voice of Wimbledon'. His gentle, unhurried, non-panicky commentaries on tennis made him one of the BBC's most respected commentators on any sport, writes Bill Edwards.
Maskell served lawn tennis for 70 years, starting as a ball boy at Queen's Club, London, in 1923, enjoying a career as world professional champion, coach to our last Davis Cup winning team and eventually retiring as the BBC commentator early this year.
He was born in 1908 in Fulham, not far from Queen's, the seventh of eight children of a working-class family. Always possessed of a competitive spirit, he became his school's football captain, but tennis was his main love. As a young boy, barely into his teens, Dan used to peer with envy through the gates of Queen's, or over the old graveyard wall, at the sight of players, hoping one day he would be able to emulate them. His chance came after some part- time ball boy activities in 1923 when, through the influence of someone his father knew, he was appointed a ball boy at 10 shillings per week. He seized the opportunity to learn all he could about the game and about other racket sports played there.
The young Dan soaked up the atmosphere and eventually joined the ranks of teaching professionals. Professionals at the club were not dedicated to one racket game and he also taught rackets and real tennis there. He stayed at Queen's until 1929, then moved to the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club at Wimbledon as their first professional coach, a position he held until 1955, with a break for the war, in which he served as a rehabilitation officer in the RAF.
He was the LTA training manager for 26 years; and coach to the Davis Cup team in the great years of Fred Perry and Bunny Austin when they monopolised the trophy, from 1934 to 1937.
A radio broadcaster in 1949, Maskell turned to television in 1952. It was as a television man that he became a household name. A stickler for facts, he was able to talk his way through the excitement and the crises, never panicking, but always fluent with a fund of knowledge and stories of the game.
As a player Maskell was world professional champion in 1927 and won the British professional championship 16 times. He played with all the great players and rated as his best Rod Laver among the men and Martina Navratilova among the women. He had a fund of great stories, which he recounted at tournaments until the early hours of the morning.
Dan Maskell was appointed OBE for his services as a squadron leader when as the rehabilitation officer, first at Torquay, then at Loughborough, he helped many an injured airman back into flying. In 1982 he was promoted CBE for his service to tennis. During his career he taught four members of the Royal Family the game of tennis: Princess Anne, who he considered could have been a great player had she had time to work at the game, Princess Alexandra, Prince Charles and Prince Andrew.
Next to tennis, Maskell's great love was golf. He at one time played down to eight and was a lifelong friend of Henry Cotton.
Two major tragedies, both centred on the West Indies, marred Dan Maskell's life. His son, Jay, was killed in an aircrash and his first wife, Con, was drowned while swimming. He is survived by his daughter, Robin, and his second wife, Kay.