OBITUARY: Len Martin

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The Independent Online
Grandstand, the unsinkable flagship of BBC sport, depends as much on its studio team as on the input of its performers outside, and with the death after a short illness of Len Martin, the programme has lost not only one of its pioneers but one of the most distinctive voices in broadcasting.

Every Saturday at around a quarter to five the audience needle shot up by more than a million as "Len the Lip" was cued to deliver the classified football results. The style was unique, as rises and falls in tone informed viewers, with heads down over their pools coupons, which team had won even before the visitors' score was given. A different inflection prepared them for matches that were drawn.

For 37 years, from the day Grandstand was launched on 11 October 1958, Martin's voice covered the programme's entire span. The list of presenters who linked to him is a Debrett of sports broadcasters, among them Peter Dimmock, David Coleman, Harry Carpenter, David Vine, Frank Bough, and Desmond Lynam. Like Martin Hopkins, the programme's long-time producer, they recognised Len Martin as the supreme professional. He was unflappability personified.

Martin was born in Rockhampton, Queensland, served pre-war in the Australian merchant navy, and then changed course into radio journalism, working in turn as racing commentator, scriptwriter, station manager and chief announcer.

When he sailed to England in spring 1953, Martin had no thoughts of a new career. It was simply a holiday cruise with his wife to see the Coronation. As part of his sightseeing, Martin dropped into BBC Television at Alexandra Palace, "just for a look round". He mentioned that he worked in radio in Australia, and was asked by a BBC producer to leave his hotel number in case they were "stuck for a voice" while he was in London.

The day before Martin and his wife were due to sail from Southampton, the call came. He never did use that return ticket home, and only once went back to Australia, on holiday. He preferred what he called the "adventure" of freelancing to the BBC staff contract he was offered. Paul Fox gave him his first job in BBC sport, as film commentator when Sportsview began in 1954, and for years Martin voiced the cinema's Movietone News.

His was the voice that, down the years, told thousands of Grandstand viewers that they had won the pools, or lost their shirt on a horse. One Saturday after reading the "classifieds", Martin checked his own coupon and found he had won top prize on the Treble Chance. When the cheque arrived a few days later, it was for pounds 504. In the same post, he received an income tax demand for pounds 500.

Len was no mean artist, as the pencilled drawings on his pad showed every Saturday in Studio 5 at Television Centre. At home, he had built a large collection of photographs of ships and, in music, he enjoyed the popular classics. Illness some years ago obliged him to give up golf. His enthusiasm for football, the results sequence apart, seldom exceeded an inquiry as to how Watford, the club nearest his home, were doing.

Tim Gudgin, who had sat mike to mike with him in the studio since the mid-Sixties, has taken over as television's "voice of football results". The show goes on, but somehow it can never be quite the same again.

Albert Sewell

Leonard Martin, broadcaster: born Rockhampton, North Queensland 17 April 1919; married (one daughter); died Northwood, Middlesex 21 August 1995.