It’s possibly just as well that the BBC has lost the rights to televise The Open, because I wouldn’t like to suffer the same on-air fate as one of my esteemed colleagues. Back in 1999, Matthew Norman (yes, the very same) wrote a piece in the London Evening Standard about the BBC’s golf commentator Peter Alliss, in which he referred to Mr Alliss in less than complimentary terms.
In particular, he said that Alliss, who studiedly cultivates the persona of an old buffer, was like “a bouncer stationed at the door of golf to keep anyone under the age of 50 out of the club”.
Alliss responded in the way a nightclub comedian does when he’s heckled from the audience. He remembered that’s he’s the one with the microphone, and this gives him something of an advantage. I once saw a comedian who, instead of replying to a heckle with a cleverly crafted put-down, singled out the member of the audience and addressed him personally. “F**k off”, he said. Alliss employed a very similar tactic in the case of Norman.
During his commentary on the 1999 Open, Alliss paused from his musings about the inadequacies of the modern world, and from congratulating the captain of Worplesdon Golf Club on his MBE, to address his bemused audience. “I’d like to say hello to an old friend, Matthew Norman. Saucy young fella. Spicy writer, spicy writer...” You could almost hear Alliss snapping his braces while admonishing the impertinent “young fella”.
Alliss, who prefigured Nigel Farage in his attacks on all things PC, has been at it again, telling Radio Times that golf’s late conversion to gender equality – only recently did the Royal and Ancient, the sport’s most venerable club, admit women members – has had a detrimental effect. He restricts his comments to the narrow question of women in golf, saying that most of the “lady members” he’s talked to preferred things as they were, but you just know that he’s talking about the wider world. Life was a lot simpler and more harmonious before women got all uppity, you can hear him say, probably to a retired colonel over gin and tonics at the bar of a Home Counties golf club.
“Equality for women,” said Alliss in his Radio Times interview, “a few people battled away to get it, they got it, and they have buggered up the game for a lot of people.”
Replace the words “the game” with “the world” and I think we can see what Alliss, a man who once referred on air to his wife as “a Rottweiler with lip gloss”, was really getting at.
While this view might play well with the wilder extremities of the Ukip vote, it doesn’t necessarily sit easily with half the nation’s population, some of whom might actually like to play golf, and feel welcomed to do so.
Alliss has struggled for some time with the question of gender politics, and seems still be to fighting the battles of the past. In an extraordinarily wide-ranging interview he gave to a golf magazine last year, he talked, with reference to the indiscretions of Tiger Woods, about the pressures modern players feel with an all-seeing media. “I think it was easier 30 years ago, before mobile phones and things like that,” he said. A classic bit of Alliss nostalgia.
But then he strayed into rather dangerous territory for a golf interview. “In our day, you couldn’t book into a hotel with someone who wasn’t your wife. You felt embarrassed. Before the pill you were frightened of putting a girl in the family way or getting a dreaded antisocial disease. There wasn’t much penetration went on. Then the pill came along and the whole world changed.”
The world did change, Peter, but some of us think for the better.Reuse content