Dear old Harry Carpenter. When yesterday I heard of his demise, I immediately thought that he’d died years ago, but that doesn’t mean I wasn’t sad to hear the news. Another part of my childhood snuffs it. Carpenter’s voice was ever-present in our house, commentating as he did on Ali fights (later becoming Frank Bruno‘s straight man), presenting the BBC’s coverage of golf, the tennis (it was only Wimbledon in those days) and the Boat Race. He had one of those friendly, comforting faces who instantly made you feel all warm inside. A bit like Frank Bough without the bondage and coke. Harry also had one on those faces which, like that of Michael Fish and James Burke, never looked how you expected it to look.
So, as I like to honour my boyhood heroes on these pages, I went off to find something suitable to pay tribute to Harry. Where better to start than the bored office-worker’s favourite site, Youtube?
Perhaps someone would have compiled a few minutes of classic Harry quotes? “Oh my god he’s won back the title at the age of 32” stands out in the memory (Ali beats Foreman). “Get in their, Frank!” (Bruno hurts Tyson before being demolished) is another. Indeed those and more were there to watch and enjoy, but I stumbled across this:
Come on, admit it, that felt good, didn’t it? Yes I know it didn’t include much of Harry, but sod that. When was the last time you heard the Sportsnight music? When I played that this afternoon I felt a warm glow all over me. Memories came flooding back: Harry Carpenter, David Coleman, staying up late on a school night, the BBC actually having some sport to show. This was when Sue Barker was half decent at what she was paid to do, Nick Faldo was still on his first wife, most of us in the UK still had black and white televisions and there were just 3 channels on TV. THREE CHANNELS (we pause here for my American friends to stop giggling). Sport on tv in the 70’s and 80’s was something to be treasured cos there wasn’t much of it, and what there was had to share what little bit of airtime there was on offer with other sports, all vying to be seen.
Sportsnight lasted about an hour on a Wednesday night, it’s sister show Grandstand had a 5 hour slot on Saturday afternoons. Fabulous if you loved sport, less so if you didn’t. What we now call narrow band-width meant there was no space for continuous broadcasts. The cricket would share air-time with horse racing and snooker. How did we put up with it? Every half hour we’d have to leave the test match at Lord’s to endure the 3.20 from Haydock, or the final frames of Doug Mountjoy vrs Kirk Stevens. Still at least on the BBC didn’t have adverts, unlike it’s rival over on ITV.
And it had Des Lynham.
ITV’s answer to Grandstand was World of Sport presented by the amiable and skunk-haired Dickie Davies. As I was on my nostalgia quest, I went to look for the theme tune.
I don’t know anyone who admitted to watching it, or at least not regularly, but now wish I had. Just look at this!:
Wow!! All-in wrestling, dog frisbee and log-walking. AND Eric Morecabe !! What a show. What a way to spend your Saturday afternoons. All that plus that haunting middle-eight bars of whistling in the opening music. Maybe I’d misjudged the commercial channel. Had I been too harsh on them ? As the Soviets did to Trotsky, I’d erased all traces of ITV from my childhood memories. So I delved deeper. On to the football highlights.
Everybody quotes tales of trying to watch Match of the Day while your they were supposed to be paying fond attention to the girlfriend, but no-one ever talks about fumblings on the sofa on a Sunday afternoon being interrupted when this came on:
Brian Moore’s The Big Match: ITV’s Sunday highlights show. Nobby Stiles, Ossie Ardiles and Butch Wilkins with hair!! IT WAS THAT LONG AGO !!. And those shorts must have chafed a bit.
I was hooked. GOD, I love Youtube. Where to next?
Now hang on a minute: Get a grip, man, it’s just nostalgia. Worse! It’s nostalgia for ITV shows. Pull yourself together.
Now where were we? Ah yes, football. Now this takes me back, the Beeb’s finest hour. Everybody remembers Italia 90, when we all got behind the English Team’s ultimately futile campaign (apart from the Jocks who got behind the West Germans. They deserve each other). Of all the superb concerts Pavarotti gave, in all the great Opera houses and concert halls of the world, this is what made him a star to millions in the UK.
I’m sorry, Auntie, I’ll never doubt you again. This was the last era when the BBC and especially the Sports Dept reigned supreme. A golden age. A time when their sports presenters and commentators were household names: Harry, Coleman, Lynham, Eddie Wareing, Richie Benaud, Peter O’Sullivan, Barry Davies (“and where were the Germans? and quite frankly, who cares?”), Ted Lowe, David Vine, Raymond Brooks-Ward (“come on David“) Bill McLaren and Dan Maskell. These are the voices, the sources of all knowledge of my youth, (even Tony Gubba who never actually went to a match but commentated on the highlights from a studio hours later).
Will the bloggers of the future be waxing lyrical over the opening titles to Sky’s Soccer AM or Ford Football Special ? Will they be posting clips from Superleague XIII ? I doubt it. They’ll be seeking out tapes of Booker T and the MGs playing Soul Limbo to herald BBC Cricket, or the theme to Pot Black or Formula 1 motor racing (knowing my luck they’re still be showing it).
So sorry, not much about Mr Carpenter in this one. I just got carried away with the music and the memories. Know what I mean, Harry?