Master of the mike’s very interesting story

From Andrew Baker, Daily Telegraph
Barry Davies is a self-effacing type. As a commentator, he is always keen to let the action speak for itself; as a man, he would rather praise the qualities of others than blow his own trumpet.

But take a look around his immaculate Berkshire home. Cuttings and scrapbooks attest to a long and industrious career behind the microphone, yet when the time came to write his autobiography, Davies had to be nudged and cajoled into the task by family and publisher alike.

“I wanted to call the book Frankly, Who Cares?,” Davies said, recalling a celebrated line from his commentary on Great Britain’s victory in the Olympic hockey final of 1988 (“Where were the Germans – but frankly, who cares?”). The line would have encapsulated the author’s reluctance, but would hardly have eased the publisher’s marketing task.

Davies has opted instead for Interesting, Very Interesting, another much-replayed tag-line of his (Francis Lee scores for Derby against his old club, Manchester City in December 1974), and one which does justice to the book’s contents. The 69-year-old author has an amazing wealth of anecdotes to draw upon, because he has been commentating on televised sport for more than 40 years.

He has broadcast from the finals of 10 World Cups (a record), 10 summer Olympics, seven Winter Olympics, 23 Wimbledons and umpteen Boat Races. He also enlivened opening and closing ceremonies and even the Lord Mayor’s Show.

There is an awful lot to reminisce about, and a vast cast of characters to remember. So it is hardly surprising that the first draft of his memoirs came out too long. “Just look at the index,” he marvelled, wistfully. “Look at all those people I’ve known. It’s sad that I had to take so many out, but I hope I’ve kept all the people that really had to be there.”

He found the process of authorship largely pleasant, sitting in a study hung with photographic mementoes and laminated press cuttings. Penny, fortunately for the publishers, is a dedicated squirrel as well as an accomplished typist, and one of the more remarkable illustrations in the book is a montage of accumulated accreditation badges, with the youthful and almost fully thatched figure of 1966 next to the bronzed dome of 2006.

No career so long can pass without some elements of conflict and discord, and you can’t read the book without detecting a sense of injustice at his treatment by the BBC. Any football fan of a certain vintage will recall the slightly silly game that the corporation played with the media every year before announcing, with seeming inevitability, that John Motson would commentate on the FA Cup final.

Motson, with his excitable manner and endless supply of statistics, almost always came out on top, and Davies is not only miffed but puzzled as to why. What really rankles, one suspects, is that the BBC bosses could never explain to him why Motson was preferred, when the overwhelming anecdotal evidence was that the public favoured Davies.

“I think the whole FA Cup thing got out of perspective,” he sighed. “It was like Peter Shilton and Ray Clemence for the England goalkeeper’s shirt, you can’t have both, you’ve got to have A or B. But by and large I didn’t go away and sulk.”

He was too busy. “Things came along in a funny way,” he recalled. Because his son Mark was cox to the Cambridge reserve crew, he became involved with the Boat Race. And because of daughter Giselle’s prowess, he came to gymnastics commentary. He concedes that he had no ambition to become an ice-dance expert, but Torvill and Dean’s Bolero routine provides magical memories.

No matter what the assignment, Davies believes that commentary should be minimal to be effective. A telling phrase will resonate with greater power if it is not buried beneath excess verbiage. “Richie Benaud has it right,” he said. “The danger with too many voices is that the commentators get between the public and the event, and it all becomes self-defeating.”

Every now and then, a fledgling producer would ask if Davies could build up the excitement of a slow live match. “If you start to build it up and build it up, you find when something exciting does happen that you have nowhere left to go,” he said. “Ninety minutes is a long time with a live microphone.” A number of current culprits spring to mind.

A danger of becoming a well-known football face is that you become public property. Time after time, Davies would be ambushed on the way into a match by fans demanding to know what he thought would happen. “I don’t know,” he would respond with friendly exasperation. “That’s why I’m going to watch.”

Interesting, Very Interesting by Barry Davies (Headline, £15.99)

To read the full article from the Telegraph, click here

Pictured: Barry Davies, a former Times sports desk sub-editor, after receiving his MBE in 2005, accompanied by his son, Mark, the managing director at Betfair, wife Penny, and daughter Giselle, the communications director at the IOC

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