Alliss and Lynam retain the magic of the ad lib

NORMAN GILLER travelled up to London this week to pay his final respects to Harry Carpenter, and reacquainted himself with two other masters of the mic, Peter Alliss and Des Lynam

The jury is still out on Adrian Chiles and his suitability for the job of ITV’s main football anchorman. Let’s face it, for all his broadcasting experience the amiable, “Chummy Brummie” is still at the Apprentice stage when it comes to presenting a live event as big and as compelling as the World Cup.

I could imagine Lord Sugar (late of Tottenham) saying to him after his debut on the England-Mexico match: “Do you really think you can sell the ITV product with your laid-back, take-it-or-leave-it approach …?” And then adding, pointedly: “Well I don’t think so. You’re fired …”

I was with the King of Laid Back Presenting this week, “Dishy Des” Lynam. Adrian, I am sure, will agree that he has got a long way to go before he can match the Master’s cool delivery, coming from our screens with effortless grace and yet carrying authority and that commodity so rare on television, charm.

Des had/has the gift of reading the autocue as if he’s talking to an old friend with thoughts that have come straight from his head, while the moment Adrian drops out of his ad-libbed chat to address the autocue, he suddenly becomes like a rabbit in the headlights. We never knew when Des was reading. With Adrian, it’s like book at bedtime.

Whenever I am in Lynam’s company he is always kind enough to tell anybody in listening distance that I was the first journalist to spot his screen potential. Even in his autobiography he points out that I wrote in my London Evening News television column of 1979: “Watch out for BBC radio sports presenter Desmond Lynam to become the Face of the Eighties on our screens. He has in-depth knowledge to go with buckets of charm, and the sort of matinee idol looks that will please the ladies.” Sometimes, just sometimes, I have managed to call it right.

Des (somewhat older than when he started out presenting Sunday Grandstand, above, but just as beguiling) and I joined broadcasters, golfers, tennis stars, great old boxers and gnarled old print journalists at St Bride’s Church in Fleet Street on Tuesday for the Thanksgiving service for the life of our dear old chum, Harry Carpenter.

One of the main speakers, Peter Alliss, had to send apologies to the Queen that our gathering caused so many traffic jams on the day of the State Opening of Parliament that we kicked off 20 minutes late, with many still stranded in the chaos of London.

That would have appealed to Harry Carpenter’s wicked sense of humour. He was Mr Punctuality.

Barry McGuigan gave a from-the-heart eulogy on behalf of the boxing fraternity, there were moving readings from Virginia Wade (Kipling’s If), former BBC powerhouse Sir Paul Fox (an excerpt from Harry’s autobiography Where’s Harry?) and carbon copy son, Clive Carpenter, visiting Ecclesiastes (“For everything, there is a season …”).

Des read out a tribute from Frank Bruno, the taller half of the Carpenter/Bruno double act. Frank was on an overseas assignment. Don’t know who ghosted the words, but even Des looked less than laid back when he read the sentence: “I first met Harry in an after-fight interview at the Royal Albert Hall … and from then on banter ensued.”

I was Frank’s media manipulator through most of his career and wrote three books with him. I can’t quite recall him ever putting his tongue to, “and from then on banter ensued …”

The second address was from Peter Alliss, and for 10 minutes we were privileged to be taken into the private world of his long-running friendship with Harry. There were anecdotes about Harry’s liking for a glass of champagne on golf day mornings (“It lubricates the throat”), his joy at being accepted as a member of the snooty St George’s Golf Club at Sandwich (“Harry was a humble man and this was a huge thing for him”), and stories about his mixing with some of the greatest golfers ever to swing a club with none of their gifts ever rubbing off on Harry (“a never-better-than16 handicapper who often took the scenic route to the hole”).

Peter leant on the lectern as if it was the bar at the 19th hole and, without a single note, talked with the timing and precision of a Wessex poet, making us laugh and come close to tears, holding us in the palm of his hand with the professionalism of a Harry Carpenter boxing commentary.

I say Wessex poet because, as I type, I have beckoning to me 20 yards away the Ferndown golf course on which Peter learnt his trade when his Dad, Percy, was the club professional.

He did his old mate Harry proud.

Des and I exchanged glances as Peter purred away.

This was oratory and delivery of the highest quality. I wonder if Adrian Chiles will ever get into this class after he has served his Apprenticeship?

Musical note: I have (sadly, I suppose) attended many memorial services at St Bride’s. We tend to take the choir for granted. How lucky we are to have them serenading our departed heroes with perfect harmonies, towering tenors balanced beautifully with booming basses, and sopranos soaring off into the Fleet Street sky.

If anybody is in touch with Director of Music Robert Jones, please tell him his choir is greatly appreciated.

□ Order The Golden Double, introduced and autographed by Tottenham legend Dave Mackay. Also Jimmy Greaves At Seventy introduced and signed by Greavsie, and The Lane of Dreams autographed and introduced by Steve Perryman and Jimmy Greaves.

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