As it’s 40 years since man first walked on the moon, so it must be 40 years since the launch of the programme that led to snooker becoming a television success.
Unlike the Apollo 11 mission, Pot Black really was staged in a TV studio, at Pebble Mill in Birmingham.
It came about because the then BBC2 controller, David Attenborough, wanted colour programmes for the new channel.
Snooker was an obvious choice with its different colours and it was also held indoors and involved a small playing area and so was cheap to produce.
All this was music to the ears of Ted Lowe, who had tried for years to interest the BBC in a snooker series.
With the BBC producer Philip Lewis, Lowe cobbled together eight players and a simple format: each match would be played over a single frame.
It was introduced with ‘Black and White Rag’, played by Winifred Attwell, and first aired on July 23, 1969. Lowe commentated, Alan Weekes presented and the referee was Sydney Lee.
All that was expected of the players is that they would ensure the frames lasted half an hour to fit the slot.
Ray Reardon beat John Spencer in the first final. Spencer and Eddie Charlton would each win it three times.
It gave the players of the day invaluable exposure as they made most of their money from exhibitions. An appearance on Pot Black would lead to bookings and a degree of fame unthinkable just a few years earlier.
These were simpler times before internet betting, indeed before the internet. I know more than one person who fleeced the bookies by betting on an event that had already been played.
In time, Junior Pot Black was launched, won twice by John Parrott and once by Dean Reynolds.
It all seems incredibly prosaic now but Pot Black’s significance cannot be underplayed.
The success of the programme led to the BBC covering the World Championship, in bits and pieces at first and then from first ball to last from 1978 onwards.
The huge audiences it attracted meant they were soon covering other tournaments and ITV piled in as well as the airwaves became saturated with snooker during the 1980s.
Viewers were captivated by proper tournament play and Pot Black came to be seen as a relic of the past. In 1986, it was discontinued.
However, in 1991 it was revived and shown on BBC1 in the afternoons.
And then in 1992 some bright spark – last seen wandering the streets wrapped in bacon rind pretending to be Florence Nightingale – introduced a calamitous new format.
‘Timeframe’ was designed to guarantee half an hour’s snooker, with each player having the same amount of time. So after a shot the player would have to stop their own clock, which would automatically start their opponent’s.
Farce doesn’t even cover it. Some players forgot completely, others were seen sprinting, Linford Christie like, to save a couple of seconds.
For those of you who think the shot clock or six reds is a nonsense, this had to be seen to be believed.
It was never used again but, after the 1993 staging, the programme was scrapped.
But in TV land, nothing is dead forever (ask Bobby Ewing) and Pot Black was once again revived in 1997 as a seniors event. It gave the old boys who had played in some of the original programmes the chance to do battle again.
And then in 2005 Pot Black returned with the top professionals as Saturday afternoon entertainment.
It was played in the plush surroundings of the snooker room at the RAC Club in London and allowed players the chance to relax and show a different side to the game.
It was all very convivial but, two years later and acting on the time honoured snooker principle of ‘if it ain’t broke, break it’ the event was moved to Sheffield City Hall, a venue with all the atmosphere of an abandoned mausoleum.
Worse still, it was scheduled opposite one of England’s matches in the rugby union World Cup. The audience was dire and Pot Black bit the dust once again.
But don’t bet against it returning at some point in the future. Maybe it could be a showcase for six reds, maybe it could be for veterans or juniors or international talent.
Pot Black was the programme that got generations of players interested in snooker.
It will forever be remembered as a giant leap for the sport.