16.7.09

ONE SMALL STEP...

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.

15 comments:

Anonymous said...

I put some of the Seniors Pot Black on YouTube a couple of years ago, still on there, but I lost the 2nd disk so could never finish it

ryan said...

Great post, shame im not old enough to remember the proper pot black

/ryan ( http://ryan147.com/ )

Anonymous said...

Hi Dave,

It would be lovely to see it brought back, but it has to be in a package - maybe 6 reds or seniors tour? - and maybe over 2 days rather than in one.

I suggest this, only because I can't see Pot Black being sold on its own. When it was relaunched it was within the Grandstand programme which sadly departed.

Maybe, drop it in the schedules when the Darts world championship is on in January?

Thanks, Joe

Anonymous said...

it was a combanation of pot black as the vehicle and Alex Higgins as the enjine that got genarations interested in snooker.

Anonymous said...

My hope is that some time in the next 40 years, a thread will appear on this blog without mentioning six reds.

But it's probably more likely I'll get to walk on the moon myself.

Anonymous said...

It would be great if the BBC ran repeats of the original Pot Black. It was fantastic.

Maybe a new series of Junior Pot Black could work, especially if countries throughout Europe participated, too.

The BBC could run it along similar lines to "International It's a Knockout".

That was another great show.

Snooker needs the foreigners to participate, especially from poor countries.

Janie Watkins said...

Oh dear! I am feeling really old now. First today I celebrate seeing Tom Watson at the top of the Open leader board...

then I move on to more nostalgia with the launching of Appollo 11

Now it's Pot Black

yes it was great, it was teh catalyst that launched the game to mass viewer popularity.

And I'd love to see it continued in some form. And not mangled and messed about with by WSA.

Let's have someone independent who knows what they're doing, market and promote Pot Black, and why not all the formulas.... the old boys, the young boys, 6 reds, shot clocks... there's plenty of scope...

one tiny thing I'd take issue with Dave is that while Pot black was staged in the extremely salubrious surroundings of the RAC Club. It wasn't actually in their snooker room, which is a 5 table room downstairs. It was set up in what used to be called the smoking room and I'm not sure what they call it since the ban!

Anonymous said...

I dont seem to recall the time related Pot Black you mentioned and I can find no record of this in the Gazeteers of Chris Downer.
Did you imagine it?

Dave H said...

No

SupremeSnooker.com said...

I think I'm right in saying that Pot Black was usually recorded at Pebble Mill in the week between Christmas and New Year.
After Alan Weekes left, I think it was presented by David Icke, and when it returned as an afternoon show in the early 90s, David Vine was at the helm.
As for the seniors event, Ted Lowe had retired from commentary on tournament snooker by then, but did return to the box for this event.
I, personally, think it was a product of its time. The modern game means it would be pretty absurd to ask the players to insure the frame lasted half an hour.
One point of controversy was the fact that Pat Houlihan (at the time, a great, great player) was not invited to take part, seemingly because Joe Davis didn't like him.
Yes, I'm aware that Houlihan committed a relatively minor criminal offence, but I'm sure there were a few in those early series who weren't exactly whiter than white.
I think I'm right in saying though that Houlihan was seen at his brilliant best in an ITV tournament in the 1960s, but you'd have to check with Sir Clive about that.

Anonymous said...

id like to see a pot black weekend competition, live on the internet, with 16 players.

8 juniours (or at least never been on main tour) V 8 "retired" professionals.

i think that would be good viewing and could generate interest in upcoming players as well as giving the old dogs a new bone.

Anonymous said...

I remember the timeframe. Neil Foulds won because he was the only who figure out the tactics, which wasn't necessarily to pot balls because of the time taken meant you could lose more points that you score during the same break! It was ridiculous.

JohnH said...

well remembered Dave- it was dire with the timeclock!

Anonymous said...

Pot Black did its job of promoting colour TV. Unfortunately snooker is no longer flavour of the month and we've got to accept the fact that we're now playing a minority sport. The only reason the BBC cover it is because they can't afford any other sports!

Oliver said...

I remember the godawful Timeframe format too ... am I right in thinking that there was some way if you did something like taking too long at the table you could be "fined" by entering some weird state called "minus time" and actually end up losing a frame despite having mathematically won it?

It was a disaster.

Pot Black has played its part in the game's great history but I have to admit it seemed like a complete irrelevance when it was revived in 2005.
The one-frame format hasn't stood the test of time, really.