For anyone over the age of 30 who grew up watching snooker on British TV, Ted Lowe was an ever present part of the soap opera, his voice associated with so many great moments from the sport’s rich history.
Ted turns 90 today, a grand age for one of snooker’s great figures.
He commentated for the BBC for 50 years, starting in the days of black and white TV, then inaugurating Pot Black and eventually voicing the memorable highs of the boom years during the 1980s.
As is so often the case, Ted got his commentary break through sheer luck. He was part of the scene as manager of Leicester Square Hall, at the time the home of billiards and snooker, and knew all the greats of the pre and post war years, including Joe Davis.
One day, he stepped into the breach when the BBC’s regular commentator, Raymond Glendenning, was unavailable and found himself remaining there for half a century.
In the early years of championship snooker, Ted would commentate from the audience and so had to keep the level of his voice as low as possible, hence his ‘whispering’ style and subsequent nickname.
Snooker was used as a regular filler on Grandstand to ensure something was on screen between horse races. Often Joe and Fred Davis would play a frame, timing it to last long enough before the 3.40 at Ascot was ready to go, something that would doubtless see them up before Sports Resolutions these days.
Lowe tried for many years to get snooker a proper showcase on the BBC but it was not until the introduction of colour television at the end of the 1960s that he got his chance.
The controller of BBC2, David Attenborough, wanted something to show off this new service and snooker, with its coloured balls and cheap production costs, was ideal.
And so Pot Black was born and TV’s love affair with snooker began.
Ted devised the event and commentated. He was the BBC’s no.1 when they started broadcasting the World Championship ball-by-ball in 1978 and was in the box for a host of famous finishes including...yes I’m going to mention it...the conclusion of the 1985 world final.
I don’t know if he ever actually did say ‘for those of you watching in black and white the yellow is behind the pink’ but it hardly matters. He was much loved by audiences for his friendly, understated style.
Ted retired in 1996. His style would not be suited to today’s broadcasting environment where commentators are expected to talk much more than they did 25 years ago.
There’s a well worn anecdote about Ted collapsing on air at Wembley, his co-commentator putting down his microphone to get help and not a word being uttered for 15 minutes. Nobody contacted the BBC to ask why.
Ted was not one for shot analysis, leaving that to the players. He was instead a warm, unobtrusive presence with a voice that nicely complimented the constant click of snooker ball on snooker ball.
Ironically, the commentators at Power Snooker were placed in the audience in an unlikely hat-tip to the old days. I’d say Ted would not be a fan of this new form of the game.
He always demanded the highest standards of etiquette having come from an age where they were expected.
He believes snooker is a gentlemen’s game and the players should be professional at all times.
And he is unflinching in believing Joe Davis is head and shoulders above both Stephen Hendry and Steve Davis in terms of all time greatness.
Ted is a thorough gentleman himself. I once wrote a piece on him for Snooker Scene and received a charming hand written letter from the great man saying it was nice to be remembered.
Well, he is remembered. He played his part in snooker’s rise to dizzying heights of popularity and I’m sure everyone in the sport wishes him a happy birthday.