The merits, or otherwise, of Power Snooker are a matter for debate but the event, which returns this weekend, does mark the re-involvement of ITV.
It put me in mind of their coverage of snooker in days gone by, when the game was a constant presence on terrestrial television.
It was inevitable after the BBC’s ratings success in showing snooker that ITV would want a slice of the action.
Tournaments were therefore invented to fill this demand and so began an age in which the calendar was comprised of a series of events in regular slots, usually with regular sponsors and venues. For this reason, the tournaments came to have meaning and developed their own personalities and, over time, histories.
Mention the Mercantile Classic to those of a certain age and they will recall it provided Willie Thorne with his only ranking title, or that Jimmy White beat Cliff Thorburn 13-12 in the final after needing a snooker on the pink.
ITV’s main presenter in the 1980s was Dickie Davies. He was ITV’s version of the BBC’s Des Lynam, and every bit as suave and professional, just generally with lower quality sport to introduce.
In this vein, the snooker ITV broadcast was generally regarded as less important than that shown on the BBC, although this was only because the corporation got there first, so their events came to be seen as the really important ones.
ITV had a very strong commentary team, led by John Pulman, who had a voice like velvet and a style so laidback you wondered if he needed to be nudged in the ribs to keep him awake.
He once commentated with Dennis Taylor at the Yamaha Organs tournament, where a player equalled the highest break, the prize for which was provided by the sponsors.
When Taylor pointed this out, Pulman replied: “Yes, Dennis, but what can you do with half an organ?”
Pulman’s great friend and co-commentator was Rex Williams, the debonair former world billiards champion who played snooker at the top level well into his 50s.
They were augmented by the irreverent Mark Wildman, Ray Edmonds (before he jumped ship to the BBC) and Jim Meadowcroft (after he jumped ship from the BBC).
Taylor typically realised that he could earn money and boost his profile by commentating long before most players. He was a regular member of the team before he became world champion and continues for the BBC to this day.
ITV got some great ratings for their so-called lesser events. One of the reasons was that they often had best of 25 three-session finals which ended on Sunday afternoon: no 8pm starts and late night finishes.
They also shared coverage with Channel 4 and so were able to hand over when it was time for something else, but when Michael Grade took over at C4 he scrapped their snooker contract and, a year later, ITV won live Sunday afternoon football rights, which was the beginning of the end of the best of 25 finals.
In fact, in 1989 they reduced their coverage from four tournaments a season to three and dumped the World Doubles in favour of the World Matchplay, an invitation event designed to challenge the World Championship with its big money and best of 35 frames final.
By now Tony Francis had replaced Davies as the main presenter and budgets began to be cut so that, for instance, the Mercantile Classic was only shown on one table.
In those days the top 16 came in at the last 64 stage and to get through to the one table last 16 stage would have to win two matches. The Mercantile was played just after New Year. Most players hadn’t practised and there were often shocks.
So it was that one year ITV’s first live match was Silvino Francisco v Mark Rowing.
I recall at about this time they changed their opening titles sequence to an arty, black and white thing, a rather pompous innovation in truth, and started to struggle with scheduling decent hours.
Maximum breaks were rare. So rare that when one came along the presenters could hardly hide their excitement.
When James Wattana made his at the 192 British Open, the then presenter, Nick Owen, opened the programme by telling everyone it had been “a very special day here in Derby.” That rather gave the game away by the time Wattana reached 40.
As an aside, I saw Owen not so long ago in my local Sainsbury’s. I considered taking this matter up with him but thought that, after the best part of two decades, I should probably let it go.
ITV’s scheduling problems were complicated by the fact that they were a network of regional television companies, so coverage varied depending on where you lived.
Eventually, snooker was dumped altogether and Sky began to take over the tournaments ITV had pioneered. Sky’s coverage was excellent – and live – but to a much lower audience and snooker began to recede a little in the national consciousness.
There were a couple of comebacks. The Charity Challenge provided something different, where players played for prize money not just for themselves but also for designated charities.
The presenters were Eamonn Holmes and Anthea Turner of GMTV, who one year had had a bit of a spat in the press shortly before they were to host the snooker. The atmosphere backstage was colder than the latest series from David Attenborough.
When ITV Digital (anyone remember that?) launched, ITV set up their own sports channel and, not unreasonably, needed some sport to put on it.
Snooker came courtesy of the Champions Cup, a tournament for winners of the previous season’s titles, and Nations Cup, a team event, each of which ran for three years.
ITV’s coverage of Power Snooker proves that, like Sky, they want something different, not just lesser tournaments which otherwise resemble the BBC’s majors.
ITV4 would be a great platform for a proper snooker tournament, though. Darts, football and boxing have all proved popular on the channel and snooker fits this demographic.
Maybe if Power Snooker is successful then ITV will consider it. I hope so. They played their part in making snooker so popular in the first place.