John Williams was a forbidding presence out in the middle, a no-nonsense referee who was omnipresent as a reassuringly experienced pair of white gloves from the first Crucible in 1977 until his retirement in 2002.
Williams refereed nine Crucible finals including all three that went to deciding frame finishes.
The first of these was, of course, the 1985 showdown between Dennis Taylor and Steve Davis.
I interviewed him about this a few years ago and asked him if he had any trouble controlling the crowd. John told me there was only really one spectator he had to keep in line, the actor Bill Maynard, Selwyn Froggatt himself, or Greengrass from Heartbeat if you prefer.
Apparently Maynard became so excitable that Williams had to threaten expulsion from the hallowed arena to calm him down.
Not that Williams was ever intimidated. Far from it. He was an imposing figure who didn’t take any messing from players, in particular those with a reputation for messing.
In 1994, Alex Higgins played at the Crucible for the last time and got involved in a disagreement with Williams over where he was standing.
This was not a surprise given Higgins’s combustible personality. Indeed, a couple of years earlier he had complained to Williams at the qualifiers that he was “standing in my line of thought.”
At the Crucible, Williams stood his ground in typically uncompromising fashion: “I’ve stood here all day, Alex. Don’t tell me how to referee, you play,” he told the twice world champion.
Not that he was always first pick. When Williams appeared in the laughably poor 1984 film ‘Number One’ he was replaced for the final by Freddie ‘Parrot face’ Davies, an old school comedian not known for his mastery of the snooker rulebook.
Williams was forced to retire by the WPBSA, who at least gave him one last final in 2002, another thriller in which Peter Ebdon beat Stephen Hendry 18-17.
He came out of retirement to officiate at the World Seniors Championship last November and had barely seemed to have changed in the last decade, having found work in the interim at a funeral parlour.
Once again, and despite his absence, Williams proved himself to be a reassuringly reliable choice, at one point producing the rules from his jacket pocket when Davis and John Parrott were unaware they had been specially tweaked for the competition.
What a pro.