Saturday, 30 March 2013

Radio Lives – Peter Jones

Peter Jones was an all-rounder, one of the rare breed of broadcasters that used to grace the BBC’s airwaves and could turn their hands to most events with aplomb.

He was born and educated in Swansea and then went to Cambridge University before pursuing a teaching career. It was whilst at Bradfield College as French teacher and sports master that he encountered BBC football commentator Maurice Edelston, himself a former player for Fulham and Reading and now also coaching at the college. Through Edelston he was hired by Angus Mackay, the creator and editor of Sports Report, as a sports assistant, joining the BBC in October 1965.

The following year Jones was working on his first major sporting tournament. Writing in 1987 he takes up the story:  

The first World Cup I covered, as a very new sports assistant, was back in 1966. Our senior commentators then were Brian Moore and Maurice Edelston. I was sent to the qualifying group in the north-east of England and my first seats in the house for the BBC were at St James’s Park, Roker Park and Ayresome Park. The group consisted of Italy, Chile, the Soviet Union and North Korea. Italy were the hottest of hot favourites and looked magnificent in training, but my biggest headache was collecting facts and figures about the totally unknown North Korean squad. Information was sparse and when the names did come up they were a nightmare. Not only did the players all look alike, but their names – tongue-twisters indeed – all sounded alike. Not that it would make much difference, for North Korea would surely be on the first plane home after the qualifying matches. They were up against the strongest opposition and the fruits of all m y industry in collecting a North Korean dossier were going to be short-lived. The rest is football history. North Korea played some dazzling, if at time naive, football and were through to the quarter-finals, and it was Italy who were on the first plane home. Suddenly I was one of the most popular men in the sports room.
That preparation paid off as Peter Jones would now join the main football commentary team. He would go on to cover every World Cup between 1970 and 1986, the FA Cup from 1968 as well as countless European and club games. Many listeners during the 1970s will recall the Saturday afternoon live second-half commentaries shared between Jones and the BBC’s football correspondent Bryon Butler. (He’d first started regular Saturday commentaries in 1967 alongside Alan Clarke).

Bryon Butler and
Peter Jones
He was soon entrusted with linking together the Saturday afternoon radio sports coverage on the Sports Service, carried on the Third Programme’s frequencies, initially in late 1967 and then as the main host from late 1969. Jones presented the final Sports Service in March 1970 and the first ever Sport on 2 the following month following a shake-up of radio sporting coverage. He would remain a regular presenter throughout the next two decades alongside the likes of Des Lynam, Jim Rosenthal and Alan Parry.  You can hear Peter Jones on Sport on 2 in this post.   

As well as his football work Jones would cover swimming, often alongside former Olympic swimmer Anita Lonsbrough, and tennis commentary were he would host the Wimbledon coverage on Radio 2.

His first summer Olympics were the Munich Games in 1972 were “the black shadow of terrorism clouded the face of sport”. His first Commonwealth Games, the Edinburgh ones in 1970. In addition, like other versatile OB commentators before him – Wynford Vaughan-Thomas, Brian Johnston and Robert Hudson to name three - he would cover special events such as the Royal Maundy service, the Festival of Remembrance, the Lord Mayor’s Banquet, the Opening of Parliament.  There were also question master duties on Sporting Chance and Brain of Sport.   

Here are some clips of Peter in action. Firstly the 1979 FA Cup Final:

In the same year part of Radio 2's Winbledon coverage:

This from the 1986 World Cup:

Part of the Radio Times billing
for the first Sport on 2 (April 1970)
For the wedding of Charles and Diana in 1981 he was improbably paired up with Lorraine Chase in a commentary position on a balcony of a pub on Fleet Street. Jones recalled her exclamation of “Cor look at them geezers in red coats. Don’t they look smashing!” 

Inevitably live commentary would lead to the odd Colemanballs moment, this from the FA Cup Final in 1985: “At this moment the Band of the Grenadier Guards stand erect in the centre circle, their instruments flashing in the sunshine.”

Two of Peter’s best known commentaries are suffused with tragedy. He was present at both the Heysel and Hillsborough disasters.

Sport on 2 covers the Boat Race in 1981
Peter Jones’s death was also tragic and very sudden. In 1990 he would take over University Boat Race commentating duties from Brian Johnston and was onboard the BBC’s launch Arethusa (it was retired the following year in place of the Mercier). In charge that day was producer Joanne Watson. Paul Donovan of The Sunday Times wrote about the event nearly a year later:

He died with the microphone in his hand and the words forming in his throat. He was standing on the Arethusa as the flotilla of launches and craft followed the Oxford and Cambridge eights under Hammersmith Bridge. Curiously, he did not collapse but simply went rigid. He did not respond to comments made to him over the headphones. A woman producer sitting behind him, one of two who have stepped down this year, tapped him on the back. Again he did not respond. Within a few minutes, one of the other commentators aboard – Robert Treharne-Jones, a qualified doctor – was giving him the kiss of life. The commentating for the last few minutes was handed over to Dan Topolski on the launch and Tony Adamson on land.
When they finally got the 60-year-old commentator to the shore they had to wait “an age” recalls Watson, for an ambulance – it was also the day of the poll tax riots. But it was too late. The voice of radio sport for 25 years was silent.

Following admission to hospital Peter died some 36 hours later. Reporting on Monday’s Sports Desk on Radio 2 was Jon Champion.

Jon had been presenting Sport on 2 on the Saturday – his debut in that role. Later he recalled that on the previous afternoon that Peter “typically dapper in blazer and flannels and carrying the obligatory pile of books under his arm, had wished a nervous novice well in the sports room. ‘Just enjoy it – you’ll be fine,’ was the gist of his advice. Easy to say, hard to follow, I thought, but nice of him to say anything at all.”

There’s no doubt that Peter’s contribution to broadcasting will not be forgotten. Apparently extracts are played on a loop at the exhibits and memorabilia on display at the National Football Museum.  

Peter Jones 1930-1990


Unknown said...

Peter Jones was absolutely brilliant. Even for a non sports fan like me, his lyrical enthusiasm was always infectious. I was running the London end of things on the night of the Heysel disaster, and Peter really showed his quality and versatility that night, as he painted pictures in words and told us the unfolding story. A true great.

Philip Barker said...

The greatest radio commentator who gsve that touch of theatre to everything he touched. Even today his work still sets the standard. For those of us who follow, his work remains an inspiration.

annunciatore said...

2nd April 2015: 25 years on and Peter Jones is still fondly remembered and very much missed - the greatest broadcaster I ever had the pleasure of hearing. No one has come close since and the BBC remains the poorer without him.

Michael Liverpool said...

This man in my opinion was the greatest football commentator I have ever heard, he had the ability to paint a picture of the game, and unlike today's commentators who feel a need to talk about tactics or give their knowledge of players anything apart from comentering on the actual match, making listening to them very frustrating. Yes Peter Jones sadly missed.

Unknown said...

Grew up listening 2 the great Peter Jones .. midweek football on the great Radio 2 . Long before sky . Great man sadly missed

Unknown said...

Grew up listening 2 the great Peter Jones .. midweek football on the great Radio 2 . Long before sky . Great man sadly missed

The Onion Bag said...

The BEST football commentator ever bar none!
As a kid i always loved listening to him and Bryon Butler 8pm Wednesday nights on radio 2 for soccer special. I can still hear the theme music in my head.

He made you feel that you were also at the same match for his descriptions were that brilliant.

I remember when Sheff Wednesday were playing Arsenal in the FA Cup and i think it went to the 5th or 6th replay held at Filbert Street his commentary was just outstanding.
His European commentaries were even better and the SF 2nd leg West Ham v Eintract Frankfurt in 1976 was unbeleivable and is my favourite of all time.

Great memories from my childhood days ..... thanks Mr Jones RIP

Robin Carmody said...

It did not really emerge at the time - and indeed was not fully realised until the broadcast of a 'Voices of Sport' programme on Five Live in 1997, which I wish I still had - that his death was in all likelihood accelerated by the trauma of witnessing the Hillsborough disaster; certainly Alan Green, who was also there, thought he never recovered.

Tempting to wonder how he'd have felt had he lived to see the 1990 World Cup and all that followed; his pleasure at the game's redemption would, I think, have been tempered by his sadness at the coming of greed.

Gareth J said...

Without doubt simply the best commentator of my lifetime - Peter had the ability to transform a radio into a television .
Both he and Brian Butler were a staple diet for all football fans from the late 70s onwards.
Great times - Never to be repeated..

Woody said...

7th February 2020: 90 years since the great man was born - happy birthday, Jonesy. Still missing you and your brilliant broadcasts after 30 long years.

Tom Ross The Goalzone said...

a true broadcasting great- I am many other would be commentator broadcasters were inspired by him but never achieved his quality
Tom Ross

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