SNOOKER'S LOOSE CANNONS

Snooker, more than any other sport, requires a quiet and attentive audience, and for the most part that’s what it gets.

There is however an obvious major audience interruption incident just waiting to happen in the live televised version of the game. The offending noise won’t be an urging shout from an over-zealous supporter, a badly stifled sneeze, a mobile phone jingle, or even some disguised spoiling tactic from the stooge of a gambling syndicate, it will be a completely avoidable piece of mass audience disruption instigated by snipers working for the BBC.

In recent years audiences at televised snooker tournaments have (for a small fee) been increasingly taking up the option of wearing headphones and listening in on the live BBC TV commentary.

This seemingly innocent innovation has unnecessarily placed a lot of power with the assortment of ex-players and pundits who form ad hoc double acts in the snooker commentary box. Two of them in particular, John Virgo and Dennis Taylor, have been noticeably dumming down their style and extending their brief to the point where they are in danger of interfering with the sporting reality they are supposed to be observing and reporting .

The list of transgressions range from the seemingly innocuous manipulation of the studio audience when the game is not in play eg. “Will the defending champion receive a standing ovation on his entrance?” to totally inappropriate jokey banter during the game, creating unwanted laughter in the audience and often bewildering both the referee and the players.

Ironically, when a mobile phone goes off in the audience or a supporter gets a little too exuberant, it is Virgo and Taylor who are the first to lead the tut-tutting, but in truth it’s them who are most likely to actually disrupt the game.

Virgo and Taylor have hardly earned a penny from actually playing serious tournament snooker in 20 years, since then both have fancied themselves as comic performers of some stripe; Taylor as a professional Irishman working the TV panel games and Virgo as a snooker trick-shot variety act with a little bit of patter. Nowadays even these options have dried up and seemingly their only regular work is in the TV snooker commentary box

No matter how reckless and disruptive their urge to perform in front of a live audience appears, it would be churlish to suggest that their motives are anything other than unconscious, but it also is difficult to comprehend how their behaviour can be allowed to continue.

Unfortunately they appear to be role models coaxing the likes of Willie Thorne, John Parrot, Ken Doherty and the normally restrained Terry Griffiths into their larky double-acts. But no matter how far the others stray from the job description, they can never top Virgo or Taylor’s showbiz-style prattle and personal joshing.

Virgo’s continual use of the adjective ‘unbelievable’ when 5 million viewers up and down the country are witness to the opposite is typical of his inaccurate cliché-ridden shtick. Virgo is the most insidious and potentially disruptive because he continually presents what in improvisational comedy terms is known as an ‘offer’ - an opening gambit which begs a reply. Of his fellow commentators Taylor is of course always the one most up for it and needs little encouragement for an off-message chinwag or worse still – a sentimental trudge down memory lane. Often, when the match in focus suddenly demands his attention, Taylor is clearly and obviously guilty of what he so often accuses errant players - taking their eye off the ball. He is at his most inappropriate when he is in collusion with the camera crew picking out celebrities and players’ wives seated in the audience, listening in on their headphones. His faux familiarity and ludicrous attempts at conversation - urging them to smile or nod their heads - is not only unnecessary and often embarrassing but is the exact polar opposite of what is required of a snooker commentator.

Snooker commentary, like the game itself, is a highly competitive occupation and there are plenty more ex-players waiting in the wings who can doubtless do the job just as efficiently and presumably without using the opportunity to audition for pantomime.

Tony Allen Jan 2011