... feminist, atheist, autistic academic and historic narrowboater ...
Likes snooker, beer, tea, rivets and solitude, and is strangely fascinated by the cinema organ.
And there might be something about railways.

Thursday 6 August 2020

Evaluating commentating

I wonder whether the BBC has any means of seeking viewers' feedback on snooker commentators - a bit like students give us feedback at the end of each module. Because if they do, how come they still employ John Virgo? Now, a small mercy of the current situation is that John Virgo is stuck in Spain, and is thus unable to make me scream and throw things at the telly, for the first time in living memory.  However, the BBC are trying out a few new names, and there is some close competition for the role.

The maddening thing about Virgo is that he burbles. He thinks we want to be party to his every fleeting thought, and that any silence in the commentary box is there to be filled, preferably by him. I don't know about you, but what I want to hear from a commentator is their considered opinion or insight, not the entire process of arriving at it. Twice. And then burbling inconsequentially away from it afterwards.

Sadly, the BBC seem to have found a worthy successor in this regard in the shape of Joe Perry. Now, I've always liked 'Gentleman Joe' as a person, even if he's never excited me as a player. But my god I wish he would shut up, rather than sharing every thought as he thinks it, with, it has to be said, the added annoyance of a rather irritating intonation. There is, perhaps, some hope for Joe though; he's new to commentary and perhaps it's nerves. Perhaps he could learn to say a little less and make it count a bit more.

Because it is good to have players in the commentary box, even if they're not the greatest commentators. There are two new voices on the BBC this time who aren't players or former players: Dave Farrar (who he indeed) and MC Rob Walker himself. I had never heard of Dave Farrar, but Google tells me he's a football commentator. I find that quite hard to imagine. As a snooker commentator, however, he seems made for the role, in the mould of 'Whispering' Ted Lowe. He's a good commentator who knows when to keep quiet and asks pertinent questions about play of his accompanying pundit, although he's not one to go to great leangths to avoid a cliche.

After seeing Rob Walker doing his MC thing live in 2016, I decided that he wasn't as annoying as he appeared on the TV. I have now reconsidered that and reverted to my former view. He's a decent MC and a good interviewer, but please BBC do not put him back in the commentary box again. Not only does he not shut up, but unlike Joe 'thought process' Perry, he's not even talking about the game he's meant to be commentating on, but telling lengthy anecdotes and not even noticing when something interesting happens on the table.

As for the remaining player/commentators, how would I rank them?

Denis Taylor is annoying; he talks too much, but not to such an extent. Get him and Steve Davis or John Parrott in together and it becomes a bit too pally, a little bit cliquey. Steve Davis - who was my favourite player for decades - is OK, and so is John Parrott when he's not in with one of his mates. I used to like Ken Doherty, but either he's lost his touch, or I've just heard it all before. If he ever opens his commentary with any line but 'I couldn't agree more Denis/John/Steve' it's a shock, and also why do players (and Doherty is not the only offender here) never simply have great cue power; why must they always be blessed with it? Also, there's something slightly sinister about him. While all other snooker players look about 20 years older than their actual age, Ken Docherty looks 20 years younger and is still going backwards.

So who does that leave? My runner up is Alan McManus, mainly because I just love listening to that voice. He's also knowledgeable and genuinely enthusiastic, but without quite talking too much, mostly. There was a phase where he was always predicting the players' next shots wrongly, which was quite amusing, but he seems not to do that so much lately.  But - slightly surprisingly to me - my top commentator is Stephen Hendry. Very knowledgeable, good at explaining things, and rarely opens his mouth unless he has something interesting to say.  I was also impressed over on ITV4 with the commentating debut of Peter Lines - I thought he was particularly good at explaining what players were doing, and why - perhaps the BBC should snap him up.

Finally a mention for the BBC's new presenter, Radzi Chinyanganya, the Sabbatical Officer for snooker. Or as a fellow snooker fan academic put it, he looks like a media studies student on work experience. He's actually an economics graduate from Loughborough and - who knew - a former Blue Peter presenter. Maybe I'm getting old, but his breathless enthusiasm still smacks to me of children's TV.  But here's an obscure quiz question for you, with a very tangential boating link - what surprising thing do he and Ronnie O'Sullivan have in common? And because not even my even-more-snooker-mad-than-me-friend didn't get it, here's a clue: you wouldn't know it from the way they talk.


  1. Question is do you play snooker ?

    1. No, I'm hopeless on a big table. Think my highest ever break (admittedly in only about three attempts to play) was eight. Bar billiards is my game.

  2. John Virgo,likes the sound of his own voice.He also states the painfully obvious.They are professional snooker players,playing,but he simply has to say something.