FOR the 18.5million TV viewers who stayed up to watch its climax, the World Snooker Championship final of April 1985 provided a drama never to be forgotten.
It was between the defending champion Steve Davis and the genial Northern Irishman Dennis Taylor, renowned for his upside-down spectacles. Davis got off to a storming start, taking the first seven frames, but Taylor dug in doggedly and three times the scores were tied, at 11-11, 15-15 and 17-17 in the best-of-35-frame contest.
The deciding frame saw midnight come and go at the Crucible Theatre, Sheffield but none of the record BBC2 audience was going to bed. Both players were nervous and neither at their best. After a marathon 14 hours and 50 minutes, it all came down to the final black ball with Taylor trailing 59-62. Davis missed a thin cut leaving Taylor with a straightforward chance, which he duly sank. It was 12.23am when he raised his cue with both hands above his head before wagging a finger at a friend in the crowd to say: ‘I told you I would win!’
I watched that historic last frame at the Daily Mail office in Manchester, scribbling copy for a front-page story and willing Dennis to victory.
I had met him eight years earlier when I was working on the Lancashire Evening Telegraph in Blackburn. He had based himself locally and was one of a quartet of professional players who practised at the Elite Snooker Club in nearby Accrington – the others being Alex Higgins, Jim Meadowcroft and John Spencer. The Elite was, and still is, pronounced Ee-light.
One summer we had an office snooker tournament with matches taking place at lunchtime and I reached the semi-final before losing to one of the compositors. The Grand Final was held at a working men’s club in the town and Dennis kindly agreed to present the prizes and perform some trick shots for the audience.
He duly arrived at 7pm for the start of the action and everyone was keen to buy him a pint. Although the match was only the best of three frames, it ground on deep into the night with both players making heavy weather of it.
By the time it was over, poor old Dennis was somewhat the worse for wear. He slurred his speech and was not entirely steady on his feet as he handed over the trophy. However, he gamely kept his promise to perform some trick shots. None of which came off.
Like the trouper he is, Dennis converted a potential embarrassment into a triumph by turning the whole thing into a comedy routine. He left admired by all. And that was why there were tears in my eyes as I wrote the headline Dennis Taylor Takes World Snooker Crown.
Never was there a more popular champion, with wild celebrations in East Lancashire and his home town of Coalisland, County Tyrone. And I imagine Dennis sank a pint or two himself.
Following his retirement from the professional game in 2000, Taylor has been a mainstay of the BBC’s snooker commentary team and is at the microphone for the current proceedings in Sheffield. Now 73, he comes across as a genuinely nice guy; ever reluctant to criticise and free with his praise. Take it from me, it’s not an act.
Whistlers in the mist
ONE of the oddest places we have visited is the Canary Island of La Gomera. It is nobbut a cockstride from Tenerife, but the difference is remarkable. For a start, the greater part of the mountainous isle is permanently shrouded in mist, creating a dense jungle climate in which strange things grow, including giant heather more than 70ft tall and more moss than you can shake a stick at.
Because of the weather, the tourism industry is low-key with visitors confined to hikers and naturalists rather than sunseekers. The indigenous population is little more than 22,000.
So far we have resisted the temptation to spend a holiday in La Gomera, but we have been on several day trips via ferry from Los Cristianos on Tenerife. On one organised tour we discovered the bizarre phenomenon of Silbo Gomero. This is a whistling language documented since Roman times and apparently developed by the island’s original inhabitants, the Guanches. It can allegedly carry for up to two miles across deep ravines. I have always regretted my inability to whistle through my fingers – here it becomes a fine art.
For a demonstration of Silbo Gomero, our party stopped at a restaurant in the mountains where, between courses of goat meat, cheese and quite remarkably unappetising wine, one of the waiters appropriated a visitor’s handbag (with her permission) and secreted it under a table on the other side of the room. A female colleague who claimed to have seen none of this then arrived and was whistled at by said waiter. She went straight to the hidden handbag, to great applause.
My better half and I were deeply sceptical, believing that the same actors did the same thing in the same place every day. However Silbo Gomero is taken extremely seriously by the local government, which at the beginning of this century decreed that it should be taught in school before it died out. So while the kids in modern Europe are debating whether to change gender and who has the best training shoes, La Gomera’s future citizens are out on the mountaintops whistling at each other. Amazing, really. Here’s a Unesco film showing some of the locals in action with their various techniques. I particularly like the old girl curling her tongue into a U-shape. La Gomera and Tenerife – divided by a few miles, but centuries apart.
Old jokes’ home
Chap walks into a bar and places a tiny Elton John on the counter with a miniature piano. Wee Elton proceeds to give a medley of his greatest hits. ‘Wow, that’s great,’ says the landlord. ‘Where did you get him?’ ‘Well, I found this old lamp in my attic and when I polished it a genie came out and offered to make a wish come true. Unfortunately he was a little hard of hearing and that’s how I ended up with a ten-inch pianist.’
A PS from PG
When you have just been told that the girl you love is definitely betrothed to another, you begin to understand how Anarchists must feel when the bomb goes off too soon.
PG Wodehouse: Summer Lightning