Farewell to Sid Waddell, “The Jackson Pollock of the commentary box”
It’s 1983 and Eric Bristow adds the World Cup Singles to his Winmau World Masters: “When Alexander of Macedonia was 33, he cried salt tears because there were no more worlds to conquer… Bristow’s only 27.”
Things are looking tough in 1989: “Keith Deller is like Long John Silver – he’s badly in need of another leg.”
Or another player snatches victory from the jaws of defeat: “That’s the greatest comeback since Lazarus.”
If you didn’t stand up to applaud the darts, you’d often be on your feet for Sid’s line.
Sid’s story is also a good commentary on post-war social mobility. His parents were determined that he and his brother wouldn’t follow their father down the mines. His talents were recognised in the local primary school, where he was fed to the local grammar school, and from where he won a scholarship to St John’s College, Cambridge to read History and English.
So he was never shy of the classical reference: “There hasn’t been this much excitement since the Romans fed the Christian’s to the lions.”
The occasional hint of PG Wodehouse,“Cliff Lazarenko’s idea of exercise is a firm press on a soda siphon. “
Or a passing nod to contemporary advertising culture: “Bristow reasons…Bristow quickens…ahh, Bristow.”
It wasn’t the banality of darts that set Sid up, it was how some parts of the world would looked down the sport. You’re the fool if you thought there wasn’t real human drama here. As Sid himself said, one evening on BBC2, “They’re showing Shakespeare’s Othello over on BBC1 but if you want real drama tonight, get down here to Jollies, Stoke-on-Trent”
His style enlivened simple moments of win and loss with bathos, and he would never hesitate to rhyme it with pathos to suggest an inner dialogue in performers often assumed to have none. Ludicrous? Only if you believed darts didn’t matter to the people who dedicated their life to playing it.
To Sid, they were athletes. Just a different kind of athlete: “He may practice 12 hours a day, but he’s not shy of the burger van!”
Whether it was success (“this lad has more checkouts than Tesco”), adversity (“Rod now looking like Kevin Costner when told the final cost of Waterworld”), or the need for a simple description, Sid had a line for it: “His eyes bulging now like the belly of a hungry Chaffinch.”
Could Sid’s unique verbal identity be recreated? I wouldn’t even try.
But I hope to learn from his bravery. After all, writing which lives on past the moment, even past the life of the speaker is something to aim for.
Or as Sid put it, “Well as giraffes say, You don’t get no leaves unless you stick your neck out.”
We lost a good writer today. Thanks for the inspiration, Sid.
ps have I missed your favourite Sid quote? Please let me know…