Introducing… Eddie Waring 

2 May 2017

From the Radio Times North of England edition for 28 September – 4 October 1968

Floodlit Rugby League returns to BBC-2 on Tuesday evening as another knockout tourney gets under way. Brian Finch talks to the man whose name, face, and voice have become synonymous with the game all over the country

It all happened, according to Eddie Waring, because of Bob Hope and an American football match in San Francisco eighteen years ago. Eddie was unknown to the television public at the time and was busy making a name for himself as a Northern sports columnist. But in 1950 — on his way back from covering a Rugby League tour of Australia — he decided to stop over in Hollywood.

One of the people he met there was Bob Hope — and the American comedian took Eddie along to a ‘grid iron’ game.

‘It was probably a good game,’ grins Eddie, ‘but it was being televised, and all that I could think about was how much better Rugby League would have looked on those cameras!’

It was probably the most important day in the long and colourful career of the man whose infectious irreverence has become an integral part of the fabric of Grandstand.

Because, according to Eddie, it was that afternoon which launched him on what has since become a life-long crusade — to transform a little-known Northern game into one with a national television following.

O N   D U T Y . . .

‘I made up my mind about two things: when television came to the North it was going to cover Rugby League, and when it did I was going to provide the commentary.’

Having made up his mind about it the problem then became the merely academic one of accumulating experience about a medium which hadn’t even reached the area he was living in yet.

And with characteristic determination he solved it by spending every spare minute he had in London — inveigling himself into sporting events and watching established television commentators at work.

For the record, the BBC covered their first-ever Rugby League match from the North in 1951, and the irresistible Mr. Waring was one of the commentary team.

Catching Eddie Waring for an interview these days is a bit like waiting for a last bus that may already have gone. One doesn’t arrange to see him. One finds out his route for the day and lies in wait.

And as good a place as any for an ambush, if he happens to be in the country at the time, is the American bar of a certain Leeds hotel which has come to be known as Eddie Waring’s unofficial ‘office.’

The word ‘office’ is a private joke, Eddie will assure you, between himself and the barman — but the fact remains that if you want to get a message to the man you couldn’t try a better place.

When Eddie arrived, opening a wad of fan mail, he had just got in from Germany, and was making rapid arrangements to go to Brussels. Before leaving again he had a Rugby League match to cover for Grandstand, a newspaper column to assemble, proofs of his latest book to correct, a Christmas book to negotiate, and his personal involvement with a forthcoming documentary to be ironed out.

Mr. Waring — who used to earn £3 a week on a Yorkshire journal and whose idea of a good tune is still to join in one of those Yorkshire choirs in a spirited rendering of Messiah — is these days, one gathers, Big Business.

. . . O F F   D U T Y

All of which is doubly satisfying for the man, you will realise, when he tells you that he was once advised to give up Rugby League altogether — because it would never have a big enough following to support him!

Just how national that following has become since the Eddie Waring quip became part of the English language can be judged from the number of letters he gets every week. ‘Ninety per cent of the letters come from people outside the Rugby League area — and most of them have never seen a “live” Rugby League game at all,’ says Eddie.

Fan mail of this kind is, in fact, the final endorsement for Eddie of a lifetime’s ambition to put his game on the map. He is a sincere and sensitive man, and he would be the first to admit that he isn’t as universally loved inside the Rugby League area as he is outside it. It is something, however, that he learned to be philosophical about.

‘Rugby League is essentially a game which arouses violent emotions.’ says Eddie, ‘and if I’m not stirring up those emotions myself I’m not doing my job properly, am I?

‘It’s not something that I set out deliberately to do, but if my personality and my commentary upset some people there’s nothing I can do about it. It’s the only personality I’ve got.’

Eddie Waring ploughs a highly individual furrow as a broadcaster because although he loves his tough Northern game he is not afflicted with a feeling of reverence.

‘If a match is so perfect that all I need to do is to identify the players then I’m happy to do it. But if it’s a bad match then it needs something else, and I believe we’re there to provide entertainment.

‘I’m not, after all, talking to the experts. I’m talking to the people who might be converted to the game. If they’re experts, they should be at the match, anyway.’

You Say

1 response to this article

Paul Mason 6 May 2017 at 5:24 am

If Rugby League had another name it would be Eddie Waring.

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