Silence in Sport? 

3 October 2017

The commentator’s dilemma

From the TV Times Southern edition for 14-20 August 1965

A big problem in presenting TV sport is: How much commentary should a commentator give?

The armchair expert says: “Shut up and let me watch in peace!” But the man seeing the sport for the first time is grateful for the commentator’s explanations.

An ideal commentary is not too little and not too much. But, judging by viewers’ letters, few agree on how much is too much — or too little.

Three Southern Television sports commentators who will be appearing in the coming week gave me their views — Desmond Eagar (cricket), Raymond Brooks-Ward (show jumping) and Fred Dinenage (water ski-ing).

Outside broadcast cameras will cover the Hampshire v. South Africa cricket match at Southampton on Saturday, Monday and Tuesday.

Water ski-ing is the subject for a second week in Monday’s Go! and there will be show jumping from the All-England Course at Hickstead in Sussex, beginning on Friday and continuing on the Saturday and Sunday following (August 21 and August 22).

Desmond Fagar, secretary of Hampshire County Cricket Club and Captain of Hampshire from 1946 to 1957 has been one of Southern’s regular cricket commentators since 1958.

“In a commentary I am trying to fill in the gaps,” he said.

“I have a good view of the game and I want to give detail that might not be apparent on the screen, such as the name of the man fielding that ball.

“A viewer who knows the techniques of the game is going to be annoyed by too much explanation and I think the golden rule is not to talk too much.

“But if the game is fascinating and exciting 1 think you want to help convey this. There are plenty of people ready to say that cricket is dull.”

Does it help to have played the game? “I like to think so,” Eagar said. “I know what the players are feeling out there and I think this helps me give a fuller picture of the game.”

“The golden rule is not to talk too much,” says Southern’s regular cricket commentator, Desmond Eagar

Fred Dinenage, who is 23, learned to water ski at Poole Harbour last year when he was a member of Southern’s Three Go Round team.

Now he is seen regularly in Day By Day and Sports Desk. “As a commentator,” he said, “you try to tell the don’t-knows enough about the sport to make it interesting without boring the people who do know.

“The type of commentary is usually decided by the nature of the sport, matching the pace of the game.

“In cricket it is rather slow and deliberate, but when you come to rugby football the commentator reflects the excitement of the crowd. He is right in there with them!

“Tennis speaks, for itself on television and needs the minimum of commentary.

“But whatever the sport you need to convey your own enthusiasm and you must know quite a lot about it … by taking part, by reading and by knowing as many people in the sport as possible.

“You should get a little humour into the commentary as long as it does not sound forced. 1 see no reason to be too solemn about your favourite sport.”

Go! — water ski-ing … with Fred Dinenage reporting from Langstone Harbour, Portsmouth

Raymond Brooks-Ward, show-lumping commentator, agrees: “The picture will speak for itself”

Raymond Brooks-Ward is a Hertfordshire dairy farmer who has been riding horses since 1938 and doing commentaries on show jumping for 10 years.

“Before a jumping round,” he said, “I try to give a brief picture, a potted history of the horse. I keep a card index of at least 500 horses.

“Then I try to avoid talking too much during a round unless something unexpected is happening. Usually, during a round, the picture will speak for itself.

“In show jumping, colour is an important part of the beauty of the scene and I think viewers like to know the colours of the horses, the fences and perhaps what the riders are wearing.

“Thanks to TV, people know more about show jumping. I am convinced that the average viewer has come to know more about it than, say, cricket.”

I turned to Bill Perry, Southern’s Head of Outside Broadcasts, for a summing up.

He said: “There are exceptions, but generally speaking, wnen the picture is intelligibly conveying the story, then the commentator should keep quiet.

“When he comments, his words should enhance the picture. His commentary should be factual and to the point. Certainly he should convey enthusiasm, but over-enthusiasm can be irritating.”

The viewer remains the judge. But the sports fan who knows his sport inside out could, perhaps, be more tolerant of the viewer who does not.

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