Tuesday 14 November 2017

Britain is no longer a country for and says "Goodbye" to its favourite voice of TV sports broadcasting, Tim Gudgin

Tim, who has died at the age of 88, worked with the greats of television sports broadcasting : David Coleman, Harry Carpenter, Frank Bough. His name may have been less familiar than theirs, but his voice was equally recognisable and he now occupies his place in their pantheon because millions remember a thousand Saturday teatimes when his was that voice that launched and then, almost always, dashed, their dreams of winning the football pools.

It was a time in Britain, when, until the Lottery replaced the pools as Britain’s favourite flutter, millions of punters would listen in excited anticipation while ticking the results off on their precious coupons. Home wins, away wins, draws and score draws. Most people stuck to the same numbers every week as with the lottery and rather than a game of skill, it became a game of chance and always with that voice a hint, a promise and that chance. Gary Lineker described him as "one of the most familiar voices in sport" and "a quintessential part of Saturday afternoons in this country."

Born in Croydon, Surrey in 1929 where his father worked for an insurance company. Tim was 10 years old when the Second World War broke out and with both his father and older brother Peter, serving in the Royal Tank Regiment based at the Bovington Camp in Dorset, the family moved and he attended the local school and recalled that his brother would turn up with the latest big band records to listen to and even at that young age he "loved all those old records, Glenn Miller, Benny Goodman, Ted Heath and I knew then, that what I wanted to do, was play them on the radio."

In fact, Peter, as a Lieutenant, was posted overseas in the War to join the 7th Armoured Division in the North African desert and was involved in the tough fighting that followed in Tunisia in 1943 and in the subsequent Italian campaign. It's possible that he may have recounted, to the fourteen year old Tim, that leading an attack on German positions his Churchill tank was "hit by a shell from a German Tiger which passed through the front plate, through the fighting compartment and into the engine, setting it ablaze” and that he and his crew then faced machine fire before escaping with minor injuries.

At the age of 10, Tim won a scholarship to the old, independent and prestigious boys' grammar school, Whitgift School in South Croydon, London with its motto, 'Vincit qui patitur,'  'He who perseveres, conquers,' where he received no encouragement to fulfil his ambition : "I always wanted to get into radio with the BBC, but my careers master at school said ‘‘not a hope Gudgin, not a hope. You will need a first class honours degree from Oxford or Cambridge to work for the BBC and you won’t get it’’. Of course, he was quite right about the Oxbridge thing, but I was absolutely determined to make it." In fact, a schoolboy predecessor at the school, also blessed with a distinctive voice, Robert Dougall, had also not attended university and he had risen to the position of senior announcer and his was the voice that announced to the world Britain's declaration of war on Germany in September 1939.

Having left school Tim started his two year's National Service in the Royal Tank Regiment in 1947 and rose to the rank of captain and posted to Hohne, he successfully auditioned along with 200 other hopefuls for the job of announcer with the British Forces Network. At the BFN he was trained by Robin Boyle, with whom he would later work with at the BBC and became involved with the Drama Club, alongside another future BBC man, Don Moss. Working for the BFN in Hamburg and later Trieste, Tim presented programmes such as 'Morning Story' and 'Early Bird.'

After returning to civilian life back in Blightey, Tim joined the BBC at the age of 23 in 1952 on the 'European Service' as studio manager and news reader. It was now that, tuning into their radio sets, a wider audience heard Tim's voice for the first time. He then moved to the 'Light Programme' and 'Home Service' and subsequently Radio 2.

Tim was completely self-effacing about his unique voice when he said : "A musical ear helps, to get the inflection right. My guiding light was John Webster, a man who used to read the results when Eamonn Andrews was presenting Sports Report on the radio in the 1950s." In the 24 years from then until he joined Grandstand in 1976, he, and his voice, hosted a wide variety of no less than 22 radio programmes, which ranged from the music selection in 'Housewive's Choice' to the school's competition, 'Top of the Form' and introductions to 'Hancock’s Half-Hour.' He worked on no less than 22 programmes in these years, having also joined Radio 2 and it is not surprising that he confessed that : "Apparently, I once presented a programme called Question Time on the radio, similar to the one on television, but I have no memory of it at all."

In 1966 when he was 37 he recalled : “I realised staff workers weren’t getting as much varied work as freelancers. So in 1966 I went freelance, which meant I could also do more commercial voice work. I remember doing the voice over for a TV ad and bought my first house mortgage-free with the proceeds.” He was referring to the fact that he "did an in-vision commercial for Square Deal Surf." 

Then, at the age of 44 in 1973 he stepped back from broadcasting to work for 3 years as a public relations consultant in the Isle of Man before returning to mainland Britain and a sports programme 'Grandstand,' where he read out the horse racing and rugby results in the final score segment of the programme. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RPr-af4XfQo&t=0m02s

It was during his time on the BBC’s flagship sports programme that he met Bing Crosby and recalled : "He was with us on the programme and Len Martin noticed there was a horse running called 'Uncle Bing.' We told Bing about this and being a very keen man on betting and horses he said : ‘‘Oh yes. Put something on for me. Let’s have £20 each way’’ and it went and won at 10/1."

It wasn't until he was 66 in 1995 and following the death of Len Martin, that he became only the second person to read out the football results for BBC television on Saturday afternoons. It was a slot he occupied until his retirement at the age of 82 in 2011. Having continued in his role when 'Final Score' became a separate programme in 2004. When it came to getting names right he said : "The Welsh ones can be a bit tricky, but I used to get help on those from the BBC pronunciation department." When it came to protecting his voice he said : “Well, I don’t bother gargling or warming up my vocal cords. Occasionally I’ll put drops up my nose if I’m feeling blocked, but that’s it."

When he retired Tim said : "It is a triple reason why I am going - age, distance - I am down on the south coast and the team is going to be up in Salford, and my granddaughter's wedding in Australia, which I have to be there for."  In fact, he was a little more critical than that when he said :  "They have splashed out £875 million on this Salford nonsense, even before you count the cost of transferring people. I don’t see what was wrong with Television Centre. I read that one of the men in suits said it wasn’t suitable for purpose, but a few million would bring it up to any standard you like." He was also philosophical :  "It will be emotional. I will miss it. It has been part of my life. But as far as I am concerned I will go in and do it and that will be it." 

In explaining his success Tim said that he had :

"A very recognisable voice, which has been my fortune. Whereas, with appearances, I would have gone down the drain."

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