The arrival of new drama The Rack Pack on the iPlayer prompted much discussion at Standard Issue. It turns out, everyone used to love a bit of Golden Age snooker. No really.
Evidently the popularity of snooker in the UK was promoted by the BBC, which started to televise it when looking for sports that would work well in colour, back in the 1960s.
This was certainly true of the popularity of snooker in my house, with my parents being very keen on Pot Black!, the BBC’s own snooker tournament. There are no words to describe my delight that many previous whole episodes of Pot Black! are available on YouTube, in their entirety (check out a classic final from 1983 with Steve Davis and Ray Reardon here).
Things kicked up a notch at Scott Towers when Dennis Taylor started to do well and won the 1985 snooker world championship. Taylor wore epic upside-down glasses, which enabled him to have his nose resting on the green baize yet still be able to see through his spectacles, a pleasure which many glasses wearers are happy to forego. Indeed he initially wore a ladies’ frame which was “fashionable at the time” and had them glazed so they actually could be worn upside down.
Even more importantly my family believed that Dennis Taylor’s family lived in the pub up the road and this was very thrilling to us. I’m now not sure if this is true or why we believed it, especially as he is from Northern Ireland.
I still love snooker, even if people don’t wear unusual glasses, or any glasses. I can’t think of a more tactically engaging sport to watch. It’s like chess, if chess players had to accurately place their chess pieces by throwing them onto the board from 10 metres away.
“Irene was OBSESSED with the snooker, which she diligently watched on an old black-and-white portable with one of us kids acting as aerial. She knew exactly what was happening and which ball was which, despite it all playing out in shades of grey.”
I still wonder if my adoration of the snooker was because there was very little else on the telly in the 80s or if I genuinely loved it. The choice of entertainment was often that or the news and added to this, snooker players were the celebrities of the day.
I loved it so much that even my first crush was a snooker player: Alex Higgins. Then it was Jimmy White and, today, I am quite partial to a bit of Ronnie O’Sullivan. Such a pattern of type here. The rock stars of the snooker table. Oh to come off the ‘back cushion’ via a ‘kiss’ on the pink ‘ball’ almost resting ‘on the lip’ of the ‘pocket’ but landing in ‘bed’ with one of those bad boys who then used a ‘power shot’ on my ‘pink spot’ and feeling those ‘touching balls’ during that ‘screw’.*
*I didn’t really think like this – I was a child.
Friends would call and want me to go out and play, but at certain times of the year (Crucible times) I would decline the offer of hanging out at the village sweet shop, as I was watching the Embassy final.
I watched Cliff Thorburn’s 147 break as it happened and of course I watched the Taylor/Davis stand-off as it happened.
I liked the fact that snooker is very clean – as in everything on the table gets tidied away. The whole point is to clear the table and this was always my job after dinner. I also liked the maths played out on the table; from the scoring to all the angles made from different shots.
A Question of Sport was big business back then, too. Once the mystery guest was Canadian player Kirk Stevens. Neither Gareth Edwards nor Emlyn Hughes’ team guessed correctly but I did, the only mystery guest I think I ever got.
There weren’t many things to watch on TV in the 80s. There were even fewer things I could watch with my grandmother, My-My. She was a difficult woman to please; she didn’t much like comedy and liked swearing even less – bloody was too strong a word for her ears.
I watched Dallas and Dynasty with her, but I drew the line at Emmerdale (or, as she insisted on calling it up to her death a year ago, Emmerdale FARM: she was very traditional).
But something we could all watch (or fall asleep watching) was the snooker. My-My LOVED the snooker. There was no swearing in snooker. It was all men, and My-My, a terrible flirt well into her 90s, really liked men, though she warmed less to women.
She had a thing for Willie Thorne and later for Ronnie O’Sullivan, though she would never admit it was that she fancied them. She admired their talent. Yeah, right. Their talent and their trousers straining over their bums as they leaned over the table…
“I liked the fact that snooker is very clean – as in everything on the table gets tidied away. The whole point is to clear the table and this was always my job after dinner.”
I went to stay with her one weekend. It started fairly disastrously: she didn’t understand why I wouldn’t eat meat or why I didn’t brush my hair. To be fair she tried with the vegetarian thing and cooked a pizza for me, but didn’t take the packaging off first. And then we realised it was the World Championship, and we put on the TV and two days passed blissfully, in companionable silence.
We had found something we agreed on. We agreed that two days in front of the telly with the curtains drawn was a good use of time. And that watching two men walk round a table and hit balls into pockets was exciting.
I don’t watch the snooker regularly, but if it’s on, I’m drawn to it, and the nostalgia. Much as The Sound Of Music makes me remember my grandfather, who had Alzheimer’s and with whom I watched it four times in one day because he couldn’t remember we’d watched it by the time it had finished, the snooker makes me think of My-My, a tiny sitting room with high-backed tapestry covered armchairs and a furnace-like coal-effect fire, and of finally finding common ground.
The snooker always makes me think of my maternal grandma, a remarkable and formidable woman. From when I was three years old, Irene Mary Bocking, née Philpott, ruled our family from the confines of a hospital bed crammed into a bedroom way too small for it and generally filled with a selection of grandchildren and an oversized stuffed monkey called Jacko.
Irene was OBSESSED with the snooker, which she diligently watched on an old black-and-white portable with one of us kids acting as aerial. She knew exactly what was happening and which ball was which, despite it all playing out in shades of grey. Should we try to pester her or cause some sort of kerfuffle, we’d be vehemently shushed and threatened with having to “fetch her teeth” (kept in a mustard-coloured floral mug in the bathroom and a terrifying proposition for a six-year-old).
Grandma had a thing for Willie Thorne, and the happiest I think I ever saw her was when she was clutching her signed photo of him (in which he lounges in a manner not unlike Burt Reynolds on that bearskin rug) to her be-nightied bosom.
I realise she doesn’t exactly look thrilled in this picture, but take it from someone who knew and loved her, she is wearing her best bed jacket and she is DELIGHTED. She would also have had my guts for garters for sharing this with you. She doesn’t even have her teeth in. It’s one of my favourite photos ever. Crikey, I miss her.
Watch The Rack Pack on BBC iPlayer here.3272 Views
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