Sid Waddell- Sports Commentator A-Z Autobiography

PUBLISHED: 13:49 11 January 2010 | UPDATED: 16:14 20 February 2013

Sid Waddell.

Sid Waddell.

Geordie darts legend Sid Waddell is famous for his wild, ranting TV commentaries. In an exclusive interview, the voice of Sky TV darts talks to Michael Hamilton about his career and his new book, The Road Back Home


MH: Tell me how the new book came to be written.


Sid: I started about six years ago working on an A-Z autobiography and it contained stuff about my early life, my three years at Cambridge as a scholar of St John's College and my TV career.


At university I was also captain of the darts team and I had a chip on my shoulder. It wasn't so much that I was in love with darts but I did try to get it made a 'Blues sport' at Cambridge! I was one of a very few guys who got college colours for soccer and rugby. I was like a court jester and used to tell jokes and take the mickey out of the rugby team.


So I wanted to write about all that and when I gave them a few chapters the publisher said: "You've got two books here. One about darts and its amazing subculture and an 'Angela's Ashes' story about growing up in Northumberland, so which one do you want to write first?"


I did Bellies and Bullseyes first - (his darts 'bible' was nominated for Sports Book of the Year in 2008 and he picked up the prestigious Sports Commentator of the Year in 2002) but The Road Back Home is a more serious book.


MH: Your parents made great sacrifices for your education.


Sid: I wouldn't have gone to grammar school but for several factors. For one, the 1944 Education Act scrapped school fees, and then there was the dedication of my parents, two amazing people.


My father Bob got up every day and crawled out under the North Sea working as a coalface drawer - which meant he was jammed in a claustrophobic tunnel pulling the roof down as he went and hoping it wouldn't collapse on him and kill him.


The highest wage he put on the table was 11 and 10 shillings for 48 years working down Ellington Colliery and when he retired they misspelled his name on a commemorative scroll calling him Weddell.


He had angina by the time I went to Cambridge so he had to go on lighter work and was putting about 9 and 10 shillings on the table in 1958. So my mother Martha got a job scrubbing floors at the workingmen's club for a paltry 2 a week.


Unless I had had a big supportive family of workers and savers I would probably have ended up selling fruit at Ashington market.


But the book is also a parable about what Margaret Thatcher did to the pit communities. My whole career was predicated on solid, reasonably-paid employment in the pits. It was the same for people who lived in South Wales, Scotland, Yorkshire Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire.


She stopped social mobility and created an underclass. That's one of the reasons I had to write the book. The other was as a monument, a tribute to my parents.


The shadow of the pit dominated my childhood and everybody in the village of Lynemouth, which had a population of about 3,000. There were 700 men working down the pit at Lynemouth or Ellington Colliery and we knew there was likely to be an average of four deaths in the pits every year.


We lived in constant fear of horrific injuries. We knew Auld Betty (the pitmen's nickname for the colliery, named after a daughter of coal baron Francis Priestman) was going to take your thumb, your eye, give you angina or kill you.


MH: Your parents must have been very proud of your excellent academic achievements. (His father died in 1989 and mother in 1999)


Sid: My parents had no idea where they were sending me when I went to Cambridge. My mother was Catholic and religious. She wanted me to be a priest and my father wanted me to be a maths scholar and become a nuclear scientist. But the highest I ever got in maths was fourth in the class. I was good at history and finished with a very good 2:1 degree in Modern History.


But the fear of my father dying in the pit was why I kept up a faade of religiousness as a kid. From the age of eight I went to Alnwick Convent. When I passed the 11-plus at Ellington Primary School my granny wanted me to go to the Catholic grammar school in Newcastle, St Cuthbert's. But Bob said: "I'm not having Sidney getting up at 6am to come back 12 hours later just for religion." So I went to Morpeth Grammar school.


They were both very funny people too, each having a great sense of humour. My dad was Scottish and my mother was of Irish extraction.


MH: How has the village changed since your childhood?


Sid: It's painful for me to walk the streets of Lynemouth. I go back because my cousin Robert still lives there - he's 78 - and my friend Richie Stafford. But the community in which I grew up has changed beyond all recognition.


There was massive respect for birth, marriage, death and family


My father used to sit and guard his leek trench at night with a shotgun. It wasn't loaded but he took that much pride in his vegetable garden.


I remember the sanctity of life there. Now there are kids walking the streets of Lynemouth whose parents have never worked. That community spirit is not there any more. It's not the fault of the people, who do their best.


The problem is we give our money to casino gamblers who are not in Vegas but in the big banking offices in London. Why were the pits assassinated, the shipyards and the steel business? Nowadays, globalisation and instant gratification are the buzzwords.


I was brought up with respect for what my father did and how that gives the village butcher a living and how it puts money behind the till at the workingmen's club. There was self-policing and if you misbehaved the copper would slap you around the ear.


MH: You are quite critical of yourself in the book.


Sid: I led a privileged life and the book contrasts the gilded boyhood I had with the tough life of my cousins. Some went down the pit, some worked in shops, but the whole family used to pull together. I am self-critical. I also have a nasty temper, which I inherited from my uncle Bill, and cousin Tot. Sometimes I'm completely out of control with rage.


I hit a kid with a brick when I was seven because he leaned his bike against our wall. I was a bit of a tearaway as a teenager too. I once took on three louts when I had a broken arm and put one of them in hospital.


At Cambridge I realised I was too impatient to be an academic. That's the secret of the wild darts commentary. It's an act, like Eddie Waring's rugby commentary used to be an act.


MH: Tell me how you got into TV.


Sid: After I left Cambridge I had no idea what I wanted to do. My first job was as a cost clerk at Ashington colliery for 7 a week. In 1964 I wrote a play, which won a national prize from the BBC, and I went to London as their guest. I met The Animals who were there to do Top of the Pops but were more busy chatting up the sexy dancers in Pan's People.


I was dressed in grey flannels and a hacking jacket and looked a complete geek but I got on with them and Eric Burdon asked me to be their road manager for the night.


After the show we went to a Soho pub and suddenly I'm drinking pints with Paul Jones and Manfred Mann, and Chris Farlowe and Zoot Money, who had all been on the show. It was unreal.


Then I worked for Tyne Tees Television and Granada and did the Indoor League in the Seventies with Freddie Trueman.


MH: Do you think you'll ever come back to live in the North East? (He lives in Leeds)


Sid: It would be really tricky. My wife, Irene, is from Pudsey and our children Lucy, Emma, Charlotte and Daniel all grew up there. She also has a son, Nicholas from her first marriage. Living in Leeds is ideal for my job.


When the Premier League Darts starts in February, I spend 15 weeks going north south and west to Glasgow, London and Blackpool. And we have three lots of family in Surrey, Hertfordshire and Chiswick. And I don't drive. Irene does all the driving.


MH: Why did you never learn to drive?


Sid: I had FIVE different driving instructors up to 1972 and the last one jumped out of the car in the middle of York and said the only bloody place they should let you loose is Brands Hatch. I am Jenson Button after three lessons. I have no fear at all and never weigh up what will happen.


MH: It's probably a blessing you don't drive because you like a drink too.


Sid: I've calmed down a lot now. How on earth we got the show out on New Year's Day 15 years ago I have no idea.


Then I could knock back six pints of lager and half a bottle of whisky and do karaoke until two in the morning and still be able to commentate at two in the afternoon. I couldn't do that now.


I found I'm actually allergic to certain alcoholic drinks, especially if I mix it. If I have two glasses of white wine you would think I had flu the next morning. I've been asthmatic since I was 14 and anything can set me off sneezing. I had an operation on my nose at 16. It was cauterised so I don't have a lining inside my nose to catch the dust and pollen in the air.


My voice is my living so I have to look after it. Sky pays me an enormous amount of money and it depends on my voice. I even have a voice coach now too and do proper breathing exercises to safeguard it. I've just signed a five-year deal with Sky!


MH: What's your favourite 'Sidism' of all time?


Sid: I got so much criticism early doors - I was accused of having Tourette's syndrome and 'screaming like a Banshee with piles' - so the one that showed everybody I was a bright lad was when I said in 1985: "Alexander of Macedonia was 33 and cried salt tears because there were no more worlds to conquer. Eric Bristow is only 27." I didn't rehearse it.


Another famous one was: "There's only one word for that - magic darts" which everybody thought was mine, but in fact it was co-commentator Tony Green.


On another occasion Tony had written down 'the hands of Anderson' on a piece of paper in the commentary box with a view to using it in a Bob Anderson match. He popped out for a break and they put me on air and I stole it. I commentated: "The hands of Anderson weave their own fairytale and it's looking Grimm for the other bloke." Anyone can improve on a good line.


Some commentators get hooked on averages and biography. I just look at the screen and react quickly to what I see.


MH: What's your best ever darts finish and how many times have you hit 180?


Sid: My best ever finish was 107 - treble 19 and bull at a Pudsey pub several years ago. I've done a couple of 180s in my career, one against Bill Beaumont, the rugby player, at the Embassy in 1985.


MH: What would your dad make of your cult TV celebrity status?


Sid: Bob would think it was all hilarious. He used to beat me at darts and he was a good snooker player too.


*The Road Back Home is published by Ebury Press 16.99


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