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26 April 1926 |
Alderley Edge, Cheshire, England
David Coleman, OBE (born 26 April 1926, Alderley Edge, Cheshire) is an English former sports commentator and TV presenter who worked for the BBC for almost fifty years. In 2000, he was awarded the Olympic Order, the highest honour of the Olympic movement.
Born of Irish heritage (his immediate family hailed from County Cork), Coleman was a keen amateur runner. He attended a grammar school in Cheshire and competed as a schoolboy middle distance runner. In 1949, he won the Manchester Mile as a member of Stockport Harriers, the only non-international runner to do so. He competed in the English National Cross-Country Championships for Manchester Athletic Club in 1952 (116th, 3rd team) and 1953 (118). He ran 440 yards (¼ mile) for Staffordshire and injury eventually caused him to give up competitive running. He later became president of the Wolverhampton & Bilston Athletics Club.
He joined Kemsley Newspapers after demobilisation and at twenty two became editor of the Cheshire County Express. He didn't attend the 1952 Olympic trials because of hamstring injuries. Instead he approached the BBC to see if they would like any help with athletics coverage. Although he did not have an audition, the BBC asked him to cover Roger Bannister at Bradford City Police Sports. The following year he began freelance radio work in Manchester.
In 1954 Coleman moved to Birmingham and joined the BBC as a news assistant and sports editor. His first television appearance was on Sportsview, coincidentally on the day that Roger Bannister broke the four-minute mile. In November 1955, he was appointed Sports Editor for the BBC's Midlands Region.
In October 1958, the BBC's Head of Sport Peter Dimmock recruited Coleman to be the presenter of the new Saturday afternoon sports programme Grandstand. He continued as the regular presenter until 1968. He also presented the BBC's Sports Review of the Year from 1961, and Sportsnight with Coleman (1968–1972) – which included an interview with the then Conservative Party leader, Ted Heath, on his famous triumph in the Sydney to Hobart yacht race – as well as other special sporting events such as the Grand National. He even covered the return of the Beatles from the United States and the 1959 General Election for the BBC from the Press Association headquarters.
As well as a presenter, Coleman was also a sports commentator. He presented and/or commentated on 11 Olympic Games from Rome 1960 to Sydney 2000, as well as eight Commonwealth Games. He covered six World Cups as a commentator, including the finals of 1974 and 1978 and a seventh (1982) as a presenter.
He was the BBC's senior football commentator for several years from 1971; he commentated on the World Cup Final in 1974 and 1978, the European Cup Final in 1973 and 1975 and the FA Cup final from 1972 to 1976 inclusive, although he missed the 1977 game because he was in a legal dispute with the BBC, allowing John Motson to make his FA Cup final debut. Coleman returned for the 1978 final before Motson took over the following year. Coleman's last live football commentary was the England v Scotland game in the 1979 Home International Championship, although he continued to work at football matches as a secondary commentator until October 1981, his last game being a midweek League Cup game between Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester United. Coleman's dramatic and lyrical style was affectionately regarded by viewers and BBC management alike and hence preferred for big games over the more prosaic delivery of the BBC's other commentators. He frequently displayed a knack for coming up with spontaneous and lyrical descriptions, two of the most memorable being:
"And the Czechoslovak defence was left just strung across the pitch like a line of washing" [Brazil v Czechoslovakia, 1970 World Cup]
"Keegan two Heighway one - Liverpool three Newcastle none" (FA Cup Final 1974)
In 1968, at the Mexico Olympics Coleman was recorded at 200 words per minute while commentating on David Hemery's win in the 400m Hurdles. After the finish he could only identify the first two and famously exclaimed: "Who cares who's third?" The bronze medal winner turned out to be another Briton, John Sherwood. Out of respect for Sherwood, most subsequent showings of the race have dubbed the line out. He also had to commentate on a Greek athlete called Papageorgopoulos and a Madagascan athlete called Jean-Louis Ravelomanantsoa in adjacent lanes in the 100m.
Coleman's inability to 'read' a race remained entirely unsullied by experience to the end of his long commentating career. The phenomenon was clearly spotted by satirists of the '80s and '90s, who portrayed him as constantly surprised by mundane happenings at athletic events. Clive James wrote that the difference between commentating and 'colemantating' is that a commentator says something you may wish to remember; a colemantator says something you try to forget.
Coleman concentrated on athletics commentary from 1984. He also hosted the sports quiz show A Question Of Sport for 18 years from 1979 to 1997, striking up a strong rapport with captains such as Emlyn Hughes, Ian Botham, Willie Carson and Bill Beaumont. Although he hosted the vast majority of the shows, he was occasionally absent and stand-in hosts were drafted in. The former host David Vine returned to the show in 1989 when Coleman was ill, Bill Beaumont hosted two editions in 1996, while Will Carling temporarily replaced Beaumont as team captain, and Sue Barker hosted two editions later that year.
Coleman retired from broadcasting after the 2000 Summer Olympics, his eleventh summer games, the moment BBC Sport became a separate division of the BBC. In December 2000, he was presented with the Olympic Order by then-IOC president Juan Antonio Samaranch in recognition of his services to the Olympic ideals.
He retired, requesting no fanfare or recognition by the BBC, despite working for the corporation for over 40 years.
The BBC later broadcast a programme entitled The Quite Remarkable David Coleman to celebrate his life, which was aired just after his 85th birthday in May 2011.
He is affectionately known for his on-air gaffes. He is so adept at spouting clichés, mispronouncing names, and generally making senseless comments, that the satirical magazine Private Eye named its sports bloopers column Colemanballs – a word conceived by Coleman himself – in his honour. The gaffe that started it all off, a description of the Cuban 400m and 800m gold medallist, Alberto Juantorena who "just opened his legs wide and showed us all his class" was actually said not by Coleman but his colleague Ron Pickering.
Coleman was mentioned in the Trailer sketch of the Monty Python's Flying Circus episode Archaeology Today where the voice-over by Eric Idle states at the end of the sketch showing Coleman with ... And for those of you who don't like television there's David Coleman. And of course there'll be sport. But now for something completely different – sport.
He is married to Barbara and they have six children, Anne, Dean, David, Mandy, Michael and Samantha. His daughter Anne was a British ladies show jumping champion.
- In the 1974 FA Cup Final, he said that Newcastle United's defence had been stripped naked by Liverpool and that "Toshack's leg was just not long enough".
- "Linford Christie has a habit of pulling it out when it matters the most."
- "Dave Wottle has completely misjudged this race... And here comes Wottle!"
- "And for those of you watching on black-and-white sets, Everton are wearing the blue shirts."
- "Britain's Olympic Gold medallist.....Daley Cathlon."
- "The Dutch manager told them in the dressing gown at half-time."
- "Er...no, I don't think so."
- Clive James, Glued to the Box (London, 1983)
- "A legend to the bitter end". The Guardian. UK. 30 December 2000. Retrieved 29 April 2008.
- "The Quite Remarkable David Coleman". BBC. May 5, 2011. Retrieved October 13, 2013.
- Chris Roberts, Heavy Words Lightly Thrown: The Reason Behind Rhyme, Thorndike Press,2006 (ISBN 0-7862-8517-6)
|Regular host of Grandstand
No regular host
|Regular host of Match of the Day
|Regular host of Grandstand
|Regular host of Sportsnight
|Host of A Question of Sport