- Not to be confused with John Hughes
Early life and career
Johns was born in Wantage, Berkshire. He served in the Fleet Air Arm during World War II. After the war he tried acting whereupon he met his future wife, Joan Hatcher, who was then working as a stage manager in the West End. They married in late 1950. During the 1950s, he became a journalist working for a number of regional newspapers in England before becoming the Welsh sports columnist for The People.
Johns became a football commentator at the behest of ATV mogul Lew Grade in 1966. ITV had won the rights to cover the 1966 FIFA World Cup in competition with the BBC; Johns led the team, which also included Gerry Loftus, John Camkin and Barry Davies (later of the BBC). He was the "other voice" of the final in which England won the World Cup for the first and (to date) only time. His description of Geoff Hurst's third goal, England's fourth ("Here's Hurst, he might make it three. He has! He has ... so that's it. That is IT!"), was overshadowed by that of his opposite number at the BBC, Kenneth Wolstenholme, who cemented his fame with "Some people are on the pitch. They think it's all over ... it is now!".
His finest hour in audience terms came in the 1970 FIFA World Cup, when ITV won the ratings battle with the BBC. Johns described all of England's matches in the competition with former national team captain Billy Wright alongside him. In the final between Brazil and Italy he memorably described Pelé's opening goal - "What a beautiful goal from Pelé! El Rey Pelé!" - El Rey being Spanish for "The King". Johns was partnered in the commentary box by Bobby Moore.
Although Brian Moore was regarded as ITV's "number 1" commentator, Moore was for many years given the role of Anchorman/Presenter for many major football occasions covered on ITV. This led to Johns covering four FIFA World Cup finals in total, from 1966 to 1978, and two FA Cup Finals (1967–68). He was also the voice for ITV's live coverage of the European Cup Finals of 1968 - when Manchester United became the first English club to claim the trophy - and 1970, when Celtic lost to Feyenoord in Milan. Other memorable games that he covered included Scotland's victory over World Champions England at Wembley in 1967 and another night of English anguish in 1973 as Alf Ramsey's team failed to beat Poland at Wembley and missed out on a place at the 1974 FIFA World Cup finals tournament (the match was only shown live on ITV, with highlights being shown on BBC later in the evening).
He was the regular commentator on ATV's Star Soccer, taking over from Peter Lorenzo shortly after the programme's launch in the London area in October 1965. From August 1968 the programme began to concentrate on the Midlands after the re-allocation of ITV franchises that summer. During this period Johns saw Derby County (twice), Nottingham Forest and Aston Villa land the League Championship. He continued working for ATV, and subsequently Central Television until the summer of 1982 when he was replaced by a new recruit from BBC Radio Sport, Peter Brackley. His last major ITV duties came at the World Cup that year in Spain although he was effectively relegated to the number 4 commentary spot on the ITV team, and covered no live matches.
Until 1996 Johns continued to commentate for HTV Wales, making occasional network appearances on the odd international or Cup tie. He also produced a documentary on Ian Rush - simply called Ian. In an interview with ITV on his retirement he revealed that he helped to lubricate his vocal cords with a couple of pints of Brains Bitter every day and was a regular smoker.
Johns was known as the "voice of Midlands football". In 2002 he was presented with a "Golden Microphone" by Brian Clough, for services to football in the Midlands. He also commentated on snooker, boxing, crown Green bowls and darts.