Ian Wooldridge, OBE (14 January 1932 – 4 March 2007) was a British sports journalist. He was with the Daily Mail for nearly 50 years. He died from cancer. His memorial service was at the Guards Chapel, Wellington Barracks, London on Wednesday 27 June 2007.
After National Service and an apprenticeship on newspapers in New Milton and Bournemouth, he became a reporter on the News Chronicle in 1956. After a spell with the Sunday Dispatch, he moved to the Daily Mail, which absorbed the News Chronicle in 1960
Early Fleet Street career
Initially a cricket correspondent at the Mail, from 1972 Wooldridge wrote a weekly column which spread to other sports. He covered 10 Olympic Games, including the Sarajevo Winter Olympics in 1984. Writing before these games, he predicted a tragedy, but changed his mind after being there, saying they were amongst the best he had ever seen. In 1972 he covered the Munich Olympics and caused resentment among British runners with a brutish and insensitive attack on David Bedford – it emerged that Wooldridge had had to take some ribbing from foreign journalists over Bedford's failure in the 10,000 metres. His last Games were in Sydney in 2000, as well as Wimbledon tennis championships, heavyweight world title bouts, football World Cups, Open and US Masters golf championships and America's Cups for the paper. His America's Cup reporting opened the sport to a wide audience other than sailing enthusiasts. He was assisted by PR and friend David Redfern, of whom Wooldridge said " with his help, the eyes of Coronation Street as well as the Squadron are on the Cup" but in reality it was Ian's writing and interest that was the key.
He branched into other areas, writing on a revolution in Portugal, flying with the RAF's Red Arrows, riding the Cresta Run, sparring with Ugandan dictator Idi Amin and running the bulls at Pamplona. He was newspaper columnist of the year twice, sportswriter of the year five times and sports feature writer of the year four times.
Wooldridge's first job was on the New Milton Advertiser, covering the funeral of a coal merchant; he intercepted every mourner to write down his or her name – holding up the interment by more than half an hour.
According to his obituary in the Daily Telegraph, Wooldridge was sent to Alaska to cover the 1,100-mile dog sled race from Anchorage to Nome, travelling with a photographer in a one-engine aircraft steered by an old bush pilot. "You slept where you could," Wooldridge later recalled. "In trappers' huts with bare wire bedsteads to sleep on, cooking up horsemeat over a fire... We stayed with Eskimo families, Indian families – there were no hotels."
Wooldridge ghosted a syndicated column for the golfer, Max Faulkner. Once, needing a good anecdote about Faulkner's Open success, he invented a story about the golfer just before he had teed off in the final round: Faulkner, Wooldridge wrote, had scrawled "Open Champion 1949" on a ball which he handed to a young autograph hunter. Years later Wooldridge met the American writer George Plimpton, who had come across the story. "Great tale," said Plimpton admiringly. "Total nonsense," Ian replied.
Ian made over 120 documentaries for various broadcasters including the BBC. Titles include: Wooldridge on Whiskey; In the Highest Tradition; The Great Fishing Race; Behind the Lines; Trooping the Colour; The British Challenge for the America's Cup 1983
His heyday was during the late 70's and early 80's. He also did a lot of voice overs, most memorably for the British Gas advert that involved a baby swimming under water.
Opposition to apartheid
His opposition dated to his first cricket tour to South Africa. During the Port Elizabeth Test match, black South Africans were not only refused entry but beaten up by police. Because of problems with telephones, Wooldridge had to contact his London office from the committee room. Frank Keating, in The Guardian, recalled: "He had written his piece; now he had to read it at the top of his voice in the presence of about 30 hard-faced members of the republic's ruling broederband... as all 30 pairs of ears listened in the chilly, unwelcoming atmosphere, he took a deep breath and dictated: 'The wretchedly awful face of apartheid was displayed here today when...'"
In the British Press Awards he was Columnist of the Year in 1975 and 1976; and Sportswriter of the Year in 1972, 1974, 1981 and 1989. The Sports Journalists' Association made him Sportswriter of the Year for 1986, 1987 and 1995; and it chose him as Sports Feature Writer of the Year in 1990 and 1996. As Alan Sugar remarked during a libel action against the Daily Mail, journalists' award were decided by fellow journalists and "were like a lot of thieves deciding who pulled off the best bank job of the year."
In May 2006, he won the London Press Club's Edgar Wallace award for outstanding reporting. The Press Club's chairman, Donald Trelford, described Wooldridge as "more than just a sports writer, he is a journalist of the highest calibre and a master of the written word".
It is an honour to have worked in the same era as Ian Wooldridge, a precious privilege to have known him as a friend for more than 40 years. Though he would have snorted at the suggestion, he repeatedly pulled off the minor miracle of making our way of getting a living seem like a proper job for a grown-up person.
His youngest son, Max Wooldridge, is a UK-based travel writer.
- Daily Telegraph, Court & Social page (p26) 27 June 2007
- Ian Wooldridge – Obituaries, News – Independent.co.uk
- Appreciation of Wooldridge's career by the Sports Journalists' Association
- Report on Wooldridge's funeral
- Obituary from the BBC