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Alliss's Wit and Humor Honored

The Mischief and Humour of the Great Golf Commentaror is Legendary, writes Dermot Gilleece

Posted May 15, 2012 by Dermot Gilleece

peter alliss

The staging of the Volvo World Matchplay Championship fits nicely in the wake of the Peter Alliss’s induction into the World Golf Hall of Fame.  Because the voice of the Beeb did some of his most memorable work at this event, before its move from Wentworth to Spain.

Alliss also left an indelible stamp on the Scottish Open, especially when it was staged at Loch Lomond, before the move to Castle Stuart last year.  Indeed I vividly recall a situation a few years ago when a lone figure, isolated from the crowd around the short 17th  was looking out to the iconic stretch of water with his back to the television camera. It must have been the man's furtive look over his shoulder which prompted Alliss, with typical mischief, to remark: "He's not.....is he?"  Then he let the mischief do its work.

The notion of a spectator peeing publicly at a legendary beauty spot still sends Ken Brown into a fit of laughter.  It is part of a fund of cherished memories, accumulated since he joined Alliss on the BBC's golf commentary team about 10 years ago.

Of all their work together, Brown has most enjoyed the World Matchplay Championship. "It's what Peter leaves unsaid that is often most amusing," he said. "It was only when you stopped and thought about the man at Loch Lomond that you realised he couldn't be having a Jimmy Riddle, with the world and his mother watching him from the big grandstand.  Yet it was hilariously funny, because of the way Peter planted the seed."

I then reminded him of the woman who lay supine on the grass at Wentworth during the BMW Championship a few years ago.  And how, when she happened to appear on camera, a very naughty Alliss said:  "Come, take me."  Brown laughed once more.  And there was the occasion in 2004, when he was working for the ABC Network in the US and Chris DiMarco's "saw" putting action was highlighted by the TV camera. "I haven't seen a grip like that since they closed the gentleman's lavatory at Charing Cross Station," said Alliss.  And I wondered what on God's earth American audiences could have made of it.

Alliss, Wentworth and the Matchplay became a wonderful golfing mix, and Brown was delighted to be a part of it.  "Peter seemed to come into his own there, perhaps because of an association with the West Course dating back to his Ryder Cup debut in 1953.  And seeing Ben Hogan and Sam Snead winning the Canada Cup there three years later.  He then played in the World Matchplay, which is something I never did."

In the autumn of 1964, Mark McCormack launched the World Matchplay over the West Course and a year later, both Alliss and his Ryder Cup partner, Christy O'Connor Snr, made their only appearances in it.  O'Connor lost on the 37th to an old adversary, Peter Thomson, fresh from his Open triumph at Royal Birkdale, and Alliss also lost in the first round to Tony Lema, who would be killed in an air crash less than a year later.

"As the last of the great commentators, I think Peter really came into his own in the Matchplay,” continued Brown. “With not so much golf being played, he was afforded the opportunity of talking about other, normal things, which he has a genius for seeing differently to other people.  It was all so innocent, but with the whiff of danger.  You could imagine Peter thinking, 'Dare I say it?'.  Then: 'Ah what the hell, I'm near to retirement anyway.  I'll go for it.'"  

Aware that their days together are numbered, because of the Beeb’s seriously declining involvement in tournament golf, Brown concluded: "A beauty of working with him is that you never quite know what is coming next.  While he wouldn’t set out to give you a hospital pass, you definitely have to be on your toes because there's always a surprise.  Which is what he loves about the work." 

In far-off St Augustine in North Florida for an overdue honour, Alliss gave his American audience some charming samples of his craft, mischief and all.  And like those of us on this side of the pond, they loved him for it.

- Dermot Gilleece

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