"A Man for All Seasons"

The Superstars ... A Question of Sport ... Grandstand ... Miss World
It's A Knockout
... Ski Sunday ... The Horse of the Year Show
Jack High
... The Eurovision Song Contest ... World Snooker

How on earth can you connect this eclectic mix of television programmes? Well the connection can be made in the familiar face and voice of David Vine, whose distinctive West Country tones defined sports action for generations, but his life and career has encompassed so much more and that includes being the commentator on It's A Knockout during its formative years on the air.

David Vine was born on January 3rd 1935 in Newton Abbot, Devon. He was a second son to father Harold and mother Dorothy May and a younger brother to Peter. He was brought up in Barnstable and attended the local elementary and grammar schools. It seems that journalism was the vocation for David and aged 17 he joined the North Devon Journal Herald as a cub reporter. His first loves were for words and Rugby Union and he played for South Moulton RFC's first XV and on many occasions he would report on matches in which he had featured, always making sure not to mention one of the team's best players.

This was the era of National Service and aged 21 he joined up to the Intelligence Corps and spent most of his time in London. Of course, he signed the infamous D-notice that prohibits giving any information about his time working in intelligence but he has assured people that he spent good times in London Inns and hostelries and that his national service was strenuous work. His duty done, he returned to Devon and resumed his journalistic work at the Western Morning News in Plymouth, eventually becoming the newspaper's sports editor.

Television was beckoning him and in 1961, he joined Westward TV, the newly-launched ITV station for the South West of England. He helped to create a sports department and quickly became of familiar face on screen as a reporter. His work obviously impressed bosses at the BBC who, in 1966, hired him to present Sportscene on BBC2. This led to a spot of moonlighting as BBC2 couldn't be received in the South West, so for a while, David was appearing on both BBC and ITV Westward. Eventually the gaffe was blown by Peter Black in the Daily Mail newspaper and David left Westward to build on his national profile at the BBC.

1967 was big year for David Vine. His sports broadcasts began with the soccer based Quizball and he regularly presented the BBC's flagship sports programme Grandstand. He also became a reporter for Rugby Special and introduced the first sports broadcasts in colour from Wimbledon. Additionally, he was invited to join It's A Knockout as a presenter and commentator. Originally, he worked alongside McDonald Hobley and his debut show came from Lytham St. Annes in Lancashire. The 1967 series featured his famous commentary on the game from Hawick in Scotland that featured a knight in armour rescuing a damsel in distress from a castle, in which many things went wrong and it all descended into chaos. Back then the programmes, both from home and abroad, were live and David's first continental foray came from Paris in June 1967 and, according to the information on the JSFnetGB website, the series ended with 13 million viewers watching that year's live final from Germany.

Katie Boyle joined David and referee Eddie Waring in 1968 for the domestic series. Overall, there was still no success for Great Britain, but that would change eventually. Footage of the 1968 Grand Final from Brussels shows RTBF presenter Paule Herreman introducing all the commentators in their booths and, sure enough, there is David - headphones on and microphone in hand. Following an alleged dispute over hairdressing, Katie Boyle left the series and Eddie Waring, who had been with Knockout from the start, became a presenter and former football referee Arthur Ellis joined the series for the 1969 season. Shrewsbury became the first International success for David to describe with their victory in Edinburgh and the Shropshire team went on to win the Gold Trophy after tying for first place in the Grand Final at Blackpool. 1970 was a disappointing year, with no British success and there was a big change on the horizon.

David was hired alongside sporting legends Henry Cooper and Cliff Morgan to launch A Question of Sport to a national audience - ironically the programme had already been aired in the Northern region only and had been hosted by Stuart Hall. The original series of A Question of Sport was recorded in BBC studios converted from a church in Dickinson Road in Manchester - the venue that had become famous as the first studios for Top of the Pops back in January 1964. David remained asking the sporting questions until 1977 and then reappeared in the 1990s as a short term replacement for his successor in the role, David Coleman.

David stayed with It's A Knockout until the 1971 series, which began domestically at Colwyn Bay in North Wales and included an FA Cup Final edition of the show from the same location. Once more, Blackpool came up trumps as they won their international on home soil - or rather, home water - at the South Promenade Bathing Pool and better was to come as the Lancastrians were triumphant in the Grand Final in Essen, Germany, becoming Great Britain's second champion team. The JSFnetGB website can illuminate further on the events surrounding the 1971 Final. David's final appearance on the show came with It's A Christmas Knockout from Aviemore in Scotland, with Blackpool once more to the fore for the Great Britain cause.

David's time on Knockout was over and the programme would achieve its greatest successes after he had stepped down. However, David Vine's career continued apace and Christmas Eve, 1973, was to be the launchpad for a series he would go on to host for twelve years. The Superstars was a BBC co production with Trans World International, the broadcast arm of IMG, an organisation which was, in effect, the agent of many of the world's top sporting stars. The programme gave the opportunity for sportsmen and women to shine at many different events, including the infamous gymnasium tests and in doing so, increase their profile with the public. The first show staged at Crystal Palace in London was won by Olympic hurdler David Hemery and featured amongst others, Welsh rugby star Barry John, cricketer Tony Greig, and golfer Tony Jacklin.

David hosted The Superstars for its entire run alongside Ron Pickering and, without doubt, they were one of television's great double acts of the 1970s and 1980s. The Superstars was a great success and spiralled into European, International and World events. It featured some of sport's biggest names such as Kevin Keegan, Bjorn Borg, Gareth Edwards, Daley Thompson and James Hunt and introduced to a large audience unheralded names who became famous such as Brian Jacks, Keith Fielding and Brian Hooper.

David Vine's presentation and commentary career has been nothing if not varied. In sport, he covered many Olympic Games and specialised in the weightlifting disciplines. For many years, he hosted the major show jumping events such as The Horse of the Year Show, Hickstead and Olympia, that made riders like David Broome, Harvey Smith and Eddie Macken stars. He hosted Starshot, a BBC2 series that introduced clay target skeet shooting to the masses. Bowls was another sport he commentated on either at the Commonwealth Games or in the series Jack High and once again, unfamiliar names such as David Bryant, Willie Wood and Tony Allcock became well known through the exposure these broadcasts afforded them.

However, David became synonymous with two sports in particular. Firstly skiing, the popularity of which really took hold after Franz Klammer's dramatic downhill win at the 1976 Olympic Winter Games in Innsbruck - although it was David's Superstars colleague, Ron Pickering, at the microphone describing the action on that particular occasion. Later in 1976, the BBC decided to devote more time to Winter Sports and Ski Sunday was conceived. David presented the series for twenty years and his unique descriptive powers of action on the piste became his trademark. The racers still talk of the curse of Vine as they would inevitably crash just as David would remark at how well they had done. Many remember David's commentary as Britain's Konrad Bartelski finished second at Val Gardena in 1982 and Martin Bell finished 8th in the Olympic downhill of 1988 in Calgary.

David became so well known for Winter Sports that Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders asked him to appear in a sketch lampooning British efforts on the slopes. Another comic pairing, Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie, would often refer to David in their shows as 'the Guv'nor' and sometime during the 1970s when former Grandstand host Frank Bough appeared on the comedy show, Hello Cheeky, he remarked about his times at the BBC and said, "I've been around for so long, I remember when David Vine was a grape!"

Secondly, there was snooker, which from 1977 to 2000, had David presenting all the major tournaments for the BBC. In that time snooker's popularity rose to incredible levels. In fact, 18 million people were watching at 12.30am in May 1985 when Dennis Taylor clinched the World Championship title with the final black ball of the final frame against Steve Davis, then the top ranked player. David's final Snooker presentation was at the 2000 World Final won by Wales' Mark Williams, but earlier in that year while fronting the coverage of The Masters tournament from Wembley, he was confronted by Michael Aspel and the infamous big red book of This Is Your Life. Vine and Aspel had worked before, presenting the Miss World beauty contest for the BBC in the 1970s and also in that decade, when David commentated on the Eurovision Song Contest that Abba won in Brighton. Ironically, that contest in 1974 was presented by his former Knockout co-host, Katie Boyle.

An interest in amateur dramatics in Barnstable led to David meeting Shirley whom he married in 1958. They had three children: Kim, Martin and Katherine. However, tragedy was to occur as Shirley died in 1970 after a long illness. David committed to bring up his family on his own, but fate and an Afghan hound named Khan changed everything. A friend and neighbour, Mandy was leaving the area and asked David if he and his children could care for the dog as she couldn't take it with her. David suggested he would have Khan for the children, if he could take her out to dinner. Ten days later, David proposed to Mandy and they were married in 1972 in Reading. One year later, his second son Christian was born and David is now a grandfather to Ben, Georgia and Oliver.

David Vine hung up his microphone after the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney and in recent times had been suffering with a heart condition. David passed away on Sunday 11th January 2009, following a heart attack at his home near Henley-on-Thames in Oxfordshire. All Knockout fans send their condolences to David's family, friends and colleagues and thank him for the role he played in It's A Knockout's early years that laid the foundation for the great years that followed. Not only a man for all seasons, but a man for all reasons too.

by Mike Peters