Eddie WaringDuring the 1950s, the screen legend Bob Hope advised Eddie Waring that television was the medium of the future. Within a short time, he had heeded the comic genius' advice and had begun a career on the small screen that endured for three decades, propelling him and the words that he spoke into television folklore.

Television and the commentary microphone was only one aspect of a varied career that was entwined in the sport of Rugby League covering club management and journalism - a career in the thirteen man code of rugby that spanned half a century.

Eddie Waring was born in 1910 and was brought up in Dewsbury, situated in Yorkshire's West Riding. This town would remain woven deeply into his human fabric. As a boy, he learnt his faith early as a Congregationalist and on the sporting field he played both codes of rugby, he was a talented sprinter and had football trials at Nottingham Forest and Barnsley football clubs. But the journalism bug had bitten and in the school magazine he was already writing notes on Rugby League which were edited by the schoolmaster. This led him to entering local journalism before life took an even more fulfilling turn.

In the 1930s, he became the youngest manager of a Rugby League club when taking charge at Dewsbury. His flair, personality and organisation were outstanding and led to the club becoming a trophy winning team during the war. Under his stewardship, Dewsbury won the Championship in 1942 and the Challenge Cup in 1943. He was also a pioneer and in 1936 he introduced a baseball team - the Dewsbury Royals and provided commentary on events to the uninitiated. On the outbreak of war, he persuaded the authorities to stage Rugby League matches as a morale boost for locals. His work was so prolific that, in 1945, he was headhunted by Leeds RLFC but a big city club was not his domain and post-war he could envisage new opportunities occurring.

The springboard for a return to journalism was the Great Britain tour to Australia in 1946. He took the bold step of paying for his own passage and became the first British journalist to travel with a Lions tour party Down Under. He negotiated a retainer to write articles for the Australian Press and without the help of tour management had to endure some discomforts, which included sleeping in the luggage rack of the Perth to Sydney train because he was the smallest of the touring party. Such was his spirit and charm he eventually won praise in the official tour report. He returned to Australia to tour seven times until the late 1970s. Such was his status in the Antipodes, he was regarded at times more highly than the team management and would attend official engagements with the players.

At home, he was at the forefront of projecting the sport to the public. First with the Sunday Pictorial and then the Sunday Mirror newspapers. He edited best selling annuals and would raise funds for players’ benefits by staging shows to show film of the tours to Australia and New Zealand. However, in 1958 another big change was happening. He was invited to audition for the fledgling television sports programme, Grandstand.

Ray Lakeland was the BBC producer who auditioned half a dozen candidates for Rugby League commentary and Eddie was the outstanding choice for his quality and reliability. Of course, Eddie was not a one man band and he had a team of helpers around the North of England who would acquire titbits of information for use on air. One of Eddie's team, I am told was a grocer with a wooden leg from Giggleswick. His early commentaries in the 1950s and 60s were straight, with none of the embellishments that would follow. His son Tony recalled that the asides and comments began to come in during a match where the players were unrecognisable due to a muddy pitch and therefore Eddie had to think on his feet.

The famous phrases began to appear - "Up 'n' under", "He's gone for the early bath", "You're looking at one ton of rugby - meat, brawn, muscle, brain - the lot of it". Appearing on Grandstand every week during the winter made him a cult figure across the nation. He felt he was able to put flesh on the sport he loved to a nationwide audience by using the words and phrases he invented, even though that led to the chagrin of the Rugby League purist in the North.

In 1976, a petition was handed in to the BBC asking for Eddie to be removed from the commentary. The petitioners claimed that had 10,000 signatures - Eddie said there were only 2,000 names on the list. Actor and film producer, Colin Welland once said, "While Rugby Union is treated with the importance of a state occasion, Waring reduces Rugby League to the level of mud wrestling". An opposing view is offered by former Rugby League Chief Executive, David Oxley: "He brought great feeling and a great depth of emotion to the game. He loved the players for their courage, character, humour and athleticism and he never, never held up the game to ridicule".

We'll come to the close of his Rugby League career later, because his television career encompassed so much more. His friendship with BBC producer Barney Colehan led to a referee's role on Top Town before moving to a similar position on It's A Knockout. In 1969, he pondered before moving up to the role of presenter alongside David Vine, conscious of a clash with his other duties. But move he did and by 1972, he had begun a nine year partnership with Stuart Hall. Former Knockout producer, Geoff Wilson believes Eddie stuck with the programme because "at heart he was a showman. He liked the show because gave him a high profile in another direction".

During the 1970s, Knockout was attracting huge audiences - 6.3 million people tuned in to watch Ely win the 1973 Grand Final in Paris and an incredible 19.4 million viewers watched Eddie co-present the British heat of Jeux Sans Frontières from St. Albans. I vividly recollect him now - participating with the St. Ives team in a dodgem car Fil Rouge in Knokke Heist, Belgium, parading around Camelot as Merlin Waring at Blackpool and introducing Gennaro and Guido at Windsor.

On the home front, you watched Eddie as Police Sergeant Waring in homage to Sir Robert Peel at Bury or being the dashing fencer at Newark. Then there was the Marathon, which changed and evolved through the years but was an integral part of the structure of the show. Games of skill and strength and occasionally some of the famed Knockout characters would participate for double points. I see him now at the scoreboard presenting the winner’s prize to a lord mayor and telling viewers about the Radio Times Trophy for the Champion of Champions.

Eddie appears in "The Goodies and the Beanstalk"Eddie's exposure on television was not confined to Knockout. He made fondly remembered appearances on The Morecambe and Wise Show in two of their most famous song and dance routines: first as one of the cabal of famous sailors belting out 'There Is Nothing Like A Dame' from South Pacific and then tripping the light fandango in a Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers parody. He also made a never-to-be-forgotten cameo role in The Goodies and the Beanstalk, where the golden goose egg falls from the giant’s lair. Eddie catches it, pulls off a superb hand off and runs to the try line before punching the air in joy - wonderful. In yet another diversion from his sports commentary work, his faith got a chance to shine through when he hosted the BBC's long running act of worship, Songs of Praise. There is no denying that Eddie was a big television name in the Seventies, evidenced by the fact that if you were famous at that time, then Mike Yarwood would impersonate you - and mimicking Eddie formed a regular part of the comic's repertoire.

Eddie chose to protect his private life and lived at his home in Bramhope, Leeds with his wife Mary and son Tony. His office was the Queen’s Hotel in Leeds City Centre where he was a daily occupant. He adored show business and his meetings with comic greats like Laurel and Hardy. He loved music and sang himself. Whilst always enjoying the simple things in life, he did afford himself two luxuries, a Jaguar car and good hotels. He was immensely proud of being awarded the M.B.E.

He had his own trademarks: the occupancy at the Queen’s Hotel, taxi rides to club grounds while checking his notes, copious amounts of grapes to keep the vocal chords clear, the famous trilby hats and camel coat and proud grooming of a full head of hair. Geoff Wilson's first meeting with Eddie was on location with Knockout in Scotland. Eddie was sprinkling bitter lemon on his hair. “Why are you doing that, Mr Waring?” asked the startled producer. "Well, I couldn't find any Coca Cola!" came the reply. Eddie was soon acquainted with delights of hair lacquer to withstand the vagaries of the British climate.

In 1981 at the age of 71, his broadcasting career came to close. Firstly in Rugby League with his final Challenge Cup Final at Wembley - 22 years after his first foray into the biggest occasion in the sport. But his swansong was the end of season Premiership Final at Leeds in an all Humberside final between Hull Kingston Rovers and Hull FC. His closing words were "So there it is... back to David Coleman in the Grandstand studio... it’s all yours, David lad". In response, David Coleman said, "the television presentation of the match was by Nick Hunter, summaries were by Alex Murphy and for the last time in Grandstand, we say the commentator was... Eddie Waring".

Eddie's last season of It's A Knockout was a heart rending affair for his fans and those of the programme. His will remained firm and resolved, but some of the spark seemed to have gone. He depended on the sterling efforts of those around him, while still providing verbal gems to the end. His last domestic round took Knockout back to its roots in Blackpool for a fitting finale. As for the internationals, he had not been a fixture on trips abroad for some time, but was always there to present the British heat of the Fil Rouge. Such was the case at Sunderland, where he described one of the best games in the last years of the programme. The moment at the end of the programme where he bids the viewer good night and raises a glass of champagne is very poignant.

Eddie Waring lived his last years peacefully in his beloved Yorkshire and he passed away on October 28th 1986, aged 76.

So, as the years go by, how is he remembered? Well, the BBC still presents the Eddie Waring Memorial Trophy to the player scoring the top televised try in Rugby League games each season. The Rugby League remembered him by creating a special coin embossed with Eddie's profile to spin to decide the kick off at the annual Challenge Cup Final and Knockout devotees remember him as someone without whom their programme would not have given the same undoubted pleasure and joy.

Whether he was liked or disliked, he was never ignored. For me, he was unique. There was no-one on television like him, before or since. He was the master of the Marathon and I sense a genuine affection towards him from his continental counterparts on Jeux Sans Frontières and he was more of an influence to his sport, good or bad, than virtually any other commentator. Don't take my word for it, take that of renowned broadcaster Michael Parkinson. "I think that Eddie Waring is one of the greatest commentators that any sport has ever had," he commented. Or take that of his Knockout cohort of nine years Stuart Hall: "One side of him wanted to make people laugh and the other side of him wanted people to think of him as a respectable commentator. I used to say to him 'Eddie, you've got something that is priceless. Your voice is absolutely God's gift. People imitate you. They don't imitate Stuart Hall or anyone else. Whilst you're on, it’s Eddie Waring - you’ve got everyone in the palm of your hand' ".

Some called him the ‘talking trilby’, to Stuart Hall he was the uncrowned King of Dewsbury, but I recall him with great affection as Uncle Eddie. We miss him.

by Mike Peters