Peter Alliss had an influence on my golfing life long before I met him. It all goes back to the early 70s when Patricia was about to set off to uni in Edinburgh and Mum wrote to Peter asking him if he could recommend any good coaches in the Scottish capital. That summed up how Peter was viewed – an ordinary golf viewer like Mum felt she could quite easily correspond with the famous Peter Alliss, a prolific tournament winner and eight-time Ryder Cup player. In no time at all, a handwritten reply arrived and the great man suggested John Shade. Patricia acted upon his advice and I soon followed in beating a path to Duddingston Golf Club to spend many delightful hours with JS, as we came to call him. It was Mr Shade who laid the foundations for my two British Championship victories and it’s an eternal regret of mine that he passed away a few weeks before my win at Nairn.
Many years later, but still pre email, I’d find myself in a TV compound somewhere with Peter and I’d see huge amounts of mail, bundles of the stuff, arriving for him. I thought perhaps he’d have a secretary to send out a generic reply but no, as he did with Mum, he considered every request and wrote back in his own hand. Seeing the innate kindness and consideration with which he dealt with people has always stayed with me. It was something I witnessed every time I was in his company.
I suppose our paths really began to cross when I turned professional. Peter was the first president of the Women’s Professional Golf Association (now the Ladies’ European Tour) and it was massively important to us and a great boost to have someone of his stature in the game fighting our corner and believing in us. He gave us credibility at a vitally important time and sponsors felt encouraged to step forward simply because Peter himself was so involved. He was never just a name on headed notepaper. He was a foot soldier, in there with us, striving and fighting for opportunities for women to play the game professionally in Europe. We owe him a lot.
The most time I spent with Peter and with his wonderful wife, Jackie, was, of course, at tournaments where I was fortunate enough to work alongside him. On one of my very early ventures into the commentary box I was rostered on to have a break immediately after lunch. Being very new to that world I decided the best use of my break would be to stay at my position in the box and listen in to, and observe, Ken Brown and Peter at work. It was an education and an early introduction to me of the importance of silence at critical times, an art that Peter felt was being lost in modern day commentary. Imagine my mixture of delight and terror when Peter suddenly gestured at me to put on my headset, pick up my mike and take part, despite the fact that I wasn’t due on for another twenty minutes. With a few more encouraging “on you go” gestures from him I took a deep breath and waded in, slightly giddy with the knowledge that the greatest commentator of all felt I may have something of interest to say. Five minutes later I heard a grunt coming from Peter’s direction and fearing I’d dropped a clanger I turned to look at him. There he was, headset off, mike down, chair pushed back, hands folded in his lap, ankles (inevitably encased in red socks) crossed, eyes closed……….taking a nap! Boy, did that bring me back to earth with a bump!
Ken always claimed that Peter reserved his best commentary for when there was no golf being shown – you know the sort of thing, a boy eating an ice cream or a dog running up a sandhill. His humour was very observational, completely spur-of-the-moment and always apt. He was a raconteur extraordinaire with an impeccable sense of timing, wonderful recall of past events and a light touch. His commentary career spanned decades, starting with clambering up scaffolding to draughty commentary positions alongside Henry Longhurst to 21st Century broadcasting from his own home, as he did only a few weeks ago during the Masters. It’s pretty fair to say he saw it all.
One of my favourite parts of a working day with Peter was the sound checks, carried out just before going on air. When called upon most of us would uninspiringly manage a “Good Morning” and a count to ten while still checking over notes and research. Not Mr Alliss. He’d heartily clear his throat, regard the TV monitor to check the early pictures the cameramen were showing and launch into five minutes of wonderful, stream-of-consciousness stuff that had us all helpless with laughter. In all my time beside him the only note I ever saw in front of him was a reminder to mention a particular club or person – usually requests that had come from his adoring fans.
A direct, tell-it-as-it-is approach did sometimes land him in hot water, however. He had some very fixed notions about things and he and I used to have what in my family are called “spirited discussions”. In other words we would each fight our corner on the topic about which we held opposing views. Our mantra was we could disagree without being disagreeable and I certainly learned a great deal more from these sessions than Peter did. He was always interested in what you had to say and keen to understand the opposite point of view but a well constructed and reasoned argument was essential to winning him over to your side. I think he enjoyed these sparring matches – I hope so. I certainly did!
Little did I realise that my last opportunity to spend any time with Peter would be at the 2019 Solheim Cup at Gleneagles. Jackie, his wife, a tour de force in her own right, was also there and we had pretty much a perfect week with the thrilling finale topping it all off. Unbiased as we try to be on air we are all simply golf fans at heart and I know Peter was immensely proud of the strides taken by the LET, the fledgling tour he helped to nurture. In the happy snap below Jackie and I are celebrating with Sam Maynard, the beating heart of the BBC production, while Peter was concluding an interview. A few minutes later he joined us and safe to say we had a few scoops that evening!
The greatest writers and broadcasters of our time have been prolific this week in writing and talking about Peter and endeavouring to catch the essence of the man. There have been so many lovely words and I’m sure an avalanche of correspondence is currently engulfing Jackie and the family. My heart and love goes out to them, as well as my thanks for sharing this marvellous man with us all. He was, quite simply, the best.