The Madills have always been fond of Peter Alliss. As a commentator you’re either loved or loathed, people are rarely indifferent. We, a household of wordy smart aleck golf tragics, loved Alliss, who had a wonderful eye and way with words and a wicked sense of the ridiculous. He was also helpful, replying in his own handwriting to viewers who felt they knew him.
In 1972, just before I headed off to university in Edinburgh, Mum wrote to Alliss asking him if he could recommend a decent coach in the area. He wrote back suggesting John Shade at Duddingston, father of the famous Ronnie, who had a rugby international’s clutch of initials – RDBM – and was known as Right Down the Bloody Middle. John had less success with me but we laughed a lot and Maureen came over and learned a lot and won the Ladies’ British Open Amateur Championship at Nairn in 1979. So, thank you Peter.
When I worked at Golf World magazine in London in the early 1980s in a streamlined editorial department consisting of Peter Haslam, the editor, engaging, enterprising and globe-trotting; Neil Elsey, the skilled deputy editor, who died far too young; Dave Oswald, the art editor, a talented but irascible Scot who is now besotted with his allotment; and me, the dogsbody with licence to learn. One of my tasks was to write Alliss’s column and that was an education in itself. He’d send in his thoughts on cassette and the transcript would meander hither and yon, covering life, the universe, everything, with a bit of golf thrown in. It was never dull but often led to swearing (the Oswald curse haunts my language to this day) and it was only a few years later that I realised what wonderful training it had been. Knocking Alliss’s musings into readable shape and making it sound like him was a skill that was hard won. Thank you Peter.
A lot of years later, when Maureen started working with him and the rest of the incomparable BBC team, he couldn’t have been more supportive of a raw, broadcasting rookie. He’d always loved the Irish – the late, great Christy O’Connor, Himself, was a close friend – and Maureen, who was keen to learn, was astute enough to know that she was in the presence of a master. Alliss, observant and improvisational, was astute enough to realise that she always did her homework and they became allies. Thank you Peter.
Alliss is quick-witted, with an eye and an ear for the bon mot but he is also master of the pause, a skill learned from his years as apprentice to Henry Longhurst. Radio abhors a silence – my God, has the line gone down, has the presenter died? – but telly has the pictures and each one is worth a thousand words, isn’t it? People coming from radio have to learn that you don’t have to witter on when the pictures can do your talking for you. “It was a privilege to be next to him,” Maureen said. “I particularly remember the Women’s Open at Sunningdale in 2008; it was Annika’s last appearance and she was coming up the 18th, with everyone applauding and all the emotion and Peter just held up his hand to me and stopped me trampling all over a very special moment. He knew it didn’t need any words.” Thank you Peter.
As well as listening to the Alliss Q and A with Maureen, search out the speech he made when he was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2012. He was a very good golfer, who played in eight Ryder Cup teams and once won three national Open titles in a row (not the big one, admittedly) and he became a giant of a broadcaster. He left school early and has never forgotten his last report from the formidable headmistress Mrs Violet Weymouth, a short, stout Welshwoman who was a chain smoker with a nicotine-stained chin. “Peter does have a brain,” she wrote, “but he’s rather loath to use it…..I fear for his future.”
His Hall of Fame riposte ends with the gesture doing the talking. Classic Alliss. Revenge is sweet. Thank you Mrs W.