Cycling Weekly

THE ART OF THE COMMENTATOR

“That looks like Roche, that looks like Stephen Roche! It’s Stephen Roche!”
PHIL LIGGETT

The star of Italian great Felice Gimondi was already fading by the time he took to the startline of the Crystal Palace Grand Prix one cool, but sunny, April morning in 1978. The race itself was a fairly perfunctory affair, despite a star-studded startlist, but up high on a scaffold tens of feet in the air overlooking the action a completely new type of star was being born. However, the first breaths of a new life are not always smooth.

“When I climbed up, a guy comes up and tells me exactly about the commentary box,” recalls commentator Phil Liggett. “I had no idea what it all meant. And he said, ‘Well, it’s quite simple, you’ve got two televisions, we call them monitors, when the pictures on each one match up, then you’re live.’ That was the only word of advice I got.

“When Dickie Davies [TV anchor] handed over to me, the pictures matched, John [the producer] shouted in my ear ‘Cue commentator’ and I didn’t do anything, I was watching the bloody pictures. I’d forgotten I was the commentator. Then a second time he says ‘Cue commentator’. The next time he shouted at me, ‘For f***s sake, Liggett, that means you!’ With those words in my ear, I struggled into life and stammered out, ‘Good afternoon and welcome to Crystal Palace.’”

Things didn’t get much better. Later in the broadcast, he’d go on to make his biggest commentary faux pas to this day. “I remember saying ‘…and now you’ve got Gerrie Knetemann breaking wind at the front,’” Liggett recalls, able to smile about it all these years later.

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