On 11th August 2012 the sport of darts lost Sid Waddell (‘The Voice of Darts’) to cancer at the age of 72.
I begin this article with my personal tribute to the great man and this is followed by tributes from Dr. Eddie Norman (Darts Entrepreneur and Globe-trotting darts ambassador), my sponsors the WINMAU Dartboard Company and Irish darts organiser and historian Arthur Hook plus others from the world of sport.
SID WADDELL – AN INSPIRATION
I first met Sid in Manchester in 1988. He was one of two men in those early days who encouraged me to research darts history, persuading me that the work I was undertaking had real value. It did not take me long to discover the key role Sid was playing in the promotion and development of darts’ ‘modern era’ and which he continued to play until the end of his life.
The son of Martha and Bob Waddell, Sid was born on Wednesday 10th August 1940 in Alnwick, Northumberland. From the very beginning Bob and Martha were determined that neither Sid nor his brother Derrick would follow their father down the mines. In 2009 Sid stated that he would have been nowhere without the sacrifice and dedication of his parents who he said gave him “the material and moral support to live my sporting dreams and realise my academic potential.”
Sid was educated at Ellington County Primary School and later gained a place at Morpeth Grammar School where he excelled at English and History. In 1958 he was awarded an Open Minor Scholarship to St. John’s College, Cambridge. Whilst at Cambridge, Sid captained a darts team, regular members of which included ‘a Chinese fan of George Formby…and a Jean-Luc Goddard freak’. He later claimed that on one historic occasion his team was well beaten ‘by a team of trainee vicars’.
After three years at Cambridge, Sid was awarded a 2:1 degree in Modern History. In the summer of 1962, he applied for a job as Clerk at the colliery offices in Ashington but was turned down as ‘too qualified’. He then obtained a post as a research assistant at Durham University and toyed with the idea of a career in academia. However, in 1965 Sid became a TV researcher, eventually working his way up to producer of current affairs programmes.
In 1972 Sid became involved with the production of one of the most eccentric English television programmes ever produced; Yorkshire Television’s The Indoor League. The show, which ran for six series, set champions of pub games against each other. It is generally accepted that The Indoor League directly led to darts being more regularly featured on television in the UK. The programme launched the TV darts commentating careers of not only Sid but also Dave Lanning. They shared the commentary box for many years.
In 1977 Sid commentated on his first darts match for the BBC and soon became renowned for his skill at manipulating the English language to suit the unbridled excitement that he personally felt about every dart thrown, thereby transferring his own passion for darts to the viewing public. Sid then successfully moved from the BBC to Sky in 1994.
Famous phrases such as “There hasn’t been this much excitement since the Romans fed the Christians to the lions” and “There’s only one word for that – Magic darts” endeared him to darts fans and his fellow commentators. Mike Walters of the Daily Mirror summed up Sid’s appeal thus: ‘If puns, pathos or peerless analogy is your currency, nobody does it better.’
Sid believed that the key to being a commentator was ‘to know when to shut up’ and when asked, after thirty-five years in the darts commentary box, what was his proudest moment Sid replied, “Being voted ‘Sports Commentator of the Year’ in 2002 by seventy-five other sports commentators.” Other awards included being elected (along with Dave Lanning) to the Professional Darts Council’s ‘Hall of Fame’ in 2008.
After being diagnosed with bowel cancer in September 2011 Sid underwent treatment and eventually rejoined the SKY commentary team on the opening night of the McCoy’s Premier League Darts at the Manchester Arena in February 2012. Insert cover of Bedroll Bella
During his lifetime Sid was author and compiler of over a dozen books including Bedroll Bella (1973), a story of a ‘17-year old Geordie lass using foul language to pushy randy lads’ which was banned by both W. H. Smith and John Menzies, and several books on darts. These included Bellies and Bullseyes – The Outrageous True Story of Darts (2007), his autobiographical account of the modern era of darts in which he played such a key role. Also, during his time with the BBC, Sid had written ten episodes of the children’s TV series Jossy’s Giants.
Sid always regarded Phil Taylor as ‘the greatest living sportsman’ and ghosted Phil’s The Power – My Autobiography (2003). Sid also ghosted his friend Jocky Wilson’s autobiography Jocky – Jocky Wilson’s Own Story (1983) and in 2006 announced that he was planning ‘Jocky Wilson – The Movie’; a project I understand he was still working on at the time of his death.
Always ready to defend darts, Sid said in 1981, “I defy anyone not to consider this sport of the highest calibre’. Earlier, in 1978 he wrote, “Sport is about mind over matter, competition, developing the senses, giving pleasure to player and spectator. Just like Lowe v Rees for £3,000, or the barmaid and I for a half of Pennine bitter.”
In 100 TV Moments from Hell (2000) Sid, when asked how he would like to be remembered replied, “I’d love to be remembered as the first man to put shove ha’penny on the television.” Although Sid said this with his tongue firmly in his cheek we all know that Sid will be long-remembered as one of the fathers of the modern era of darts. We darts fans owe Sid a great deal. Personally, I would not have set out of the path I did back in the 1980s pursuing the, up until then hidden, history of our sport without his encouragement and support.
He is survived by his wife Irene, their children Lucy, Emma, Charlotte and Daniel and Irene’s son Nicholas.
Sid’s funeral took place on Wednesday 22nd August 2012 at 12.30 p.m. at Pudsey Parish Church, West Yorkshire. A wake followed at the Pudsey Cricket Club.
MEMORIES OF THE LATE SID WADDELL – DR. EDDIE NORMAN
It was with extreme sadness that I heard of the passing of Sid Waddell after a long illness.
Insert young Waddell Sid was without doubt the most well-known voice of darts and many people with not a great deal of interest in darts, including my own mother, watched the sport just to hear Sid with his unique knowledge of darts use his comic but well-informed catchphrases. My mother, probably like many millions more people, loved to repeat them, especially to me when I called to see her.
Sid had a way with those phrases that no one could match and his idiosyncratic use of the English language on his darts commentating was unique and will be sorely missed by his many darts followers worldwide.
In early 1973 I had a telephone call from Sid to ask if I could sort out a ‘few of the Welsh Boys’ to take part in a TV programme he was producing called The Indoor League, which he wanted to expand. Indeed it was a pleasure to go up to the Irish Centre in Leeds in 1973 with a ‘few of the Welsh Boys’ to meet up with Sid.
Sid’s enthusiasm for darts was absolutely immense, he talked darts for the whole two days we were there, and Tommy O’Regan won the final that year defeating Alan Evans.
When we drove back down South, we heard a rattle in the boot of the car, and stopping we discovered two crates of beers, and a note from Sid attached ‘for the journey home’. The following year Sid again invited me to invite a ‘few of the Welsh boys’ and this time Leighton Rees won and again a now familiar rattle in the boot ‘for the journey home’ was a note from Sid with three crates of beer.
Sid always supported the underdog and when Wales played Great Britain in 1976 at Weston-Super-Mare organised by the fledgling United Kingdom Darts Federation, Sid incurred the wrath of many in London and beyond and turned up and sat in the front row of the match to make sure he was photographed there and offer his support.
Over the years I have met up with Sid as our paths have crossed from Exeter in the Premier League to Las Vegas for the Las Vegas Desert Classic and Sid has always found time to stop and talk to everyone and enjoy a pint.
A great gentleman of darts who will leave us behind with a legacy of his darts books and catchphrases, and will be sorely missed in the great world of darts and way, way beyond darts. There will never be another Sid Waddell in the world of darts.
Dr.Eddie Norman, MBE., PhD. Washington. DC.
SID WADDELL – A BROADCASTING LEGEND
It is with great sadness the darting world has heard of the loss of commentator Sid Waddell.
Sid was the mainstay of televised darts, and had been manning the microphone since the first-ever World Professional Darts Championships in 1978, becoming synonymous in sports broadcasting for his words-punching technique and eccentric style, often combining the two to create some memorable lines, unequalled in modern TV sport including “If we’d had Phil Taylor at Hastings the Normans would’ve gone home!” and “This lad has more checkouts than Tesco’s!”
It is hard to find anybody who has championed darts on such a large scale as he did, using his popularity to advertise the game he adored. His boundless enthusiasm helped take darts up to the dizzy heights it now finds itself, and so often at the big occasions, Sid was there to pelt us through the action.
The author of eleven published books, including biographies of darts’ greats, as well as the hugely popular Bellies & Bullseyes – The Outrageous True Story of Darts, Sid was a BAFTA-winning director and a former nominee for Best Scriptwriting from the Screenwriters Guild – a true wordsmith of his time.
His popularity was reflected by the number of tributes left to him [following his death], from the sporting world and beyond, who recognise there is now a void in the sport that had been ever-present, and is also irreplaceable.
Our deepest condolences go to his family during this sad time.
Sales and Marketing Director, WINMAU Dartboard Company
A MAN PROUD OF HIS IRISH ROOTS – A MEMORY FROM ARTHUR HOOK
Sid Waddell, whose grandmother travelled to England from the Republic of Ireland in 1894, was proud of his Irish origins. His grandmother’s name was Mary Jane Quinn and she spoke didicai and hawker slang as she was from the tinker population in County Roscommon, the west of Ireland, not too far from Castle Bar where the world cup of darts was held last September. This was roughly the time Sid discovered his illness.
Personally, I can only go back to the early Seventies and The Indoor League on the TV every Monday from 1 p.m. Sid was probably my reason for getting into darts more than I should.
The last time I met Sid was in the City West Hotel in Dublin in 2003 when he signed my copy of The Power – My Autobiography,Phil Taylor’s book. Sid had no small part to play in the writing and publishing of that book. He wrote in my copy, ‘To Arthur, A Broth of a Boyo, Cheers, Sid’ which to me said it all in Sid’s special way of his world famous ‘Darts talk’.
Arthur Hook, darts organiser, researcher and historian, Eire
THE SPORTS WORLD MOURNS SID’S PASSING
Immediately upon the news of Sid’s death stars from darts and other sports were quick to pay tribute to ‘The Voice of Darts’. On Twitter footballers Wayne Rooney, Michael Owen and Robbie Savage, plus broadcaster and author Stephen Fry and TV anchorman Gary Lineker were among the famous names to mourn Sid’s passing.
Five-time World Darts Champion, Eric Bristow MBE told The Sun “Eric was top dog. He’s not going to be replaced. He was a one-off” whilst SKY Sports anchorman Jeff Stelling said, “Back when I was working with him he made more of an impact than any of the players did. He is totally irreplaceable.”
PDC Chairman Barry Hearn said, “Sid was iconic, immortal, irreplaceable. He wasn’t just the voice of darts, he was part of our national culture. Darts has enjoyed a spectacular rise in popularity, but it would have been impossible without him. As a mark of respect we have decided to commission a new trophy for the PDC world championship. The next man to win it at Alexandra Palace in January will be lifting the Sid Waddell trophy – that is the least we can do.”
I cannot think of a more fitting tribute to Sid. He would have loved the idea.
© 2012 Patrick Chaplin. Amendments September 2019 and May 2020.
The original of this article first appeared in Dr. Darts’ Newsletter #29 – September 2012.