Of course, sport just had to be on the television in Tim Gudgin’s sitting room when I arrived.
It was one of the ladies’ semi-finals from the French Open tennis championships. Mischievously I asked Tim for the score, shut my eyes and hoped he would oblige. He did.
Immediately I was transported back to a thousand Saturday teatimes. It was the voice that launched, and then always dashed, dreams of winning the pools.
Until the Lottery replaced the pools as Britain’s favourite flutter, millions of punters would listen in excited anticipation while ticking the results off on their precious coupons.
For Tim was the voice of the classified football results. And those from the world of horse racing and rugby (both codes) too. Few people knew his name, but everyone knew his voice. Or, at least, everyone of a certain age.
He had only to open his mouth and football fans pricked up their ears.
Tim retired last November from Final Score, the BBC’s Saturday results programme which replaced Grandstand when it bit the dust in 2007.
Now 82, he had worked for the BBC for 60 years.
‘I think I had the best years, don’t you?’ he says at his home in Valetta Park, Emsworth.
He reels off the greats of sports broadcasting with whom he has worked: David Coleman, Harry Carpenter, Frank Bough.
Beside him is his retirement gift, presented to him at a party after he had read his final scores – results which included Airdrie United 11 Gala Fairydean 0. It’s one of the trophies usually presented to the BBC’s Sports Personality of the Year winners. The one with an old-fashioned outside broadcast camera on the top.
‘Wasn’t that marvellous of them? I shall treasure it always. I’m so lucky.’
It was presented to him by Garth Crooks and there’s a picture of that moment on his mantelpiece alongside one of him with Steve Rider.
There were two good reasons why he packed it in after so long. The first was to attend his grandaughter’s wedding in Australia. The second was because he couldn’t face the trek from Emsworth to Salford every Saturday to join the rest of the BBC sports department.
Tim is nonplussed by the relocation.
‘They have splashed out £875m on this Salford nonsense, even before you count the cost of transferring people.
‘I don’t see what was wrong with TV Centre. I read that one of the men in suits said it wasn’t suitable for purpose. But a few million spent on that would bring it up to any standard you like.
‘Still, I’ve had a good innings.’
It was an innings which started thanks to the Royal Tank Regiment where he became a captain, and his National Service in Germany.
Both his father and brother had served in the regiment and it was while as a schoolboy living near Bovington, Dorset, that his brother would turn up with the latest big band 78s to listen to.
‘I loved all those old records, Glenn Miller, Benny Goodman, Ted Heath, and I knew then that what I wanted to do was play them on the radio.’
He started his broadcasting his career while in Germany in 1949 at the age of 20.
‘I always wanted to get into radio with the BBC, but my careers master at school said ‘‘not a hope Gudgin, not a hope. You will need a first class honours degree from Oxford or Cambridge to work for the BBC and you won’t get it’’. Of course, he was quite right about the Oxbridge thing, but I was absolutely determined to make it.’
But he managed to beat off 200 people to land one of four news reading jobs in Hamburg after his service ended, before returning home and taking a job with the BBC with stints on the old Home Service and Light Programme.
Tim’s field has not always been sport. For the first two decades of his career, he presented musical collections such as Melody Hour, or quizzes such as Top Of The Form (nothing to do with horse racing, but an inter-schools quiz for children).
His introductions to Hancock’s Half-Hour stil make occasional appearances on our radio sets, so fondly is that programme remembered.
‘Apparently, I once presented a programme called Question Time on the radio, similar to the one on television, but I have no memory of it at all.’
Tim’s harmonic voice, a staple for many years reading the news and presenting on the Light Programme and Radio Two shows such as Housewives’ Choice and Friday Night Is Music Night, joined Grandstand in 1965.
For 30 years he was the voice of the racing results that used to zip in and out of shot on bookmaker-style, blackboard, hand-drawn graphics and the magnificently arbitrary pre‑national league rugby union club results – ‘Guy’s Hospital 3, The Army 14’ – as well as the cricket scoreboard during the season.
In the 1960s, the BBC had advertised for a presenter for Sportsview (which went on to become Sportsnight).
Frank Bough got the job and Tim got the consolation prize of providing voice-overs for assorted clips. But things changed again after a tragic day at Lime Grove Studios, the home of Grandstand.
‘The time was about quarter to five, I think, with the results due at five,’ Tim says.
‘They were supposed to be read by a chap who loved betting. He had one of those accumulator bets and everything depended on the last horse winning. It didn’t. He had financial problems and it turned out that he had gone upstairs and jumped out of the window.’
So it was that Tim joined Grandstand where he shared the score bulletins and racing results with Len Martin. But since Martin died in 1995, he worked solo.
During his time on the BBC’s flagship sports programme he met Bing Crosby.
‘He was with us on the programme and Len Martin noticed there was a horse running called Uncle Bing.
‘We told Bing about this and being a very keen man on betting and horses he said ‘‘oh yes put something on for me, let’s have £20 each way’’ and it went and won at 10/1.’
Does he miss the adrenaline buzz of Saturdays?
‘Yes. But I also miss the social side of it. Mixing with all those people every week kept me young.’
So what now? He helps out with a talking newspaper for the blind at Havant, and presents the odd music show for Angel Radio.
He says: ‘Alan Dell used to do a marvellous series on Sunday afternoons for Radio 2: a mixture of swing, jazz and cabaret. I’d be very happy working on something similar here.’
PALACE FAN BEHIND THE SCORES
We’ve all heard some unlikely football results in our time, and surely everyone that has grown up with the game has at one stage said ‘East Fife 5 Forfar 4’.
This fabled scoreline brings a laugh from Tim Gudgin, but were there any teams or scorelines he dreaded?
‘Not really, but at one time I did struggle with Hamilton Academical.
‘The Welsh ones can be a bit tricky, but I used to get help on those from the BBC pronunciation department.’
Seasoned listeners will know what the result is after the first team’s name is read, especially when a master like Tim is at work. Is there a secret to hitting the right intonations?
‘It’s not a secret,’ he says. ‘It’s listening to other people doing it, and maybe listening to other people to hear how not to do it.
‘A musical ear helps, to get the inflection right. My guiding light was John Webster, a man who used to read the results when Eamonn Andrews was presenting Sports Report on the radio in the 1950s.’
And for the record, Tim was born in Croydon so naturally supports Crystal Palace.
‘But I’ve never seen them play,’ he whispers.