“Commentating is like the playing of sport really,” says John Gwynne. “To be a top player you have to have an element of ability in the first place. Improvement comes with practise and coaching and experience. It is also a wonderful professional substitute for not actually being able to play at the highest levels of sport. If you can add to the occasion in some small way, then it feels very special indeed.”
John developed a wild sporting imagination and obsessive data-gathering practises from a very young age, but didn’t get into the commentating game proper till quite late in life.
“I used to play cricket in the back garden when I was a child and slip into the voice of the great commentator John Arlott: I used to pretend our modest back garden was The Oval or Lords and I used to keep a ball-by-ball scoresheet of how every match unfolded. So the desire to commentate was there from an early age, but I actually entered the profession of commentary quite late in life. I was a school teacher initially, so I’ve been lucky that I have been able to work my way up to commentating on big matches and historical occasions.”
Okay, so how does one become one of the voices of British sport?
“Well, in my opinion you have to really know your sport. Not just the rules but all the background. You have to be steeped in it. Totally steeped in it. That’s what gives you the edge. You must also be prepared for every game. I have a pad at home for every tournament I’ve ever commentated on which contains brief player research and pages of in-game notes. Before every match I start with a blank page and then log every leg and the 3-dart averages throughout the match.”
And do you also have nail-biting, crowd-pleasing metaphors prepped in advance? How do you exacerbate the sporting drama?
“You have to understand that as wonderful as darts is, it is a repetitive sport,” insists Gwynne. “A lot of people actually don’t need commentary as they know the game and the players inside out, so you really have to entertain as well as inform. Sid Waddell once said to me: “If it’s not adding to the picture it’s not worth saying.” Which I thought was an incredibly valuable piece of advice. You don’t need to announce the blindingly obvious, you should enhance it.”
“Sid played a massive part in my commentary career. He always insisted that we were in the entertainment business. A bit of humour, rapport and repartee goes a long, long way. We never planned out an exchange though: it was all spontaneous, quickfire, off-the-cuff stuff.”
When that kind of shared spontaneity comes off it must feel wonderful…
“One of the great compliments for me would be when Sid would say off air: “I wish I’d thought of that, John!” We had a lot of fun. I never tried to emulate him and he certainly didn’t need to emulate anyone else.
Giles Smith in The Times also once said that Sid and I were one of the most valuable partnerships in sporting commentary, or words of that ilk. I was very proud of that.”
Like this article? It’s just like the stuff you’ll find in MEL, the free monthly magazine by Dollar Shave Club you get with your monthly razor delivery. Every month MEL unravels life’s little nuances, including finding the perfect conker, dealing with “the meat sweats” and attaining “outside man’s hands” without doing any of the outside stuff. It’s rather good. Get your copy by joining Dollar Shave Club today.