The Quite Remarkable David Coleman
When I was very young growing up in Liverpool I always dreamed of being a sports commentator.
I was brought up in a sports mad family and idolised the legendary classic sports commentators from an early age. The king of them all was the one and only David Coleman.
He commentated on all the big events and at the time was host of A Question of Sport.
Little did I know at the time that I would soon be working with the man most people would agree to be the finest sports commentator, presenter and journalist of all time.
From the age of 10 I would record Match of the Day on an old fashioned cassette recorder with the sound turned down and I would commentate on the matches. I'd then send in my tape recordings to Clive Tyldesley and Charles Lambert, the sports editors of the two local Merseyside radio stations at the time.
I hate to think now what those commentaries sounded like! My voice had hardly broken, but great professionals and human beings that they were, Charles and Clive would write back to me every time encouraging me to keep going.
David Coleman on Sportsnight With Coleman in 1969
Eventually (probably tired of getting the tapes) Charles relented and took me on at BBC Radio Merseyside to help out behind the scenes on the Saturday sports programmes. I worked all the way through school, A Levels and University gaining great experience and working with some of today's biggest names.
At the end of my University degree and through the contacts I'd made at Radio Merseyside I was offered the chance to go and meet the executive producer of Question of Sport at the time, Mike Adley.
Mike was a Question of Sport legend who devoted much of his life to the programme and oversaw the golden era of the show with Coleman at the helm. I was introduced to Mike by Dave Ball, a Liverpool school teacher and a walking encyclopaedia of sport, who worked part-time as a researcher on QofS as well as with me at Radio Merseyside.
I got the job as researcher on QofS and straight away was set to be working with the legendary commentator David Coleman, the man I had idolised for so many years. I was 21 and quite wet behind the ears to be honest.
My first working day was a Sunday in Manchester with three programmes being filmed in one go. It was my first meeting with David and one I would never forget.
We were sent to his dressing room at 8am to discuss questions and I was introduced to him straight away by Dave Ball. There were no pleasantries and my vivid recollection from that first day is that I got out of the room as quick as my young legs could take me, physically shaking.
David was the ultimate professional and at the start of the day he was only interested in making sure he had the best questions possible and more importantly that they were factually correct.
Coleman didn't know me from Adam and he wasn't about to let me jeopardise his reputation as the number one commentator and sports presenter of the era.
He dispatched me in no uncertain terms with one mission - to get a simple quick-fire football question for the One Minute round.
He baulked at my first 20 suggestions, but eventually I convinced him that one of the athletes on the programme was an Everton fan and I'd come up with a simple question around Everton being nicknamed the Toffees.
To my relief, he seemed to buy it - albeit reluctantly, but only on the grounds that I rang John Motson at home! It was 8am! Another of my idols and all on the same day! Why, I thought, did I have to call Motty up about a simple question? I was an Everton season ticket holder after all, it was an insult to me I thought.
I got Motty's number from the legendary QofS contacts book and rang him up. Not best pleased to be woken so early in the morning, Motty did laugh quite a bit when I explained the story to him. He knew what David was up to. He was testing me out to make sure I understood the golden rule - check everything and not just once but one hundred times.
I now understand that David was not only broadcasting to 300 people in the Television Studio, but to 10 million people at home, who were watching one of their favourite shows. The reputation of David, the programme itself and all those working on it would be seriously damaged by a question that wasn't factually correct.
So for the next two years David made my life hell. He never trusted me one bit, chopped and changed questions for fun and ran me a right merry dance every filming day - and in particular during the week leading up to the recordings.
All of us on the production team also knew not to have too much to drink or stay out late the night before a recording because you had to be at your very best to handle David the following day.
Ian Botham, David Coleman and Bill Beaumont on A Question Of Sport in 1994
Those two years had the greatest influence on my career without any shadow of doubt. David taught me about professionalism. He is the most professional person I have ever worked with and he set the standards that everyone has since followed.
To the tiniest detail everything was checked out. I remember once tracking down the head of the BBC Pronunciation unit on holiday in India to check out the correct way to pronounce an athlete's name.
Hours I spent tracking down this respected BBC employee up in the hills in the middle of nowhere and, don't forget, those were the days before mobile phones.
Proud of myself for getting hold of him I beamed up to Coleman with the news. Expecting a big pat on the back for my tireless work I soon got a shock. He already knew. He'd spoken to the guy before a big athletics meeting months earlier. He was just checking that I was checking!
Then one day, two years later, our relationship changed. Suddenly he was extremely pleasant to me and stopped insulting me. Suddenly he stopped checking that I was checking. Suddenly he'd believe me if I said Everton were nicknamed the Toffees. David knew I'd served my thorough apprenticeship and learnt the important lessons that he had wanted me to.
To this day I value his professionalism more than anything in my career. I also got to know a very special man indeed.
His relationship with sports stars was something I've never witnessed before and never will again. The biggest names of the day would come in for Sunday lunch when we were filming QofS. And they were all in awe of David. They'd grown up with him themselves as young men or women wanting to be sports stars. They respected him more than anything and anyone in the business.
David is a very private man and would never let me do a documentary on him. And boy did I try.
For years I tried and tried. It wasn't for him the celebrity life which he could have enjoyed as the star and host of every major sporting event, QofS and even Spitting Image.
He very rarely gave interviews - even though he interviewed just about every top sports star in the world himself.
I once begged him to do an interview for a QofS documentary I was making and he repeatedly said no. Unusually for me, I had admitted defeat. But just before the programme needed to be finished and a few days before I was about to get married, he rang me up and said he wouldn't let me down and did the interview. That was the nature of the man. I changed my stag weekend plans to go and do it!
I was very sad when he left QofS and I have the fondest of memories working with him. My wife worked on the programme as well. She was more on the financial and organisational side and not the editorial. He was always nice to Rachel. And never gave her a rollicking over questions!
Over the past few years we've kept in touch and he will ring the family home to see how we are all doing and how my three children are getting on.
He always has a lovely chat with Rachel and the kids and then as soon as I pick up the phone he'll berate me for a guest we've had on a programme I might have made. I always take it in good grace and always know that it's just David making sure I'm not getting too big for my boots and that I'm always setting the highest standards possible.
Eventually, like Clive Tyldesley and Charles Lambert, I wore David down and last year he agreed that I could make a documentary on him.
David is above all a family man and devoted to his lovely wife Barbara, his six children and many grandchildren and we've interviewed his wonderful family that he adores as well as some of the biggest names in sport today like HRH Princess Anne, Sir Bobby Charlton, Lord Coe and Sir Ian Botham.
He was the pioneer of modern sports broadcasting. He set the standard that everyone else has since tried to follow. I was very fortunate to spend the day with him recently and we laughed about old times and old rollickings. He's 85 this year but is still sharper than anyone I know.
The documentary looks back at a remarkable career which saw him cover 11 Olympic Games and just about every major sporting event from the World Cup, to the FA Cup final, the Grand National, Grandstand, Match of the Day, Sportsnight with Coleman, Sports Personality of the Year, the list goes on. Television will never see an all-rounder like David again.
He's also a great example to anyone starting off on a dream in any walk of life. He had an incredible work ethic and professionalism that was vital for success.
Above all, though, he cared greatly about everything he did. It was because at heart he was a sport fan.
At times he was very difficult to work for and although he probably wouldn't admit it publically, it was because he cared greatly about those who worked with him. He wanted us all to do well in our private and professional life.
I hope you enjoy the documentary. I know David will watch it and probably be the first person on the phone to discuss what we could have done better!
Happy birthday to the Quite Remarkable David Coleman.