Profile: Stuart Hall
- 17 June 2013
- From the section England
Stuart Hall, jailed for indecently assaulting 13 girls, was the exuberant host of TV game show It's A Knockout, the voice of lyrical football reports on BBC radio and the face of regional news in the north-west of England for more than 25 years.
As a broadcaster, Hall was eccentric, erudite, egotistical - a distinctive personality who could balance light entertainment buffoonery with sports and serious news.
But there was a dark secret behind the on-screen persona. Over two decades, he was an "opportunistic predator", according to police, who molested girls, one as young as nine.
Born on Christmas Day 1929 in Ashton-under-Lyne in Greater Manchester, Hall later recalled how his father, a baker who had survived the Somme in World War I, beat him for playing chicken with trains.
At school, Hall directed plays, chaired the debating society and almost became a footballer, having been offered terms by Crystal Palace.
But, he liked to recount later, the £20 a week in winter and £10 a week in summer on offer "wouldn't have kept me in tarts and fags".
He developed a passion for motor cars and became an amateur racing driver.
"I was a dilettante, a rake, louche. I thought the world belonged to me," he once said.
"I raced cars. I had an Austin Healey. I had the silk scarf. I fancied myself, there's no doubt about it. Mind, I never won a race."
His commentary career began when he decided the PA announcer at a race track was too laid-back and had a go himself.
He married Hazel in 1958 and their first son Nicholas was born the following year. But Nicholas had a hole in the heart and died in his father's arms in a hospital waiting room as an infant. The couple went on to have two more children.
In 1959, Hall joined the BBC as a reporter on Radio Newsreel and Sports Report. His first game for Sports Report was an eight-goal thriller between Sheffield Wednesday and Leicester City.
"Alas, the game was shrouded in fog," he later recalled. "I didn't see a single goal. I made it all up."
Becoming host of the corporation's nightly Manchester-based regional TV news programme seven years later, he bridged hard news and jocular features and befriended figures including Manchester United legend George Best.
"Manchester was the place to be in the 60s and I was its Boswell," Hall said. "I was in there, Slack Alice and the other fleshpots - we had nightclubs here to rival Las Vegas. And Bestie was its hub.
"We'd rouster till dawn. When Bestie started absconding, [then Manchester United manager] Matt Busby rang me and said, 'Where's George?' I knew of course, but I wasn't letting on. So we did the contrite interview on the telly and presented him back to Matt."
Hall hosted the local news for 25 years and was the face of the region for the rest of the country during regular link-ups with national show Nationwide.
On leaving the BBC, Hall took the hot seat on the regional news show with rivals Granada.
He was also the original host of A Question of Sport, which was only broadcast in the north at first, and found fame across the UK and beyond for compering It's A Knockout and its European version Jeux Sans Frontieres.
Described by Hall as "the Olympic Games with custard pies", the slapstick game show would feature binmen dressed as oversized penguins doing battle with tax collectors dressed as giant chefs, all accompanied by Hall's irrepressible laugh.
Fifteen million viewers in the UK watched teams get muddy while tackling greasy poles, log-rolling and bungee runs.
Although the programme was cancelled in 1982, in 1987 he presided over a regal one-off, It's A Royal Knockout, which featured Princes Edward and Andrew, Princess Anne and the Duchess of York, and went down in history as a major embarrassment for the Royal Family.
However, Hall kept the costumes and the rights to It's A Knockout and travelled the world staging corporate contests long after the demise of the TV version.
He continued his sports career, and said the highlight came when he accompanied Liverpool FC to the 1977 European Cup Final.
Having had his press pass ripped up by the host Italian broadcaster, Liverpool manager Bob Paisley offered to smuggle him in with the club. Hall spent the match sitting on the Liverpool bench wearing the number 14 shirt.
While most sports journalists conformed to a formulaic style, often resorting to cliche, Hall became famous for his esoteric and evocative radio reports.
He claims he invented the phrase "the beautiful game" and would pepper his dispatches with Shakespeare and Shelley quotes and florid metaphors.
Throughout his career, a series of mishaps, misjudgements and bizarre events meant Hall regularly appeared in the press for more than his broadcasting.
In 1978, he appeared as a witness in the trial of a policeman who was drunk and had drugs in his system after visiting Hall's house. The constable claimed the tranquillisers in his bloodstream had been secretly administered by Hall - which the presenter, who was not charged, denied.
In 1980, he punched a fellow judge in a beauty contest and the same year helped save the life of a boy who had hit his head on a diving board while on holiday in Portugal.
In 1981, he launched a travel agent in Manchester City Centre but was obliged to change the name of Stuart Hall International Travel when the acronym caused offence.
He was a "name" - or backer - of Lloyd's of London insurance but almost went bankrupt as a result in 1989 after a series of global shocks.
"I've lost a fortune at Lloyd's, so what?" he later said. "I laughed at it. I was taken for a sucker by folk cleverer than me. But I laugh. Life isn't a career, it's a stumble from crisis to crisis."
In 1991, he was cleared of shoplifting sausages and a jar of coffee from his local Safeway supermarket - an incident he put down to being "absent-minded" as a result of the burglary of his beloved watch collection.
When asked in 1993 whether his frequent appearances in the headlines were a sign of recklessness, he replied: "I am a wild man. I am a total maverick. I know that."
Despite hoping for the return of It's A Knockout, his TV career stumbled through the 1990s and 2000s, when he hosted short-lived series like the travel show Travellers Check and antiques programme Going Going Gone.
He was made an OBE for services to broadcasting and charity at the end of 2011 and continued to provide football reports for BBC 5 live until his arrest on rape and indecent assault charges in December 2012.
After initially denying the allegations, Hall pleaded guilty in May 2013.
As he was sentenced to 15 months in jail, he was told by Judge Russell: "There is a darker side to you, one hidden from public view until now, and a side which you were able to conceal taking advantage of your status as a well-liked celebrity."
He admitted 14 charges of indecent assault between 1967 and 1986. One count of rape, which he denied, has been left to lie on the court file.