Lenny Henry on Radio 4: What's So Great about Snooker?
Video: Lenny Henry being interviewed by John Parrott at the Crucible during the making of 'What's so Great about Snooker?'
Editor's note: In this three-part series Lenny Henry explores the iconic status of people or things held dear by many.
"Yeah, I'll blog about snooker", I said to Paul Murphy, the blogmaven at Radio 4. Then there was a long silence as my fingers lay dead and wrinkly on the computer keyboard like dead wrinkly things that didn't know what to do next.
I'd actually recorded the programme so I knew what I thought. I'd spoken to John Virgo and teased him about all the funny phrases they use in snooker like 'kissing the pink' and 'they're playing safeties' and 'I'm gonna punch that guy in the white gloves. Why's he keep putting the balls back on the table after they've been knocked in the holes?' You can tell I'm a snooker fan, can't you?
My experience at the Crucible revved me up no end, I have to admit. First day of the world championships and my producer Simon Elmes and I are sitting right down the front next to the action. Two tables are set up side by side and four players are announced and take their stations at the tables -two at each. Then a big partition comes down and splits the playing area into two... and two games begin. For those of us on the left hand side, there was a strange frisson of envy every time we heard a collective sharp intake of breath or a smattering of applause from the right hand side. Our game was pretty good - but the one on the right sounded like a right old ding dong. We'd been ripped off.
The other thing was that the commentators are incredibly excited fellows, broadcasting for the benefit of those listening in on specially rented ear pieces and also for radio and television. Every time a halfway decent shot is achieved you can hear this sort of 'GET IN!' or 'YES, NOW THAT'S SNOOKER!' emanating from several dozen ear pieces, really loud. Quite a few audience members reel back with blood seeping from their ears as they react to the cacophony.
Your first day at the Crucible theatre, this legendary snooker venue, is a real learning experience. There are loads of blokes as you'd expect; but also quite a few women spectators and a fair amount of little kids too. I notice that as the games drag on, as they invariably do, there is completely unashamed yawning going on. The kind of yawning that, if you were at a dinner party telling a good story and someone did it, you'd actually lean across the table and slap them for being so rude.
At the snooker no one cares as long as it's a silent yawn. Any more noise though and I suspect you'd get a snooker cue up the nose hole.
The reason I'm here is for my radio show 'What's so great about?'. In the course of two years we've assayed Samuel Beckett, Jackson Pollock, Method acting, Shakespeare's plays, and lots of other things. The new series features Snooker, Chaucer and The Pogues. Three subjects I know absolutely nothing about. Well, I say that... Snooker was something my mum would watch if it was on - particularly during the Ray Reardon, Terry Griffiths, Dennis Taylor, Steve Davis period. We'd all have to watch and listen to her yelling out (as she also did when she watched any Western movie that featured John Wayne) 'G'wan Steve Davies! Him good yu see?'
So, I guess I'm interested in the game because there's a potent memory of watching it with my mother, but also, for the uninitiated, there is something incredibly tactile about those reds, pinks and blues, the green baize - all that extra stuff - the triangle, the rests, the cue extensions. For some people like Terry Griffiths - snooker, and all the accoutrements that go with it, is an enchanting game - a dance, almost a ritual.
Shame there's no black players apart from Rory McLeod. There was a guy called Michael Gordon back in the day, and there's someone called Joseph Rhone but that's it. There are women players but not enough to make a dent on the world championships.
It's still a very blokey, very vanilla game. But hey, what do I care? I'm a footie (although not that much), basketball ( I watch it when it's on) kinda guy. I can't play snooker to save my life, and the one time I was brave enough to ask for lessons at the Crucible, backstage in the 'practice area' this grumpy scottish guy called Stephen Hendry practically told me to bog off.
Honestly. But for the stray 'D' we're practically family and he wouldn't even let me break.
Damn you Hendry...
Lenny Henry presents What's so Great...?