David Coleman: Former BBC sports broadcaster dies at 87

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Media caption,
David Coleman: The face of BBC Sport

Former BBC sports broadcaster David Coleman has died aged 87 after a short illness.

He first appeared on air for the BBC in 1954, covering 11 Olympic Games from Rome in 1960 to Sydney 2000 and six football World Cups.

Coleman presented some of the BBC's leading sporting programmes, including Grandstand and Sportsnight, and was the host of Question of Sport for 18 years.

He was awarded an OBE in 1992 and retired from the BBC in 2000.

Later that year he became the first broadcaster to receive the Olympic Order award, in recognition of his contribution to the Olympic movement.

A statement from his family said: "We regret to announce the death of David Coleman OBE, after a short illness. He died peacefully with his family at his bedside."

Prime Minister David Cameron tweeted: "Sad to hear David Coleman has died - the voice of @BBCSport for as long as I can remember."

Media caption,
'The Quite Remarkable David Coleman'

The BBC's director general Tony Hall led the corporation's tributes.

"David Coleman was one of this country's greatest and most respected broadcasters," he said. "Generations grew up listening to his distinctive and knowledgeable commentary. Whether presenting, commentating or offering analysis, he set the standard for all today's sports broadcasters.

"Our thoughts are with his family and many friends."

Director of sport Barbara Slater added: "David Coleman was a giant in the sports broadcasting world, an iconic and hugely respected figure. In a BBC career that spanned over 40 years he set the standard that so many others have tried to emulate.

"His was one of broadcasting's most authoritative and identifiable voices that graced so many pinnacle sporting moments. From his famous football and athletic commentaries to his presentation of events and programmes such as the Olympics, the World Cup, Question of Sport and Grandstand, he was quite simply the master of his craft.

"David had many friends at BBC Sport and was admired by audiences in their millions. We send sincere condolences to his family."

A former keen amateur runner, Coleman began work as a reporter on the Stockport Express and wrote for an army newspaper during his national service.

When injuries ruled him out of trials for the 1952 British Olympic team he wrote to a BBC editor to suggest that he covered athletics in the Saturday evening sports programme.

He started presenting Grandstand in 1958 , and continued in that role for a decade, later returning to the role in the 1970s.

Coleman fronted the midweek Sportsnight show and began to co-host the BBC Sports Review of the Year in 1961, a role he only ended in 1983.

In 1971 he became the BBC's senior football commentator, covering five FA Cup finals before handing over to John Motson in 1979.

'Privilege to know'

After continuing with football for two more years, Coleman focused his attention on athletics.

Although he was a dedicated and knowledgeable presenter with an encyclopaedic knowledge of sport, the occasional gaffe and his pre-eminence in sports broadcasting led to Private Eye starting its own Colemanballs column.

Ironically, many of those attributed to him were not, in fact, his.

Fellow commentator Brendan Foster said Coleman was the "greatest sports broadcaster that ever lived".

He added: "David enriched so many lives and that was down to his brilliant commentary and presentation at all the major sporting events of the world.

Image caption,
Coleman was one of the best-known faces and voices on television for many years

"In my view, everybody had a David Coleman quote they could use. It could have been about Pele, Charlton, Toshack or Keegan, or just 'one-nil'.

"It was a privilege to know him, to have him commentating on races during my career, to work with him and to call him a friend."

Athlete turned BBC broadcaster Steve Cram said Coleman had been a big influence on his career.

"When I first came into the British team as a youngster, I would watch back my races and I could tell from his commentaries that he knew what he was talking about," he said.

"When I met him at major championships, such as the Olympics in Moscow in 1980, he would say things that turned out to be incredible helpful, such as advice on travel and how to deal with the media.

"He had a reputation within broadcasting for being tough and demanding, but I always found him an incredibly generous bloke.

"Yes, he had high standards but I think that came from his athletics background. Broadcasting, like athletics, is in a sense about performance and he wanted to produce the best he could. He used to always tell me that I should endeavour to work with the best to get the best results."

UK Athletics chair Ed Warner said his organisation was saddened by Coleman's death.

"David has been the voice of some of our most memorable moments over the years. A truly iconic broadcaster," he said.