Ken Wolstenholme DFC & Bar
If you remember Ken, please drop me a line anytime, email Dave
Unknowingly I had heard Ken many many times over the years, though was completely unaware of the connections that would come to pass after I found a copy of Ken's book, The Wit of the Air.
Ken compiled a selection of amusing observations and annecdotes into the book, which was published in 1972. In the introduction it explains that Ken was formerly a bomber pilot in the Royal Air Force, then he was a globe-trotting television commentator and at the time he was an executive with British Caledonian. This is how I found the book.
The Guardian Obituary by Frank Malley - 26th March 2002
The taxi driver was adamant - "No way, guv, I'm not charging you," he said. "Have this one on me."
Kenneth Wolstenholme clambered out of the cab, gave a generous smile of thanks and bade farewell in that rich velvet voice for which he was so celebrated.
That happened a couple of years ago at a football function in London but over the past 36 years Wolstenholme had become accustomed to the odd free fare, more than the occasional free tot of his favourite malt whisky too - and even larger measures of affection from football fans.
It was all due to the most famous, most quoted 14 words in English football: "Some people are on the pitch. They think it's all over... It is now."
Wolstenholme, who died today in a Torquay hospital at the age of 81, was justifiably proud of that rhythmic phrase crafted with spontaneous genius as Geoff Hurst bore down on the German goal to complete his World Cup final hat-trick in 1966. The commentary, for which he received just £60, has secured a deserved place in English football folklore, though Wolstenholme was not a fan of today's commentators.
Indeed, so disillusioned had he become with TV football that he watched most of the last World Cup with the sound turned down, insisting that British sport had become "Americanised". "Instead of concentrating on the action we have endless people sitting around dissecting every incident in the studio," he said.
"They overdo it and all the commentators seem to have been told to change to the same style. It bores me. They don't seem to realise that while silence in radio is death - in television it can be golden."
Under that gentlemanly exterior there was a sharp, opinionated, occasionally crotchety character - but one who was rarely lost for a joke or a witty, pithy phrase, especially during a round of golf which was an enduring passion until his hands were afflicted in recent times by carpal tunnel syndrome.
Wolstenholme's style was light and frothy, but critical and authoritative too and unencumbered with detail in an age when the commentator invariably introduced and presented the programme as well as conducted the post-match interviews. "They use more than 20 cameras at a match now. I doubt whether the Beeb owned 20 cameras in my day," was his verdict on today's explosion in technology.
"Most of the technical changes are good, except that I hate the way TV rules the game these days. It tells football when to kick off, when to change its shirts - back in 66 they would just have been told to get lost."
Which was exactly what Wolstenholme would have liked to have told the "pirates" who he believed had exploited the most famous phrase in football.
He hated the way it was purloined for the title of BBC's irreverent quiz show 'They Think It's All Over' with Gary Lineker and David Gower. He even threatened to sue. He despaired at its prominence in a commercial for Pal dog food for which he did not get paid and in a WH Smith's Christmas advertising campaign for which he received a nominal £500 fee.
"I just can't see what the phrase has to do with dog food," argued a genuinely perplexed Wolstenholme. "I am pretty proud of that phrase and it annoys me to see others pinching it and living off it."
Wolstenholme, who was brought up in Salford and whose first sporting memory was watching Bolton Wanderers with his dad when he was four, met up regularly with the stars of 66, including Alan Ball with whom he felt a bond as they both went to Farnworth Grammar School, albeit 25 years apart.
When the school was in danger of closure they joined forces to try to save it, though their efforts were in vain, the building subsequently being knocked down.
A modest man, Wolstenholme rarely spoke of his courage as a bomber pilot who flew 100 missions during the Second World War, for which he received the Distinguished Flying Cross and Bar, flying his last mission in 1944 at just 23.
He joined the BBC in 1948 and claimed never to have watched a television programme before his first commentary, a Southern v Northern Counties soccer trial at Romford.
In all he commentated on 23 successive FA Cup finals and five World Cups before being ousted at the BBC after the 1970 World Cup to make way for David Coleman. He never forgave the BBC for what he deemed brutal treatment, though he never allowed himself to wallow in bitterness. "It was clear they didn't want me any more and I was a bit miffed about that," he said. "But you get nowhere by carrying a chip on your shoulder."
In recent years Wolstenholme had returned to television presenting Channel Four's Italian soccer coverage, though ill health had forced him to give that up. He had become increasingly frail, walked with the aid of a stick and had lost up to four stones in weight in recent months.
His last television performance was on a football special version of The Weakest Link last October, though he had contributed to a couple of programmes in memory of the late, great Bobby Moore to be screened in the run-up to the World Cup.
His passion for England's football team was clearly undiminished and he was optimistic about the chances of Sven-Goran Eriksson's side in Japan this summer. But for Wolstenholme nothing could eclipse Sir Alf Ramsey's Boys of 66. "It wasn't just a team," he used to say. "Alf Ramsey formed a football club in 1966. I have always felt privileged to be part of it."
Fittingly, his greatest moment also provides a perfect, if irreverent epitaph. 'They think it's all over, it is now.'
Previously Ken had also written another in "The Wit" series, The Wit of Soccer.
Ken passed away on 25th March 2002, aged 81, but could arguably have had his finest hour in 1966......commentating on a World Cup Final between England and Germany.
Towards the end of the match, Ken said those forever famous words "Some people are on the pitch. They think it's all over... It is now."
Ken is remembered well by his former BCal colleagues
From Jim Johnson
I was General Manager-Sales for a while and that was when Ken joined us working for me me during his short time with BCAL. His main job was to use his show biz agent contacts to increase the use of BCAL by their clients. Ken was a terrific guy but tended to do his own thing! We did have one magnificent dinner in the basement of the Guildhall with our wives during his brief stay however.
From Ray Jackson
I met Kenneth Wolstenholme many times. A very nice man indeed.
From Mick Fletcher
Though I did not meet Ken, I remember him being with us and of course his 1966 World Cup commentary.
And here is a link to that famous commentary here (and a chance to see England's world cup win too)