Peter Alliss

Added on December 12th, 2020 by Lorne Smith
Posted in General

 

Peter Alliss with microphone

Peter Alliss was a very astute, hardworking and successful golfer and television commentator who had the drive to achieve at the highest level. Although he did publicly regret failing to be appointed a Ryder Cup Captain after his six appearances (and winning over thirty pro tournaments that remarkably only earned him some £30,000) in his playing career, he stormed the citadels of class ridden golf to rise from humble beginnings to national treasure.

John Hopkins is certainly right that “his humour brought a great deal of pleasure to watchers of golf on television” and while the BBC ducked overt controversy and fudged with sentimentalism, the Daily Telegraph’s obituary cut through with ”Alliss was a far more complicated character than his commentating persona suggested. As with many people who pride themselves on being relaxed, he worked extremely hard all his life. And his social attitudes can perhaps be explained by the ambiguous ambience in which golf professionals were formerly condemned to live”.

“What on earth are you doing? He’s gone ga-ga. To attempt to hit the ball out of there is pure madness.”

In cricket commentary we also have outstanding ex-player commentators who really understand the professional game (and here I suppress my Sussex cricketing prejudice against Yorkshire!) like Sir Geoffrey Boycott and Michael Vaughan, but Peter in golf went further and became ‘Johnners-like’ in his broader commentary about life, connecting also with others not so fascinated with the technical aspects and just in love with the game.

Peter also worked on American golf television where he refused to use the ever greater superlatives that were part of the American commentator’s vocabulary, preferring to make quips like “Oh he’s here again. Chloroform, nurse, please” on hearing a spectator shout ‘in-the-hole’, or when off the cuff he would simply use ‘bollocks’.

Fans

The BBC would have liked to have replaced him with a bland ‘woke’ identity and they almost succeeded after the van de Velde paddling incident at Carnoustie in 1999 but the person in the street would have none of it.

Unfortunately, a forgettable aspect of his work was his course architecture business with Dave Thomas at the time when American-style ‘target-golf’ courses attached to hotels near conurbations were all the rage, though he cultivated the impression on television that he was a traditionalist.

An autobiography

FineGolf’s thinking was that it would be a lot easier for the running game and fine grass if a television breakthrough was achieved that really reached the wider golfing public. There are half a dozen personalities in the golfing public eye who one might think would be interested in helping and Peter was one of them. He had even been the president of a Greenkeepers Association.

Therefore I was delighted to meet him twice and I naturally tried to discover his level of interest in advocating for the running game.

One meeting was in a pub in Sandwich where the atmosphere was one of banter and he found it quite easy to escape. The second time was upstairs in the Swinley Forest dining room when having won a long driving tankard that morning, our brilliant leader the indomitable John Heywood inveigled Peter, who was having a quiet lunch in the corner, to give away the prizes at the end of lunch. I sat with him afterwards and it confirmed to me that his interest was in promoting Peter Alliss in the business golf world rather than the unashamedly non-commercial recreational golf emphasis within FineGolf.

Alliss with his Rolls

Perhaps all great performers and he certainly was one when on the end of a microphone, have that nervousness and lack of confidence that sharpens their drive, and his relaxed persona came with a slight chip on the shoulder.

Many is the time that I have been told that when he visited a friend’s club to televise ‘A Round with Alliss’ he would take multiple shots before he was happy that his game would be projected satisfactorily in the subsequently edited programme.

Golf’s television fans were fortunate that Peter’s suffering from the putting yips prematurely ended his pro career, thereby allowing him to turn to commentary. After shadowing his friend and mentor Henry Longhurst until Henry’s death, he was amazed at what he called the ‘mind-boggling’ renegotiated contract that Mark McCormack obtained for him from the BBC and the American Broadcasting Association. He deserved it.

We won’t see like of him again nor his willingness during The Open to occasionally read out the names of people in hospices who were keen ordinary lovers of golf, living their final days.

Reader Comments

On December 26th, 2020 john Mayell said:

My introduction to golf was at the age of 12 being taken to Moseley Golf Club with my Uncle and Dad to watch an exhibition match on a Sunday between Peter Alliss and Dave Thomas versus Dai Rees and Bernard Hunt in 1959. The Pros played a lot of Charity matches on their way home from Tournaments which finished on a Saturday.

I saw Peter play at Little Aston in the Dunlop Masters in 1974 and recall him playing wonderful shots close to the pin but missing all the putts some no more than a yard from the hole . This was towards the end of his career on the course but then we enjoyed his TV commentary following the great Henry Longhurst.

He made a video for our company Apollo shafts with Sam Torrance at Sunningdale and needed no script or prompting , a true Professional. Two years ago I heard him speak at an Evening with Alliss at the Solihull Library theatre where he appeared with a broken ankle and just asked the audience to ask questions for 90 minutes . as he had been to the venue before and didn’t want to repeat the same stories again .

A marvellous man who brought the game of golf to many who never played but enjoyed his style of wit and classic humour.

john Mayell

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