Peter Williams retired from TVNZ last weekend after almost 40 years of sterling service. It was as a sports frontman and cricket commentator that he cut his teeth with the channel. The most abiding memory I have of him was in his abrupt and furious ‘goodnight’ to the NZ television audience at the end of the 1981 underarm delivery match, MCG, 1 February 1981. A well fired-up and cheesed-off Williams said something like, ‘That is the most disgusting thing I’ve ever seen in sport…good night!’ He may have in fact wanted to say ‘Lowlife effing b******s like the rest of us, but the career may have abruptly stalled right there.
He was the one who was the slightly mop-haired frontman and so by design, face of cricket on TV One in the 1980s (free to air cricket, goodness, seems almost paleolithic)- right at the time of the golden era- the so-called ‘Howarth Years’. The time when the team now known as the Black Caps went through a whole decade unbeaten at home. We even won and drew a home series with the nigh-on invincible West Indies during that period.
It was a time when cricket moved from the realm of niche to household through things like World Series Cup Cricket in Australia; featuring the greatest summer outfit in all of sports, alongside the worst of the canary yellow and slime green of those west islanders. A decade which included umpire barging, stump kicking and a bat fondly remembered as ‘Excalibur’ (pretend you didn’t look at the NZ total here and rejoice in the sheer defiance):
Williams was the lead commentator for the 1984 home series versus England. His commentary as Richard Hadlee blasted his way to 99 in the second test match on Lancaster Park sticks in the mind. As did his work in the two days following when England were bundled out for under 100 in both their turns at bat. It seemed to perfectly suit those moments. He was under-rated as a commentator. He should have been used a lot more. He could definitely ‘call’ a likely result pretty well. Although no-one could possibly have forecast England would be dismissed for 82 and 93 on that occasion, even though the pitch had more craters in it than after a beach dig. NZ got the best of it after batting first and thanks to some smorgasbord-like bowling, got to 307.
(Listen to PW from 1.35).
Following on from John Nielsen from the late 1970s and possibly early 80s (the memory goes from black to white nowadays), Peter Williams was the following regular host of the iconic, flagship TV One Saturday afternoon sports show, ‘Sport on One’. Aside from the great range of sports they used to have on (I even recall arm-wrestling), other cool retro things were the theme music and the blazers of the presenters. (Scroll down slightly to ‘Sport on One’ theme music- from an original track by Percy Faith and his Orchestra).
And on those blazers- I have no idea how to actually describe that particular colour. All I know is that I have never sighted it on anything since. * And note the older generation pronunciation of ‘Tuesday’ as ‘Tuesdee’- a warm and fuzzy throwback to a bygone time. Not quite so sure about those hairstyles, however…
I hope Peter goes well in his retirement- I hear he is a pretty gun golfer. My memories of him on the googlebox are forever entwined with‘Sport on One’ as a 10-12 year-old sports-mad boy, demolishing a king-sized Milky Bar and watching him doing his hosting gig in that hideous, yet wonderful orange-red-brown? concoction of a blazer.
Happy Christmas and New Year.