Having been fortunate to spend lots of time in the studio & comm box over the last few years I thought I’d try giving snooker fans some insight into what goes on behind the scenes.The first thing to say, as with most things, is that there’s so much more to it than meets the eye.
The production crew you don’t see : From directors to programme editors, script supervisors to cameramen, set riggers to sound men, and floor managers to runners. Generally, there’s a ballpark figure of around thirty or forty on site crew at each tournament. In these times of social distancing, the picture below may add perspective, regarding logistical issues where putting on a live televised tournament is concerned. In addition you have World Snooker staff, referees, security & venue staff. Without wishing to paint a bleak picture, it illustrates the challenges ahead that we all face.
When first morphing from player to pundit, a novel, and cool aspect is the realisation that you are now part of a team. As a player, it’s straightforward stuff. You practise, turn up, play, and when it’s over, you head for the hills, usually asap. I was gonna say that in the beginning, it feels like turning up at a new job but how the heck would I know, save for my four week tenure as a trainee motor mechanic as a 16 year old. Four weeks you ask? Well, the first two were spent filing a piece of metal into a square. The final two weeks was spent freezing my knackers off every time the foreman opened the workshop shutters, which was often, and it was January.
In life, I’m sure we all get frustrated on occasion when tasks or jobs aren’t done properly. From my experience as part of the crew, this rarely happens. It’s worth bearing in mind that without exception a live tv broadcast has to go on air at the scheduled time. Being five minutes late just isn’t an option, which fortunately as a snooker player isn’t an issue as we’re well used to being on time (okay, maybe not Robbo on the odd occasion). You quickly learn that each member of the crew are incredibly skilled in their own job. Cameramen & women, programme editors, producers etc spend long, sometimes really long days hemmed in a production truck working to strict deadlines, putting together montage pieces that involve mixing together multiple VT’s (video tape, to you & me), adding in some funky tunes courtesy of Martyn, or some of Kieran’s filming wizardry with one of those fancy drone thingummyjigs. I remember one time in the comm box while Ronnie was making his 900th century, I stupidly mentioned it putting me in mind of a song called ‘The 900 number’ and after jumping back to studio a very short time later, Martyn, the fella who puts together the closing pictures had ran them to that very tune. How in blazes do they manage it in double quick time! All I can tell you is it involves lots of gadgetry & twiddly joystick button things. I’m certain there’s a technical term.
For all the studio looks glossy to the viewer, the reality is wee bitty different. At ITV4 I would say the studio is about the size of a small living room. Jill obviously adds the glamour, while myself and fellow stooges Fouldsy & 7T do a grand job of making the room look untidy. Usually there will be three main cameras on tripods numbered 9, 10 & 11 (the other eight must be somewhere?). Two or three cameramen (men in black), the floor manager DB (aka The Duke of Montrose) who runs a tight ship let me tell you, and was also the right hand man of David Vine way back when. Max, the sound guy, who by the way, is a sound guy, keeps everyone hooked up with microphones & earpieces. After a quick (and needed) visit to make-up around 12 o’clock, the usual on-air time of 12:45 means heading to studio around 20 minutes beforehand.
At first, the most difficult, and strangest part of live on-air chattage as we call it, are the various voices going on through your earpiece while having a conversation about the match. The director & editor gives info on any number of things, from how long we have before the ad break (which can change in a heartbeat), any footage be floated in that needs talking about, or perhaps a player interview that Jill will tee up. Usually, during the ad break we get to look at the shots picked out or talking points to be shown once back on-air.
I make no secret of the old Karen Young’s ‘Hotshot’ hit being an enjoyable part of the tournament. I defy any snooker fan of the 80’s era not to love the pure funk of that track. I await with loaded pelters, the day when Stephen digs out a safety shot as his favourite, even though deep down there ain’t a snowball in hell’s chance of that ever happening.
The comm box is actually fairly comfortable, although on occasion, you could grow tomatoes in there. Which reminds me – Alun the comm box techno sound guy (who is sound too) always has all sorts of foodie goodies to hand back there. Thank the stars then, for floor manager II (big Johnsy). Whoa betide anyone trying to enter his turf. Turfed out on your ear you’d get! Sorry, I digress – back to the food… We’re talking artisan cheese, grapes, crackers, chocolate (you know that 70 or 80% cocoa gear? (yeah that). He even provides a daily dose of espresso, usually fresh from the upper slopes of the Chilean or Peruvian Andes, no really!
There are ground rules requiring steadfast observation, and here’s one involving breakfast table etiquette in Llandudno…. DB the floor manager has deemed his top table sacrosanct. In point of fact it’s his domain. The criteria for inclusion escapes me, maybe I’ll find out around 2035. What I can say is that Fouldsy has been trying to sneak a spot for some time, alas with no joy. For now, we cop a pew with the herd and gaze longingly at the table by the window. Maybe one of these days!
Talking of Fouldsy, he’s been taking some pelters from the gang of late. The reason? Well, there are dark forces at work here (no, not the almanac). He keeps landing a fancy room in the hotel and frankly, I’m getting bloody well fed up with it (for fed up, read jealous). It’s got to the stage that when he turns in of an evening Stephen asks him what wing he’ll be sleeping in.
When the evening matches get underway at 7 o’clock, thoughts often turn to food. Rule number one… never ever predict an early finish thinking we’ll catch a late curry somewhere. Far more prudent to expect a 6-5 thriller and off to bed with no supper. Either way, it’s a win win actually.
If you’re wondering where the gulls come in, I’ll explain… On our first or second visit to Llandudno I had a room through the wall from Fouldsy (big mistake!). We had these adjoining balconies overlooking the promenade. Perfect you would think? Well, you’d be wrong, especially if you want a lie in. On the morning of check-out, the big man decided to leave the remains of his toast on my balcony which was about 18 inches from my pillow. In they swooped and an almighty kerfuffle ensued, resulting in an unscheduled early morning alarm call. After scarpering, he even had the temerity to text me with his cunning plan. Retribution may have taken a while, but a year or two ago it was sweet, swift and merciless. On his way to the venue he was gull-pooped on the lapel of his jacket. Thank you my feathered friends.
I can’t help be grateful for getting to work at The Crucible, not least because I’m allowed to spend plenty of time in the press room. I say allowed, because as a player you’re not really supposed to be in there for a number of reasons. There could be a player giving a post match presser, a regular interview, or even a radio or print journalist talking out loud. You wouldn’t want a player hearing a less than complimentary piece about them being prepped to go out on whichever platform. Not the type of situation that would crop up regularly but can happen. There’s usually a good atmosphere in there, something always happening or latest news being filtered around, and everyone brings something different to the party. When I say party, it’s not exactly TVs being lobbed out the window material. It’s more half a dozen die-hards in cravats & cagoules having an in depth (and yes, dark) perusal of the outstandingly riveting pink pages of the almanac. Rock ‘n’ Roll!
Meanwhile back in the studio – I recall an incident that I refer to as Nandosgate! With food high on the agenda one evening (as per), someone decided an ungodly amount of Nando’s delivered to studio was a good idea. Now, I would never grass the culprit that made the order (he won quite a big tournament seven times in the same decade) but a short time later, enough grub had arrived to feed the venue. I swear that jacket and tie still has a whiff of it. It’s a good job DB wasn’t on duty that night. He’d have had our guts for garters. Now I’m thinking, perhaps he got wind of it. Maybe that’s why we remain banished to the cheap seats at breakfast?
Thanks for taking the time to read.
Yours in snooker…