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Coleman, David (1926- )

Presenter, Commentator

Main image of Coleman, David (1926- )

With his rapid, passionate, sometimes near-hysterical commentary, BBC presenter/commentator David Coleman brought excitement to every sporting event he covered, from the Olympics to football, and possessed one of British television's most distinctive voices.

Like many other presenters and commentators of his generation, he received a solid journalistic grounding as a newspaper reporter, rising through regional papers to become editor of the County Press in Cheshire at just 22. Not content with print journalism, he moved on to freelance radio work in 1953, before joining BBC Birmingham as a news assistant in 1954, making his first TV appearance on Sportsview (1954-68) on the day Roger Bannister broke the four-minute mile, 6 May 1954. He quickly rose up the ranks to become sports editor for the Midlands region in 1955.

His big break came in 1958, when, a few weeks after the start, he replaced Peter Dimmock as the presenter of the BBC's new Saturday afternoon sports programme, Grandstand (1958-2007), remaining as regular anchor until 1968. From 1968 to 1973 he fronted Sportsnight (1968-1997) (until 1972 titled Sportsnight with Coleman). He also presented Sports Review of the Year (1954- ) for many years from 1961 and, although his last appearance as a presenter was in 1983, he continued to do interviews and reports. He hosted many other sporting events and specials, including the Grand National, as well as the sports quiz A Question of Sport (1979- ) until 1997.

As a commentator he worked on 16 Olympic games, including all the summer games from Rome 1960 to Sydney 2000, many Commonwealth Games and football World Cups. One of his finest hours came during the 1972 Munich hostage crisis, when he was on air for several hours, live and unscripted. He was the BBC's main football commentator during the 1970s, bringing intensity and soul to countless games, including most FA Cup finals between 1972 and 1978. From the mid-80s he mostly limited his commentating to athletics, until his retirement from broadcasting after the Sydney Olympics 2000.

His boundless energy and vocal dramatics made him a popular subject for comics. One Spitting Image (ITV, 1984-96) sketch saw his puppet literally explode with enthusiasm, while the magazine Private Eye celebrated his capacity for hilarious on-air gaffes by taking his name for its regular column, 'Colemanballs', which preserved for posterity such gems as "If that had gone in, it would have been a goal" and "It's a race that the Kenyans have dominated - but, looking at the records, it's the first time they've won it", alongside similar linguistic manglings from fellow sports commentators and participants.

But though he was often the butt of comedians' (mostly affectionate) jokes, his knowledge, commitment and professionalism won him the respect of viewers and his peers, reflected in the prestigious awards and honours that came his way: an OBE in 1992, the Royal Television Society's Judges Award for Sport in 1996 and the Olympic Order in 2000.

Gosta Johansson

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