Author Tony Hannan on Yorkshire Rugby League legend, Eddie Waring
PUBLISHED: 16:18 07 September 2010 | UPDATED: 15:01 20 February 2013
Author Tony Hannan remembers a much mimicked but unique sports commentator in a new biography about Eddie Waring. Chris Irvine talks to him.
'That's one tonne of rugby you're looking at. Beef, brains, brawn, muscle, the lot ...' Eddie Waring was that rarest of beasts in rugby league, a household name across the country, who took the sport to the masses but tended to divide opinion roughly at a line south of Doncaster.
People down south would parody and lampoon Eddie, but out of affection for his Northern-ness. In the game's heartlands, it was felt that he trivialised the game and saddled it with a cloth cap reputation that unfortunately lingers in the minds of those not tuned into today's modern game.
As he made his way up the spiral stairs through the middle of Headingley's South Stand to his lofty position above the half way line, the invective would fly and Eddie, a man of religious conviction, would sing to himself three verses of Fight the Good Fight. By the words, 'Faint not, nor fear, His arms are near' he had reached the sanctuary of the commentary box and a nation would tune in to see him introduce the 'r-r-r-ugby league from Leeds.'
Twenty two years after his death at 76, Eddie still provokes strong opinions. Yorkshire sports journalist and author Tony Hannan has developed his lifelong fascination with Waring into a remarkable account of a sporting icon in his new book, Being Eddie Waring.
Far more than purely a sporting read, it is an exploration of the man who affectionately became known as Uncle Eddie, a key figure in the hugely popular television light entertainment industry that flourished in the 1970s. 'As a youth growing up in Dewsbury, Eddie took a big interest in music and shows and possibly dreamt of going on the stage, so it's ironic that by pursuing his sporting passion it eventually led to him becoming a cult figure, who was a mainstay of It's a Knockout and would appear on the likes of The Goodies and Morecambe and Wise Show, watched by 28 million people during their 1977 Christmas special,' says Hannan.
'Mike Yarwood's impersonation of him was one that people up and down the country would imitate. Eddie was a huge personality, loved by millions,' he adds. His popularity in the North, especially among rugby league followers who resented his flat cap stereotyping, was far less pronounced, although, as Hannan points out, Waring was generally only telling it as it was.
'To many people down South, rugby league was a sort of exotic sport played in places they weren't aware of. Eddie introduced them to this world, often in tired old stadiums surrounded by back to back houses, with a passion and enthusiasm that entranced the casual viewer but could infuriate those for whom those were their surroundings.
There was cultural cringe felt by some people in the North.' The paradox was that he was one of rugby league's modern thinkers who helped make the sport what it is now. All this, after Edward Marsden Waring left school at 14 to become a typewriter salesman at an office supplies company in Dewsbury.
He enjoyed writing on them more than selling them and the event that was the catalyst for his future at 19 was rugby league taking the Challenge Cup final to the Empire Stadium, Wembley, for the first time in 1929. 'He saw in that match the wider possibilities for the game but also for himself,' according to Hannan.
He coached Dewsbury Boys, who he renamed the Black Knights in his love for Arthurian legend, and in 1936 became the youngest secretary-manager of the Dewsbury club with a reputation for innovation. Hannan unearthed from the BBC archives a letter he had written to the corporation in 1931 offering his services as a 'wireless commentator'.
He began his work behind the microphone for the light programme in the North five years later, spent the wartime years in the auxiliary police service and joined the 1946 'Indomitables' tour by Great Britain to Australia in both a management and journalistic capacity as correspondent for the Sunday Pictorial.
Three years after rugby league made its first live televised appearance, Waring helped out with coverage of the 1949 Challenge Cup final. It was a cause he championed on behalf of the sport, driven partly by a brief meeting he had once had with the comedian Bob Hope, who told him: 'You've got to get into television.'
From 1956 to 1981, Waring was the voice of rugby league, his quirks, mannerisms and 'oop 'n' unders' part of the national fabric for a quarter of a century, not just on Saturday afternoons on Grandstand, but as half of the It's a Knockout/Jeux Sans Frontieres double-act with Stuart Hall, in their striped blazers. It seemed that everyone could do an Eddie Waring impression, but for all his ubiquity, Waring was a guarded, private individual, who preferred an undisturbed home life with second wife Mary and son Tony in Bramhope.
He conducted his business affairs at the Queen's Hotel, Leeds, adding to a sense of mystery. But the criticism he received and a petition calling for Waring to be taken off the BBC, eventually got to him, although there were far more fans who came out in support of him. Like several others of his ilk, the BBC actually held on to him too long. He retired at 71.
The famous scene of him cartwheeling as one of a group of sailors on the Morecambe and Wise Christmas special had to be stunted. The love of Eddie lived on in university appreciation societies, but he was taken ill on holiday in Spain shortly after his last BBC commentary and never fully recovered.
'I never met him,' Hannan says, 'but through researching the book I know that I'd have thoroughly enjoyed the company of a decent bloke, who did so much for the sport he loved.' ? Being Eddie Waring - the life and times of a sporting icon, by Tony Hannan (Mainstream, 14.99).
Eddie-isms Some of Eddie Warings trademark quotes include:
'Oop 'n' under' '
He's goin' for an early bath'
'It's a test of a lot of things: speed, strength, courage and faith, I suppose'
'That's one tonne of rugby you're looking at. Beef, brains, brawn, muscle, the lot of it'
'He's a poor lad' - on Don Fox's infamous missed kick from in front of the Wembley posts for Wakefield Trinity that handed the Challenge Cup to Leeds in 1968.