Memories of Pot Black

by Bernard Taylor

The passing of a sporting legend from Birmingham may have even had some of you saying “Who?” but for those of us, enthusiasts of the green baize, Graham Miles (pictured below) was a legend.

Graham’s achievements were modest, compared to some of the sports greats but he did reach the final of the World Snooker Championship in 1974 but lost to Ray Reardon. Following on from his success he helped to start and manage Sandwell Snooker Centre. The building was the former Windsor Theatre in Bearwood Road, Smethwick.

Sandwell Snooker Centre (formerly Windsor Theatre)

The sport, which is now a world-wide phenomenon, was not that popular with the media until the introduction of a programme “Pot Black”, first aired on the BBC on July 23rd 1969. It was filmed at the Pebblemill Studios in Edgbaston. It made stars of players like John Spencer, Steve Davis, Ray Reardon, Eddie Charlton, Terry Griffiths, Willie Thorne, Doug Mountjoy, Cliff Thorburn and off course Graham Miles. In fact Graham won the tournament in 1974 and 1975. The commentators such as David Icke and Ted Lowe also became superstars. Ted Lowe of course gave one of those iconic quotes, still remembered in the halls of fame today, “For those of you watching in black and white, the pink is next to the green.”

A photo from Pot Black in 1985-from left to right David Icke; Steve Davis; John Williams (Referee); Eddie Charlton; Terry Griffiths; Doug Mountjoy; Ted Lowe; Neil Faulds; Cliff Thorburn; Silvano Francesco and Willie Thorne

What a lot of people don’t realise is that the tournament was filmed after Christmas and in the New Year, over a period of about a week. Tickets were actually free of charge and the public would request tickets for certain days, an afternoon or evening session. You wouldn’t actually know who you would see when you booked and you were also asked not to reveal the results of the tournament because the BBC didn’t actually televise the tournament till much later in the year. Pot Black finished in 1986, when really snooker had taken off and the UK and Worlds Championships were being televised. The event’s highest break is held by Mark Williams with a score of 119.

I applied for tickets on many occasions, and experienced the talents of such stars as Ray Reardon, Steve Davis and Alex Higgins in the flesh. One of the nicest parts of the programme was that during the intermission everyone would collect in the bar/lounge at Pebblemill and you would get the chance to meet and sometimes even chat with your idols, something that today, sadly because of health and safety, would not be allowed.

I have many little anecdotes about the programme and would like to share one or two with you now. The televised programme was screened for about 25 minutes and I suppose that some people didn’t realise that the “live” matches would actually fit into the programme schedule. On one occasion when I was booked to watch Eddie Charlton against Ray Reardon both players were renowned for their slow, defensive game. Well the match lasted almost an hour and so we had to sit there for about 20-30 minutes whilst the crew editing team had to cut, splice and join the match so it lasted 25 minutes.

On another occasion, just as the players had been introduced to the audience and the break was due to start. Everything stopped, a young lady in the front row was quietly spoken to and asked to change places with someone else further back. Quite strange, we all felt but obviously she moved and the match got under way.

At the interval everyone was intrigued as to why the incident had taken place. The explanation was that the girl in question had a low-cut blouse and a rather short skirt which was directly in the line of the players breaking off from the D.

Finally, not an incident that took place at Pot Black but actually at the UK Championships. The venues were announced for the qualifying stages and one of them was the Haden Hill Sports Hall. My friend and I were avid snooker fans and we discovered that one of the matches was in the afternoon. We decided to take an afternoon off work as we were working quite close to the event. “No one will know!” we decided and managed to book tickets. When we arrived we discovered that we had front row seats, “Wow! That’s terrific!” but then the sucker punch. Unfortunately for us the BBC had decided to televise the event and there we were sat on the front row for almost two hours and it was televised on the night, on the BBC news, which we were sure our boss would see. We never did find out if he had actually viewed that night but from the grin and the comment “Good game!” next day we sort of put two and two together.

Lovely memories and I am still watching and playing today, although the visits to the table are a little shorter than before. My only regret is that I didn’t do this article for the November issue before the sad loss of a good friend and member, Bernard Page- God Bless!

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