Excerpt: We Had Some Laughs: My Dad, the Darts and Me by Dan Waddell
We Had Some Laughs: My Dad, the Darts and Me is one son’s affectionate and rather bewildered, portrait of a commentating legend, Sid Waddell.
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By his death in 2012, Sid Waddell had been a well-loved part of British life for so long that it was easy to overlook the improbability of his success. Now, this hugely entertaining biography of “the voice of darts” by his son reminds us just how extraordinary Sid’s life was.
The early sections, for example, winningly plunge us into a now-vanished world of Northern working-class life, as Sid is born in a Northumbrian pit village before winning a scholarship to the local grammar school neither of which would be possible now. From there, he went to St John’s College, Cambridge (other famous alumni: Lord Palmerston and William Wordsworth) and wondered about becoming an academic. So how did he end up dedicating much of his life to what even he called “fat men throwing things at the wall”?
"How did he end up dedicating much of his life to what even he called
'fat men throwing things at the wall'?"
The book answers this question with a mix of filial pride and mild bewilderment. Instead of academia, Sid headed into local TV, where he decided to bring working-class sports to a wider audience. Hence Indoor League (producer: S Waddell), in which Fred Trueman introduced games of table football, arm-wrestling and shove ha’penny. Then, in 1977, the BBC asked Sid to try out as a darts commentator. After a fairly orthodox start, he was soon giving full rein to his enthusiasms, not just for darts but also for references to literature, history and the Bible.
Dan proves very good at capturing his experience of being a teenager at the World Championships during darts’ all-drinking, all-smoking pomp. Here’s the first he ever went to in 1985, aged 12, with his friend Glen…
As we were taken in through the entrance, I not only crossed into the world of darts but into the world of men. We walked through a set of double doors into a pungent smog of smoke and ale. Rows and rows of men in a run-down cabaret club, wearing cardigans, chuffing on fags and pipes, trays of drinks both full and empty strewn across the tables, the floor sticky with booze. Eric Bristow was playing Dave Whitcombe in the semi-final...
From there we were whisked around the back of the hall, through the beery miasma, to a tiny prefab wooden box. A man in maroon blazer stood at the foot of a small set of portable steps, which led to its door. He held up a huge hairy hand.
‘Sid’s son and his mate,’ said our guide.
The maroon giant put his hand down and grinned. My chest swelled fit to burst. Our guide put his hand to his lips, then led us up the stairs. The door flew open and we were bundled in.
"I not only crossed into the world of darts but into the world of men."
He was sat facing a monitor, a microphone pressed to his mouth. He saw us, put down the mike and gave us a manic two-handed wave. Then he pointed exaggeratedly at two chairs directly behind him. We sat down. He picked up the mike and returned to his performance. On stage Bristow hit double 16 to take the set.
‘With all the accuracy of a Kalashnikov rifle,’ my dad screamed.
I looked at Glen and we giggled. Until then my dad had been subdued, whispering, restrained. But now he was on his feet shouting. I was half mortified, half-entranced.
He put the mike down, switched it to talkback, and turned to Glen and me. He winked at us both.
‘Good ’ere innit…’
It was, Glen and I agreed. The game ended, my dad gathered the pile of papers, used envelopes and other scraps on which he’d scribbled his notes and stuffed them in his bag. Then he burst out of the door and we followed. My father walked quicker than any man I’ve ever met, and here, the nervous energy that fuelled his performance still coursing through him, he was out of the traps like a greyhound. Glen and I struggled to keep up. But there was another reason for him to walk so fast. As he made his way around the back of the audience, a few of the fans saw him.
‘Why aye kidda!’
‘The greatest comeback since Lazarus!’
‘Jocky on the oche!’
The shouts, his name, lines he’d said in commentary, came thick and fast. A beery, glass-eyed throng was soon trying to envelop him. He did his best to smile and sign a few autographs, while making sure Glen and I didn’t get swallowed by the huddled, befuddled masses. But it took 15 minutes to make a 30-second journey. I couldn’t believe he was this well-liked and appreciated.
It seemed absurd.