Page last updated at 14:11 GMT, Monday, 22 March 2010

Obituary: Harry Carpenter


The BBC's Andy Swiss looks back at the career of Harry Carpenter, who has died at the age of 84

For millions of television viewers, Harry Carpenter's boxing match commentary was an essential ringside ingredient.

Born in 1925 at South Norwood in south-east London, he acquired his interest in boxing from his father, who was the vice-president of an amateur club.

He won a place at grammar school, but left when he was 15 and secured a foothold in journalism when he joined The Greyhound Express.

Iron Curtain

After wartime service in the Royal Navy as a Morse code operator, he worked on several newspapers before joining the Daily Mail as boxing columnist.

In 1949, Carpenter offered his services to the BBC as a boxing commentator, but because there was no relevant footage to hand at his audition, he had to provide a commentary for a football match instead.

Harry Carpenter
Expert of the blow-by-blow account

He heard nothing for months, until the head of outside broadcasts, Peter Dimmock, phoned him to ask whether he could fill in as commentator for an amateur boxing night.

Harry Carpenter proved himself adept at commentating on a host of other sporting events, but it was always boxing with which he was most closely associated.

His first fight commentary for the BBC was in 1949 and in the next decade, he was responsible for the first live commentary from behind the Iron Curtain in 1957 and the first via satellite from the United States.

'Poignant moment'

For much of the 1970s and 80s, Carpenter co-hosted the Sports Personality of the Year programme, having first contributed in 1958. He was "flattered and pleased" that he was asked to pay tribute to the Sports Personality of the Century, Muhammad Ali.

Harry Carpenter with Muhammad Ali
With Sports Personality of the Century Ali

"It was a wonderfully poignant moment," Carpenter reflected. "He is not only the most remarkable sports personality I have ever met, he is the most remarkable man I have ever met."

His forthright presentational style and his ability to make light of technical errors or laugh at his own mistakes endeared him to the British public, but were clearly admired on the other side of the Atlantic, too.

In December 1989, Harry Carpenter was named International Sportscaster of the Year by the American Sportscasters Association. That same year, in a magazine interview, he had criticised the way he believed money had spoiled sport.

'Know what I mean, 'Arry?'

He complained of lower standards of sportsmanship, and said tennis was sometimes "totally distasteful". He did not like life in Britain, either; he believed the country had become "rude, dirty and dangerous".

Having covered several Olympic boxing tournaments and most of the big professional title fights over several decades, Harry Carpenter got to know several of the champions.

But the relationship that proved most entertaining for the onlooker was that with Frank Bruno, whose "know what I mean, 'Arry?" became a catchphrase.

Harry Carpenter with Frank Bruno
'Arry with his sparring partner Bruno

But Harry Carpenter acknowledged that, morally, boxing was a sport which was "very difficult to defend", although it had become more humane in his time, with referees stopping fights earlier.

After being retired for nearly a decade, Carpenter made his BBC comeback in April 2001, when he provided expert analysis of Lennox Lewis's defence of his world heavyweight title against Hasim Rahman.

Harry Carpenter surmised that other people's suggested epitaph for him might be "they stopped him talking at last". But his voice was one of authority that will echo down the years whenever people review the great days of boxing.

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