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Friday, 11 August, 2000, 16:34 GMT 17:34 UK
David Vine: Leaving on cue
By Bob Chaundy of the BBC's News Profiles Unit

"I've got to go sometime, and now is the right time," says David Vine, announcing his retirement from 40 years of presenting television sport, 25 of them as the face of snooker.

No more will his homely Devon tones accompany us in our living rooms through the excitements and tribulations of those green baize contests.

The 64-year-old has not so much been one of the charismatic strikers of the BBC sports team, more the safe pair of hands at the back.


What right have you got to call anyone an incompetent fool?

David Vine to John McEnroe

He was also the original presenter of A Question of Sport, and, until more than two decades of a hectic travel schedule got the better of him, the man who made Franz Klammer and co household names on Ski Sunday.

But snooker has given Viney, as he is known, his greatest professional memories.

A staggering 18 million people watched as he was forced to wait until the early hours of the morning to interview Dennis Taylor after his epic win on the last black against Steve Davis in 1985.

'Greatest player'

And he recalls with fondness Canada's Cliff Thorburn making the World Championship's first maximum 147 break.

His compatriot, the corpulent Bill Werbenuik, was playing on the adjoining table and kept poking his head round to see how his friend was doing.

"When he potted the final black, Thorburn sank to his knees and Werbenuik rushed over and gave him such a bear hug it nearly killed him," recalls Vine.

David Vine presenting BBC's snooker coverage
He presented snooker for 25 years

He believes Stephen Hendry is the greatest player ever to have picked up a cue and reckons no-one will equal his seven world championship victories.

The roll call of programmes he has fronted is quite staggering.

They include Sportscene, Quiz Ball, It's A Knock Out, Jeux Sans Frontieres, The Horse of the Year Show, Miss UK, Miss World, Eurovision Song Contest, Wimbledon, Grandstand, The Superstars, and the Winter and Summer Olympic Games.

And David Vine has one more hurdle to clear before hanging up his mike. He will travel to the Sydney Olympics to commentate on another of his niche sports, weightlifting.

'Jumpers and specs'

With his middle-of-the-road spectacles and jumpers, David Vine found himself the butt of many jokes in the 1970s, in particular from Clive James in his Observer TV review column.

A younger David Vine
David Vine used to be the butt of jokes

Vine chuckles at James's description of his Ski Sunday presentation. The Australian personality once said: "My friend David (they have never met) shouts at me while idiots in multi-coloured condoms come down a mountain on two planks of wood".

But any blandness of appearance was not echoed in his manner.

Few who saw it will forget the way he stunned John McEnroe in an interview after the American's "you're the pits of the world" outburst at Wimbledon with the question: "What right have you got to call anyone an incompetent fool?"

"He told me he'd never talk to me again after that but he did the following day," remembers Vine.

Grilling

Then there was the 18 minute grilling he gave Rex Williams on his not universally popular return to head the World Professional Billiards and Snooker Association. During the interview Vine forced him to admit he would have to fire many of its staff.

David Vine with Henry Cooper on A Question of Sport
With Henry Cooper on A Question of Sport

Viney, who turns 65 this year, has few regrets. But one of his biggest came at a recent snooker Masters match at Wembley.

A woman was planning to streak in front of him during his opening presentation but got her foot caught in her raincoat, so delaying her performance for the game itself.

"I would have loved to have exploited the moment, milked it for all it was worth," he laughs.

And it is that ability to improvise, in his own cheeky and charming way, that we shall most miss about David Vine.

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