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Page last updated at 09:15 GMT, Tuesday, 7 September 2010 10:15 UK
Rugby league's TV 'visionary' Eddie Waring remembered
Eddie Waring
Eddie Waring was the famous voice behind BBC TV's rugby league coverage

The story of legendary Dewsbury rugby league commentator and TV entertainer Eddie Waring has been told on West Yorkshire's TV screens this week.

A new documentary traced the history of rugby league while telling the story of the ups and downs of Waring's life.

Tony Parker, the programme's executive producer, says that while Eddie was well-loved he was also controversial.

He explains: "As Eddie's star rose he also became one of the game's most divisive figures."

Eddie Waring on It's a Knockout
As well as rugby league, Eddie also starred on It's a Knockout

The documentary, Eddie Waring: Mr Rugby League, was shown on BBC Four on Tuesday 7 September and it marked the 100th year since Eddie was born in Dewsbury.

Featuring interviews with Eddie's son, his biographer, a historian and former BBC Sport executives, the programme shows how he began his career as a typewriter salesman in Dewsbury before becoming a journalist covering rugby league games.

While working as a reporter he also managed Dewsbury boys' team, who he renamed the Black Knights, and he eventually went on to manage Dewsbury RLFC during the Second World War.

His biggest achievement as manager during this period was to lead the team to victory in both the Championship and the Challenge Cup.

With these victories under his belt, Waring went on to join the BBC as the voice of rugby league, covering cup finals, internationals and league games for Sportsview and Grandstand.

Tony Parker says he was a man ahead of his time: "Eddie is the man who introduced millions of TV viewers to rugby league - a 'national treasure' who evangelised about a sport he loved.

"But Eddie was much more than a hired voice: he was an entrepreneur, a fixer, a manager and a visionary who wanted to take the game to a new level beyond its north of England heartland."

But Tony says Waring was not liked by everyone: "For some he was 'Uncle Eddie', a warm and friendly voice of the north. For others he was a negative northern stereotype who was failing to take the game seriously.

"Appearances on shows like Morecambe And Wise and It's A Knockout took his career to a new level.

He was a rugby league man both of his time and a rugby league man who was ahead of his time.
Tony Hannan, Eddie Waring's biographer

"But for some fans this was a step too far. They thought Eddie was becoming a figure of ridicule - viewers were laughing at him and the sport of rugby league."

The programme explores how a damning report by a firm of management consultants recommended several changes to the game of rugby league and was critical of the BBC's coverage, saying it was bad for the game.

In 1976 a group called the 1895 Club claimed 11,000 fans had signed a petition asking for the removal of Eddie and for changes in the way the game was portrayed.

In the documentary, 1895 Club member Phil Pennington says: "He actually got in the way of the game being properly presented. You felt you were being patronised.

"Eddie sort of embodied a north of England that had probably disappeared by the end of the Second World War. This was the 1970s, remember."

Eddie Waring's biographer Tony Hannan says: "There's a conflict between Eddie himself, who feels he's evangelising the sport and spreading the game, helping it to expand, and the people who are actually involved in rugby league in the north of England who don't see it that way at all."

The BBC disputed the number of people who had signed the petition, dismissed many of the points and stressed Eddie had never been more popular.

However, the documentary suggests that for Eddie the damage had been done.

Sadly, Eddie died at High Royds psychiatric hospital in Leeds in 1986 after suffering from dementia.

Eddie Waring
Eddie was a much-loved commentator and TV star in the 1960s and 1970s

A decade later, the rugby Super League was formed and the game finally had a new image, something which the BBC Four documentary claims Eddie would have recognised.

Historian Tony Collins says: "The way in which it adopted the nicknames, brought in the razzmatazz, attracted families on the basis of the match day experience with lots of things going on at the ground, that was the type of thing Eddie was arguing for in the 1940s.

"That demonstrates how far ahead of his time he really was."

And Waring's biographer Tony Hannan says: "It's really easy to overlook the entrepreneurial nature of the man and the fact that he was actually a visionary.

"Yes, he was an entertainer, but first and foremost he was a rugby league man.

"He was a rugby league man both of his time and a rugby league man who was ahead of his time."


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