Friday, March 20, 2009

The Fortysomethings Guide To TV's Greatest Sporting Moments - Part IV: This Is The Story Of The Hurricane

'We Interrupt The Scheduled Programme...'
5th May 1980

Over to Our Live Outside Broadcast From: The Crucible Theatre, Sheffield. And Prince's Gate, South Kensington, London.

Action Replay: It should have been memorable for the simple reason that it was the day The Grinder beat The Hurricane. But, far more of the viewing public probably remember the circumstances surrounding the 1980 Embassy World Snooker final because of, simultaneous, events taking place some two hundred miles south of Sheffield. The BBC's Bank Holiday Monday coverage of the final was interrupted by Operation Nimrod - the storming the Iranian Embassy by S.A.S. forces to end a six-day siege. The seige had began on 30 April 1980 when a six-man team which described itself as being members of The Democratic Revolutionary Movement for the Liberation of Arabistan seized control of the embassy in central London and took twenty six people hostage (though some were subsequently released). Initially their demands were for the autonomy of an Arab-majority petroleum-rich region in southern Iran known as Khuzestan.

The assault started at 19:23 with the detonation of an explosive charge in a stairwell. Simultaneously, all power was cut to the building as S.A.S. commandos absailed from the roof, using grenades to blow in the windows and disorient the kidnappers during the attack. Five of the six gunmen inside were killed and nineteen hostages were rescued. The live newsflash thrust Kate Adie into the national limelight. As that afternoon's BBC duty reporter, she was on the scene as the attack began and reported live and unscripted to one of Britain’s largest ever news audiences, whilst crouched behind a car door thirty metres down the road from the building. At forty six minutes, it was (and remained, until the Brighton Bomb incident some years later) British television's longest continuous newflash.

What Happened Next?: Meanwhile, back at the Crucible, coverage eventually resumed on BBC2 whilst BBC1 continued with the unfolding drama in London.
    It had been a curious snooker competition that year, five former World Champions - Fred Davis, John Pulman, John Spencer, Ray Reardon and Terry Griffiths - had all been beaten before the semi-final stage. The final itself was between two men of vastly different character and temprement.
Candadian Cliff Thorburn was, like many of those champions of old, a slow and methodical player, a technically-gifted cuesman. Facing him was Alex 'Hurricane' Higgins, snooker's enfant terrible - gifted, wayward, maverick, a genuine cult figure. Steve Davis (whom Higgins had beaten in the quarter-finals) called him 'the one, true, genius that snooker has produced.' Many of the public loved him – he was pure rock and roll to Thorburn's Bing Crosby. The sport's establishment, of course, hated him and everything he stood for.

Higgins led 5-1 and then, later, 9-5 on Sunday but he began to give Thorburn chances – some have even suggested that he was showboating when, with a bit of care, he could have had the game wrapped up early - and the first day ended with the scores level at nine frames each. So engrossing did the final day's play become that the BBC was deluged by irate calls of complaint from viewers when the interruption for the Iranian Embassy situation occurred. The turning point in the match was the thirty third frame – when Thorburn cleared the table with a break of one hundred and nineteen after he had virtually thrown away the previous frame. Mental weariness, perhaps, had taken its toll when first Higgins and then Thorburn missed a relatively simple brown, Higgins returning to the baise to win the frame with a run on the last four colours and square the match at sixteen frames all. But Thorburn held his nerve and won the final two frames to take the title and become the first non-British winner of snooker's biggest tournament.

Meanwhile, the commandos action in lifting the siege would become the inspiration for one of the very worst films ever made, Who Dares Wins starring Lewis Collins. No justice.

Back to the Studio for a Summing Up: Higgins' wife Lynne had a cake prepared exclaiming Alex Higgins - 1980 World Champion. Both players cheerfully posed with the cake for publicity photos after the final. Thorburn received £15,000 from Embassy, the highest prize money in snooker to date.

Both men would have a good next few years - Higgins emotionally winning the world title for the second time in 1982 (after a classic gunfighter-style semi-final with his friend and protégé, Jimmy White). In 1983, Thorburn would become the first player to make a maximum 147 break at the World Championship.

What the Papers Said: 'Thorburn … gave a masterly display of concentration, accuracy and staving power,' wrote Sydney Friskin in The Times. 'He admitted he had started his campaign in a low key but finished in crescendo, adding that while he had not lost weight under the pressure he had "aged about twelve years."'

Also That Day:
- In Music: Sky (anyone remember them?) were at the top of the LP chart. The best-selling single that week was Dexy's Midnight Runners' northern-soul classic 'Geno' ahead of Paul McCartney's best single in years 'Coming Up' and Blondie's 'Call Me'. Other chart-sounds that week included UB40's 'Food For Thought' (no. 6), The Pretenders' 'Talk of the Town' (no. 9), The Undertones' 'My Perfect Cousin' (no. 11), The Ruts' 'Staring at the Rude Boys' (no. 32), The Cure's 'A Forest' (no. 35) and The Average White Band's 'Let’s Go Round Again' (no. 39). Everybody disco!

- On TV: The end of the siege caused absolute havoc with the evening's TV schedules. But Robert Robinson on Ask the Family and, alas, The Little and Large Holiday Special on BBC1 escaped any S.A.S. intrusion. As, somewhat more importantly, did the season finale of Not the Nine O'Clock News on BBC2. On Coronation Street Gail and Brian were trying to buy a home. Also, the Thames drama Fox and, in some regions, an episode of Happy Days. Cool.

- In The News: The funeral of Marshal Tito, who died yesterday, was to take place in Belgrade (which gave Not the Nine O'Clock News another of their most memorable moments, 'The Confrontation Song' ... 'Jimmy Carter must've known/That's why he stayed at home!'). Ian MacGregor was appointed the head of British Steel. Members of a Commons committee were to visit St Paul's in Bristol, scene of recent widely-covered riots. Three men were charged in Belfast with the murder of German industrialist Thomas Neidermeyer in 1973. The government announced the intention to dismantle numerous Quangos. A group of mercenaries were executed after a coup in Surinam failed. And, the Rubik's Cube was launched in the US at a Hollywood party hosted by Zsa Zsa Gabor.

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