Years ago, the credentials required to be a cricket broadcaster were quite different than they are today. Now, any oaf who chanced his way to a few Test caps can settle his ample posterior behind the mic and pontificate to the nation without a trace of wit or wisdom. Then, it was essential to have a way with words. Sure, the ex-pros had their place – usually summarizing at the end of an over. But anchoring the whole shebang called for a BBC lifer – the sort of fellow you could imagine commentating just as authoritatively from the Nuremburg trials as from the Stretford End. Peter West, the subject of this short encomium, was such a man.
My earliest memories of Test matches on the telly invariably involve a beaming West, bald head sparkling like a billiard ball, welcoming the viewer to another day’s play. The word “genial” was surely invented just for him. He spoke to camera with impeccable good manners, never forgetting he was a guest in your living room. His post-match interviews were conducted with the zest of the true enthusiast – his famous joust with a sullen Bob Willis at the close of the 81 Headingley Test is hilarious; it’s PG Wodehouse meets Lou Reed.
West regarded a day’s Test cricket as entertainment, pure and simple, and made it his business to jolly things along. This met with limited success, especially when his tea time interlocutor was “Lord” Ted Dexter. A man with no obvious sense of humour, Dexter deadpanned West’s whimsy at every opportunity, leading to some of the most excruciating pauses and taglines left twisting in the wind I can ever remember.
By the mid-80s, West was living on borrowed time. The shape of things to come was there for all to see in the huddle of ex-pros who kept him company at close of play. Tom Graveney and Ray Illingworth usually partnered Lord Ted: sandwiched tightly together in the com box, with their odd range of suits and accents, they looked like dodgy uncles at a wedding, unclaimed by bride or groom. Cricket broadcasting became professionalized – peopled exclusively by former professional cricketers – and simultaneously de-professionalized – that is, a specialized trade to be honed over years of hard graft.
1986 was West’s final year, after which he slipped off to the Cotswolds to write a very readable biography, Flannelled Fool and Muddied Oaf, tend his garden and potter around the golf course. His successor was the unctuous Tony Lewis, pretty boys like Nicholas and Gower followed, and by the dawn of the 90s the urbane and literate TV anchorman was as good as extinct.
You can still catch the best of West on YouTube. Like a waft of his preferred Mellow Virginia, he betokens a lost, less self-absorbed age.