One of my happy routines as an Electronic Bag Teen was to watch snooker with my dad. I know, I was really living la vida loca back then! We also watched showjumping, Tom & Jerry and Dr Who, and if possible any silent comedy films starring people such as Chaplin, Keaton or Lloyd. My father was a discerning television viewer who would quite literally turn on for a three minute cartoon, then turn off again.
During the Seventies, which is when all this crazy was going on chez Bag Teen, Friday night didn’t get any more exciting than Pot Black, a half hour performance of snooker showmanship. All the big names were there, such as the great Fred Davis, Cliff Thorburn, Dennis Taylor, Ray Reardon, Terry Griffiths and eventually a very young Steve Davis. And you really had to learn the how it worked because back in those days we were on colour-savings time and mostly everything was in black and white. Believe it or not, I didn’t find out my eyes were blue until the Eighties.
For those of you not familiar with the phenomenon, colour-savings time (or “CST”) was invented in order to manage an orderly transition from the Age of Monochrome to the Age of Multichrome. Colour had of course been invented some years previously, resulting in general excitement with a tendency to hysteria and significant economic success for traders in smelling salts. The population gradually became more alert to the opportunities of a nuanced colour scheme in their everyday lives, but initially it was considered a social shift of cataclysmic proportion which needed delicate management. For centuries colour had been as theoretical as the Higgs boson, and until someone invented the equivalent of the Large Hadron Collider (it was actually called the Large Pantone Collider and patented in 1928 by Ingrid Bergman’s uncle) there continued to be savage debate over such contentious issues as the colours to be found in a rainbow, or the actual colour of the Red Sea and its implications for biblical epistemology.
Nevertheless, demand was high; the world expected colour in every last nook and cranny, although early attempts were clumsy as armies of painters (or “colourists” as they were known) were deployed globally to render key landmarks and treasures in red, green, or blue. The discovery by Howard Carter in Tutankhamen’s tomb of the colour gold, for example, caused quite a stir. The colourists started with works of art and later moved into cinema. Their early enthusiasm was prone to excess, and indeed one colourist was so carried away when updating the Book of Kells that he was forcibly sectioned for the greater good.
Gradually colouring became mainstream and coloured versions of everyday items made it into the shops, such as blue jeans and itsty-bitsy-teeny-weeny-yellow-polka-dot bikinis. Following the psychedelic period at the end of the Sixties, the world was mostly transitioned but the BBC lagged a little behind due to a limited budget. It couldn’t afford a complete colour output and snooker balls were last in the cue.
As a result, my father taught me the rules of the game the old-fashioned way: keen observation to memorise the placement of balls on the table. Snooker nowadays is a garish game, but then it was all shades of grey, and not in a kinky sense. Now there is the green baize, and balls of white, red, black, pink, blue, brown, green and yellow.
The important thing to remember with snooker, the really important thing, especially if watching in monochrome, is that apart from the white and the reds, all the colours have a home spot marked on the baize. They return to it throughout the game, like salmon to the glens or pigeons to their lofts. It is a game of physics: angles, velocity and spin. The goal is to clear the table by potting all the balls in a certain order, ending with the black. Only the white must never vanish down the rabbit hole. There are hideous forfeits if this happens. Hideous.
Knowing these rules and paying attention to play, it made perfect sense then for whispering Ted Lowe, the television commentator, to murmur “and for those of you watching in black and white, the pink is next to the green.”
What were your favourite TV moments as a teenager?