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Thursday 14 December 2017

Harry was voice of boxing heyday

THE death of Harry Carpenter, the BBC's 'voice of boxing', brought back memories of when boxing was a major sport and the likes of Henry Cooper, John Conteh and Barry McGuigan were household names.

It was an era when wives and girlfriends rarely raised objections when their men said they wished to tune in to the big fights. In fact, many of them grew to be just as big fans as their partners. Today, the BBC doesn't want to know about boxing and viewing of fights is largely restricted to those with access to subscription channels.

As a consequence, only diehard fans know who are the sport's leading lights. The Klitschkos, David Haye, Manny Pacquiao? To the average man in the street, they are as obscure as Eurovision winners.

Carpenter, who was 84 when he died last weekend, was knowledgeable, articulate and, above all, fair. He was the voice of authority from ringsides in Las Vegas, Manila and the Albert Hall.

Only once do I recall him letting his partisanship show. That was when Frank Bruno took on Mike Tyson in 1989. Just for a moment it looked like the Briton might pull off a massive upset.

"Bruno's face is already marked up," commented Carpenter, "but he's fighting back and he's hurt Tyson with a good left.

"He knows he can hurt him now. Get in there, Frank!"

Of course, Bruno's big chance passed and he became just another battered victim of Iron Mike. Frank and Harry would become a double act as popular as Laurel and Hardy or Morecambe and Wise.

One of my special recollections of Carpenter is a documentary he did with Tyson, when they sat and chatted about the great heavyweights in history while watching historic footage from the BBC archives.

Tyson, who had learned all about the ring greats from viewing the huge film collection of his original co-manager, Jim Jacobs, provided expert analysis as an equally enthused Harry rolled the reels.

Carpenter did his first TV commentary, from an amateur show, in 1954, but he could remember being taken to his first boxing promotion back in the 1930s by his father, the vice-president of a south London club.

His observations on boxers and boxing were always worth consideration. Here are a few samples:

On Muhammad Ali

"He overshadowed all others in my time. He changed our perception of heavyweight boxing. Before him, nearly all the great ones were slow-footed and ponderous. He declared himself the jet-age heavyweight and revolutionised the division with speed, skill and showmanship."

His biggest fight thrill

"Ali's third fight with Joe Frazier in Manila in 1975 was the best I have seen, although I have reservations as to whether it was too hard for both of them."

On Sugar Ray Robinson

"Apart from his extraordinary record, Robinson was a super showman. He travelled the world in regal style. His entourage included his barber, masseur, chauffeur, personal golf pro and a dwarf who acted as court jester."

On Barry McGuigan

"He created emotional nights in Belfast, where the walls of the cavernous King's Hall shook with the ringing cheers he inspired. In the troubled land of Northern Ireland, McGuigan united Catholic and Protestant."

On winners and losers

"The winner is OK, until the day he becomes a loser. Losers know all about The Hardest Game."

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