For a man who reckoned he had failed his television audition, Arthur Montford proved to be an unmitigated success in the medium in Scotland, presiding over STV’s Scotsport for 32 years, during which he became part of the fabric of the nation.
His passing at the age of 85 has seen many people recall a simpler, purer age of television, when a hugely knowledgable broadcaster such as Montford could present a weekly sports programme with dignity and charm – more than 2,000 of them, in fact, between 1957 and 1989, making his tenure the longest stint presenting a sports programme in Britain.
He had no need for gimmicks but was famed for his check jacket – it was of a houndstooth pattern that he later donated to charity – and his unique turn of phrase, as well as his passionate support of the Scottish national team. Montford’s avuncular image belied a man of immense professionalism.
He made it look and sound so easy, and invariably it never was, his talent overcoming the many problems that sports broadcasting suffered from in its infancy.
Indeed, with Archie McPherson and others at the BBC, he was one of the pioneers of sports broadcasting in Scotland, his career covering the era of canned film of games that were rushed to the Glasgow studios to be broadcast to cathode ray tubes, up to the age of constant live satellite transmissions, electronic video machines and instant replays.
Montford sailed through it all, and in the process became one of the most familiar, well-liked and respected faces on television.
Born the son of a journalist, Sid, who spent a long career at the Glasgow Evening News and Daily Record, Montford was educated at Greenock Academy after the family moved there from Glasgow. Greenock and the Academy gave him a lifelong love of the town’s club Morton FC, and his friend from schooldays, Douglas Rae, now owns the club.
Montford told the Academy rector, a Mr William Dewar, that he would become a journalist and after national service in the army, he joined the News as an office boy, before making the graduation through the ranks to reporter, working for the News, then the Daily Record before joining the sports desk of the Evening Times.
While there he covered numerous sports, but it was football that became his main sport, and he was asked by the BBC’s well-known producer Peter Thomson to do some match reports for radio. These went well, and when BBC sports editor John Wilson joined Scottish Television in 1957, he asked Montford to join him in the new commercial visual age.
Montford’s audition in Maryhill Burgh Hall was dismal, but he was given another chance at the Theatre Royal and more than passed muster. With his pleasant, distinctive voice a singular asset, he became STV’s continuity announcer as well as sports reporter.
He soon concentrated on the latter, however, and one of the feats he personally claimed was to thwart the BBC’s attempt to have exclusive coverage of the famous Real Madrid v Eintracht Frankfurt European Cup Final at Hampden in 1960 – Montford and the STV crew marched in front of the North Stand and stayed there.
This was an early highlight in a career that would take in half a dozen World Cups, 380 domestic and European games as commentator including 38 Old Firm matches, and some of the most memorable moments in Scottish football – in 1973, he really did say “disaster for Scotland” when goalkeeper Ally Hunter let a shot from Zdenek Nehoda of Czechoslovakia through his hands at Hampden on an unforgettable night when Scotland came from behind to qualify for the 1974 World Cup.
He also had his stock words and phrases, the most famous of which was “stramash” when describing a goalmouth melee, or “up go the heads” when players battled for a high cross.
It was a golden era in Scottish football, and Montford was at the heart of it from the late 1950s through the glory days of the 1970s to the late 1980s, always finding something positive to say about the game – even in Argentina in 1978.
Montford commentated or presented items on many other sports, particularly ice hockey – a favourite of his – and golf, where his work for ITV brought him to the notice of a wider public.
He interviewed all the greats from Bobby Jones and Ben Hogan to Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Gary Player. He also presented Radio Clyde’s version of Desert Island Discs as well as writing the Scotsport Annual among other books.
Voted in as Rector of Glasgow University in 1974, Montford had a tough act to follow in Jimmy Reid, the Clydeside shipyard union leader whose rectorial address in 1971 is one of the greatest Scottish speeches of all time.
Wisely, Montford decided not to try and emulate Reid, but with his former rector Mr Dewar in the audience, typically he spent most of his address praising the many individuals he knew who did selfless work for the community of Glasgow and environs.
A diligent rector, he was reckoned by students to be on their side, and at the height of his fame he helped all forms of charity no matter their background, lending his name to good causes such as the Simon Community and Talbot Association.
Not an overly religious man himself, Montford detested religious sectarianism in football. He tackled the controversy quietly, preferring to show by example that a Christian need not take sides. Though again he did not shout about it, his politics in the 70s favoured the SNP, and he helped the late Margo McDonald in her campaign in Govan in 1973.
On his retirement at the age of 60 in 1989, he concentrated on playing golf at Glasgow Golf Club at Killermont. Thanks to his friend, Douglas Rae, at whose house Montford’s second marriage took place with Rae as best man, Montford was appointed director of Morton FC, and latterly became honorary vice-president.
Rae summed up his friend: “Arthur was an outstanding individual and an excellent man all round. He and I never had an argument, though that might have been down to Arthur’s good nature more than mine. He was always good company, and I have never met a more genuine person than my friend.”
Latterly, Montford suffered from complications of diabetes.
Arthur Montford was married twice, his second wife Jacqueline dying only last year. He is survived by his son Ewen, and his two grandchildren and four step-grandchildren.