With black rimmed spectacles and a formal appearance Gerald Williams gave the impression of an academic. In fact, in the 1970s and ‘80s, he and Dan Maskell became national figures for the fortnight of Wimbledon. He adopted a fine mixture of an intimate knowledge of the sport with a relaxed and, at times, humorous delivery.
He formed a celebrated partnership with the BBC’s anchor man Des Lynam and the ribald quips and banter during their late-night summaries of the day’s play became a popular part of the Corporation’s Wimbledon coverage. In the Eighties, Williams provided summaries for SkyTV.
Williams was a stickler for good behaviour on court and that traditions should be upheld at the All England Club.
Williams heartily disapproved of the antics which had hit the men’s game and was no fan of John McEnroe, Ilie Nastase or Jimmy Connors.
Williams once recalled: “I thought they were bringing disgrace to the game. I used to say so, and McEnroe and I found it very difficult to have anything to do with each other.”
On one occasion McEnroe strode over to the umpire’s chair and asked him, “to tell that Brit commentator to keep his voice down”.
In fact when they became co-commentators with the BBC they became close friends. In the men’s game Williams much preferred the art and professionalism of the likes of Björn Borg, Pete Sampras and Roger Federer.
But it was the double act that he and Lynam created in the late night round-up that endeared Williams to the viewers.
Williams was the straight man while the urbane and affable Lynam added asides and informed repartee: it certainly made for great late night television. They were sparring partners and fed off each other’s quips and enthusiasm for tennis and, in particular, the uniqueness of Wimbledon.
Lynam once recalled with a broad smile: “We were both somewhat irreverent about the programme.We much enjoyed sending each other up.”
Gerald Williams’ parents separated when he was young and he spent his youth between Carmarthenshire and Croydon. He attended Carmarthen Grammar School and then worked on the local paper in Croydon, soon rising to become the sports editor. On various assignments he got to know the BBC’s boxing reporter Harry Carpenter and he introduced Williams to other national sports editors – notably on the Daily Mail. One of his first postings with them was to report on the aftermath of the Munich air disaster in 1958 and how Manchester United re-established itself as a club.
The former Welsh stand-off Cliff Morgan, by then a senior figure on BBC Sports, suggested Williams join the BBC’s tennis team – then headed by the famous Dan Maskell, Jack Kramer and Bill Threlfall.
He proved a natural and by 1979 he was a fixture at Wimbledon and other grand slam events. Williams was initially overawed sharing the commentary with Maskell who was known as the “Voice of Tennis”. Williams once recalled: “There I was sitting with Dan in the commentary box and I thought, ‘You’ve made it here, mate’.” But they were both lovers of the game and its players: and enthusiasts for the sport. “Dan,” Williams said “was such a lovely man. There’s never been anyone like him. He became my best friend.”
It was Williams’s wry humour and infectious enjoyment of, and fascination with, the game that the tennis public responded to.
Those qualities allied to his profound knowledge of tennis made a Williams’s commentary so absorbing. He subtly mixed in his intense love of the sport and its traditions in a relaxed and understated delivery that endeared him to the ardent tennis fans and to those who watched for the two weeks of Wimbledon.
He was not beyond making the occasional howler. During a ladies’ doubles match, one of the players, Pam Shriver, was stung by a wasp inside her dress.
As she was looking down the front of her dress and trying to grapple the wasp out of her cleavage, Williams told the viewers with a straight face:“They are a fine pair, aren’t they?”
Williams had many friends in the sport – especially players and coaches. His colleagues in the commentary box also recall a colleague of much charm who was supportive and a friend.
Sue Barker said: “I always admired his style and humour and was thrilled when he asked me to be his co-commentator. He was a wonderful commentator and broadcaster, but above all a great friend.”
In 1964 Williams married the Dundee born Joyce Barclay who was a member of the UK’s 1972 Whitman Cup side. The marriage was later dissolved.