Montford memories: Scotsport's world-record run began with a failed audition

A FAILED audition in the Maryhill Burgh Hall in the summer of 1957 was a pretty inauspicious start to my television career, which on that particular day seemed an unlikely prospect. I was working on the sports desk of the Glasgow Evening Times where, thanks to the generosity of the sports editor Bill Stewart, I had been able to get Saturday afternoons off to do some radio work for the BBC, covering football matches from grounds as close as possible to Queen Margaret Drive.

The sports editor there was John Wilson, the programme was introduced by the spiky Robert Dunnett who had been a wartime reporter for BBC London, and my colleagues at that time were people like Jamieson Clark, Andy Cowan Martin, Jack Inglis and John Henderson who was a teacher and who persuaded me originally to try for steam radio.

STV had poached John Wilson from the BBC and it was he who invited me for that ill-fated audition. To be frank I was awful. I couldn't put two words together.

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However a week later I got another call to come along to the beautiful Theatre Royal, STV's headquarters, to take part in another series of auditions. I swithered a bit, but when I walked out on stage of what was to become Studio A (the only studio, really) I felt instantly at home. I read a report from autocue, ad-libbed about my own team Morton, talked off the cuff about sport in the city, and when the boss Archie McCulloch asked me to stay behind, he invited me to join the company. The fact that he offered me 20 a week when I was making 14 with the Times had nothing to do with it of course.

A mad month led up to the opening night on 31 August. It was all new and it was wonderful, and believe it or not I only ever had one television lesson. I was told: 'Smile at the camera, and the camera will like you.' I didn't forget that, and I found it provided a natural bridge between you and the viewer.

Our first programme went out on 6 September 1957 and when I retired in 1989 I had done just over 2,000 programmes (nearly all of them live), had commented on just under 400 matches and had introduced programmes which featured curling, speedway, athletics, golf, ice skating, speed skating and ice hockey (one of my favourites). I worked on half a dozen World Cups for STV and ITV, hosted many golf tournaments for ITV including two Ryder Cups and numerous Scottish Opens for home consumption.

When I started commentating – our first ever match was a Scottish Junior Cup tie between Clydebank and Irvine Meadow – I worked with Peter Thomson and George Davidson of the BBC and later shared many a European commentary box with Archie McPherson, Mr Unflappable.

I once did a 90-minute European Cup commentary on Ujpest Dosza against Celtic which never reached Glasgow. In the days before satellite transmission, you had to book a landline if you were in Europe. The game was the day after the US general election and the guy handling the link forgot to switch the line over.

On the way back on Celtic's charter flight – they lost 3-0 – I was in the huff at the back of the plane. Desmond White, the Celtic chairman, came up and said 'I hear you had as bad a night as we did, come and join us for a bite to eat.'

Back in the studio, the lack of a line had given Alex Cameron the longest fill-in slot ever. Alex was great to work with. Alan Herron was the quickest guy ever to write a report, Ian Archer could take an empty page and fill it with magical words, and Bob Crampsey could do three minutes to camera on any topic. Great team.

But to compare those days with the technical brilliance of the 21st century is laughable. For the first year of STV, when reports were shot on 16 millimetre, all the film was processed in the basement of The Scotsman offices in Gordon Street in Glasgow. Then our office junior took the film to the Theatre Royal by tram car!

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As a live programme, things could get hairy. The advertisers were king, so a show could never over-run. It was imperative to get the timing right, but there were times when misjudgments were made, and I'd get a message in my ear to say that instead of 30 seconds left we had three minutes remaining. The giveaway would be when I'd say 'We're back on Wednesday night, see you then' only to slip as seamlessly as possible into 'But before we go there's just time to tell you today's ice hockey results...'

One of the toughest nights was when there was a fire in the building during a live broadcast. The studio had to be evacuated, but we kept on transmitting. We had an item about the swimmer Bobby McGregor 'in the can' so we put it on, and moved to a tiny announcers studio. I had to explain our change of venue to the confused viewers, and Alex Cameron had to 'fill' desperately about a cup preview off the top of his head, while I made hand signals to the producer. I don't know how we did it, – but it would never happen now.

People still talk about my sports jackets, but I have never understood that fascination. I only ever had one with a bright check, and it went to a charity auction in Dundee, where it fetched three times more than I paid for it. The two lines I get most often are "Didn't you used to be Arthur Montford?" and "We miss yer jaiket." I regard it as an inverted compliment! Certainly, no-one ever says 'we enjoyed your contribution to the rich fabric of the Scottish sporting scene'!

It's a bit like the word 'stramash'. I've been retired 20 years and people are still saying it. It was a description of a goalmouth scramble, and it seems to have been memorable. Again, I'm not sure about the fascination!

I was with Scotsport until 1989 and no-one could have guessed 30 years earlier that it would become the world's longest-running sports television magazine. I was very sad when it went off air, because I believe it could have gone on another ten years, as a Friday night preview show. Look at John Beattie's show on radio every Saturday, it goes from strength to strength covering the Scottish sporting scene. I think it was a mistake not to follow that path with Scotsport: so much has changed at STV, and not for the better.

Although the new studios are at Pacific Quay, the Theatre Royal is still STV's spiritual home. Any time I'm there, I remember the opening night with James Robertson Justice and Jack Buchanan. It was a happy place.