Tuesday 23 January 2018

Why the boxers all said Harry was a knock-out guy

Harry Carpenter, who has died aged 84, was for many years the doyen of television boxing commentators. His style -- charming, chummy and casual -- could sometimes make one forget the business at hand: that two men in a small ring were attempting to beat one another senseless. But his knowledge of the sport was profound, and he had a true gift for communicating his passion for it.

As a result, Carpenter was held in great respect by the boxers themselves. Muhammad Ali once paid him the compliment of saying that Carpenter was "not as dumb as he looks". And when the world heavyweight champion Mike Tyson first met him, he exclaimed: "Ah, Harry Carpenter, you wrote the first book I ever read on boxing -- can I have your autograph?"

Most famously, however, Carpenter enjoyed a long association with Britain's much-loved heavyweight fighter Frank Bruno, who would reply to the commentator's questions with the rider: "Know what I mean, 'Arry?" This became a famous catchphrase.

Carpenter was commentating when Bruno took on Mike Tyson in 1989. Viewers heard him encouraging the Briton, who had momentarily shaken his apparently unbeatable opponent by landing a huge punch, with the words: "Get in there, Frank!"

"You can't afford to be partial," Carpenter later said. "When he fought Tyson I couldn't help it. I could see this man from Britain winning the world title. He hurt Tyson. But Tyson came back and proved too good for Frank in the end."

Carpenter was also at ringside when Ali took on George Foreman in the so-called "Rumble in the Jungle" in Kinshasa, Zaire, in October 1974. His description of the end of the fight became celebrated: "Suddenly Ali looks very tired indeed. In fact Ali, at times now, looks as though he can barely lift his arms up... Oh, he's got him with a right hand! He's got him! Oh, you can't believe it. And I don't think Foreman's going to get up. He's trying to beat the count. And he's out! Oh my God, he's won the title back at 32!"

He described the end of this fight as "the most extraordinary few seconds that I have ever seen in a boxing ring".

As presenter of both the BBC's Sportsnight (1975-85) and Grandstand Carpenter showed himself utterly unflappable, and had the priceless ability to make even the dullest of minority sports appear interesting.

Harry Carpenter was born on October 17, 1925 at South Norwood, London, the son of a wholesale fish merchant, and educated at Selhurst Grammar School in Croydon. His father, besides being an avid fan of dog racing, was vice-president of a boxing club, and Harry's cousin won an ABA title.

During the war Harry worked as a trainee journalist on the Greyhound Express and Greyhound Owner, and then served for three and a half years in the Royal Navy as a telegrapher; he did some boxing while in the Navy, but was "never much good at it". After coming out, he was appointed assistant editor of Speedway Gazette.

It was Sporting Record which gave him his first break as a boxing writer, in 1950. This led in 1954 to a job with the Daily Mail, where he was a boxing writer and columnist until 1962.

He had begun commentating on the sport for the BBC in 1949, and in 1962 he was appointed its boxing correspondent, remaining in the post until he retired in 1994.

Reflecting on how sport had changed, Carpenter said: "Everything is faster, sport is different, more sophisticated, particularly when it comes to manipulating money. I preferred it as it was when I was younger."

Carpenter also presented Sports Personality of the Year for the BBC in the 1970s and 1980s, and in 1999 conferred on Muhammad Ali the Sports Personality of the Century award.

Carpenter said that Sugar Ray Robinson was the greatest fighter he had ever seen, and despite the changes he had witnessed, he never lost his love of the sport: "At its best, it can still be the noble art. All the aggression is in the ring. Outside it, 90pc of boxers are very gentle people."

He was the author of Masters of Boxing (1964); Illustrated History of Boxing (1975); The Hardest Game (1981); and Where's Harry? My Story (1992).

Carpenter won the American Sportscasters' Association and International Sportscaster of the Year awards in 1991.

A keen golfer, at his best he played off a handicap of 22. He also enjoyed chess and classical music.

Harry Carpenter married, in 1950, Phyllis Matthews, who survives him with their son.

Irish Independent

Promoted Links

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox every morning.

Promoted Links

Editors Choice

Also in World News