Pot Black (partially lost coverage of professional snooker tournaments; 1969-1979)
Pot Black was a professional snooker tournament conceptualised and broadcast by the BBC. Credited for increasing snooker and colour television's popularity across the United Kingdom, 24 tournaments were held between 1969 to 2007. However, many episodes between 1969 to 1979 are confirmed to no longer exist within any known archives.
Pot Black's origins arose as the BBC was experimenting with colour television broadcasts. On 1st July 1967, BBC 2 broke new ground by broadcasting the first regular colour pictures, being of that year's Wimbledon Championships. However, tennis, along with many other sports, did not necessarily require colour to further entice viewers to watch the broadcasts. Thus, BBC 2 under then-controller David Attenborough began brainstorming concepts which would justify the cost of colour broadcasts.
Soon, following a proposed concept by Ted Lowe, consensus emerged that snooker would greatly benefit from the fledgling technology. Snooker on UK television dated back to 1937, when Horace Lindrum and Willie Smith played a demonstration game. Back then, snooker was less popular compared to pool and was still a somewhat obscure British sport by the late-1960s. Pre-Pot Black broadcasts were limited; with the balls consisting simply of different grey palettes, commentators were forced to explicitly explain to viewers the colour of each.
When Pot Black was first broadcast on 23rd July 1969, it marked a major surge in popularity for both snooker and colour television. By having colour cameras capture footage from completely above the snooker table, viewers now benefitted from seeing a clear, crisp view of play, where each colour ball was now naturally distinguishable. Pot Black's tournament structure provided fast-paced gameplay, as encounters were settled by a single frame. Thus, the show's title very much reflected its format, since most frames were played to a natural conclusion and so typically featured players focusing on potting the black ball to accumulate vital points.
The tournament was invitational, typically consisting of around six to sixteen of the best-ranking players across the country. Originally a knockout tournament, later competitions were round robin based. During the early years, it was actually the only televised professional snooker tournament and so became both a coveted and a risky endeavour for even the top snooker players. Indeed, losing on Pot Black inflicted major reputational damage onto players, some often not being invited to later exhibition tournaments. Those that succeeded, however, became household names. Among them included John Spencer and Eddie Charlton, who became big stars by having won three tournaments each. Charlton also set the then-highest scoring Pot Black frame of 110 in 1973, which lasted until 2005. The highest scored throughout the competition's history was 119 by Mark Williams in 2006. Another significant player was Steve Davis, who won a record four competitions.
From 1969 to 1991, all tournaments were filmed within the BBC's Pebble Mill Studios in Birmingham. The competitions' quickfire nature allowed the BBC to film every match on a sole date. Initially presented by Keith Macklin, Alan Weeks would later host the show throughout much of its run, from 1970 to 1984. Also synonymous with the show was commentator Lowe, who provided announcing duties from 1969 to 1997. During the show's early years, only a small percentage of viewers had colour televisions. Thus, Lowe was also required to clue viewers in who were watching on black and white televisions. It was here he uttered one of the most iconic lines in British sports history: "and for those of you who are watching in black and white, the pink is next to the green."
Attracting millions of viewers during its prime years, Pot Black rapidly increased snooker's popularity, inspiring the creation and broadcasting of other professional snooker tournaments. Alas, this led to the competition's downfall, since these other tournaments greatly became more prestigious, driving both viewers and players away from it. After a hiatus following the 1986 tournament, the show returned from 1991 to 1993. Another revival occurred from 2005 to 2007, but neither recaptured the success of the tournament's early years and reflected the competition's growingly obsolete nature. Nevertheless, its popularity did inspire spin-off competitions Junior Pot Black and Seniors Pot Black. Notably, Ronnie O'Sullivan, considered one of the greatest all-time snooker players, won the 1991 Junior Pot Black tournament. Despite this and his future success, he was never able to win a main Pot Black competition.
Alongside many other BBC shows like Doctor Who, Pot Black was no exception to the BBC's tape wiping practices, where episode recordings were erased for the cost saving purpose of re-using expensive master tapes. In total, 115 episodes of the show were affected by this practice. Most missing episodes are from 1969 to 1976, with four 1979 airings also becoming lost. Among the surviving editions include Episode 6 of 1973, featuring Charlton defeating Spencer after recording his 110 frame. The 9th April 1974 episode of Series 6 also survives, albeit as a 16mm black-and-white film rather than the original 2 inch colour videotape. Similarly, the 1974 Final between Graham Miles and Spencer featured two frames airing on 14th and 21st May respectively. Of these, only the 21st May broadcast has resurfaced. Some of the surviving footage from these games can now be viewed on YouTube.
- Archived Chris Turner's Snooker Archive detailing the show's conceptualisation, filming, and list of finals. Retrieved 23rd Apr '23
- Snooker Shorts summarising the history of Pot Black. Retrieved 23rd Apr '23
- BBC summarising the first airing of Pot Black. Retrieved 23rd Apr '23
- Nostalgia Central summarising the show, its rise and fall, and Lowe's famous quote. Retrieved 23rd Apr '23
- UK Game Shows page on Pot Black, also noting how its name connected greatly with the tournament's general gameplay. Retrieved 23rd Apr '23
- BBC detailing how the 1967 Wimbledon Championships became the first regular colour television programme in the UK. Retrieved 23rd Apr '23
- BBC Sport in Black and White summarising the Lindrum-Smith demonstration in 1937. Retrieved 23rd Apr '23
- BBC Genome archive of Radio Times issues detailing the broadcast of the first episode. Retrieved 23rd Apr '23
- Rules of Sport detailing the rules of snooker. Retrieved 23rd Apr '23
- The Sundae detailing the BBC's tape wiping practices. Retrieved 23rd Apr '23
- The Snooker Forum discussing the show and its lost episodes. Retrieved 23rd Apr '23
- Kaleidoscope listing the missing episodes of the show. Retrieved 23rd Apr '23
- BBC Genome archive of Radio Times issues detailing the Spencer-Charlton 1973 broadcast. Retrieved 23rd Apr '23
- BBC Genome archive of Radio Times issues detailing the 9th April 1974 airing of Series 6. Retrieved 23rd Apr '23
- BBC Genome archive of Radio Times issues detailing the broadcast of the 1974 Final's first frame. Retrieved 23rd Apr '23
- BBC Genome archive of Radio Times issues detailing the broadcast of the 1974 Final's second frame. Retrieved 23rd Apr '23