Alan Weeks was one of the BBC’s great sports broadcasters. His voice and face brought a whole new generation of fans to ice hockey through the medium of television. His enthusiasm for the game was infectious and his knowledge and understanding of it second to none.
It all began in Brighton. He moved to the town with his family at the age of five when his father, Captain F C Weeks, was appointed pier-master of the Palace Pier. When he was only a school-boy he saw his first ice hockey contest at the Sports Stadium (S.S.) in 1936-37 – Brighton Tigers v Streatham, he vividly recalled – when his elder sister took him along as a reward ‘for being a good boy’.
His work on the mic actually started during World War Two when, as a midshipman in the Royal Navy, it was his voice over the corvette’s PA that warned the crew of an imminent attack. He also survived Arctic convoys to Russia and two Malta runs before being demobbed as a lieutenant in the Royal Naval Reserve.
Drawn back to the Sports Stadium after the war, he became its publicity manager and secretary of the Tigers, while vying with manager Benny Lee for the title of the best dressed man in town.
His 45-year relationship with the BBC began in 1951 when commentator Peter Dimmock heard his velvet tones over the rink’s public address system. During the second period Dimmock asked him to do a test for a commentary position with the national broadcaster. He was live on air for the third period and by the end of the game his BBC career had begun.
He went on to become one of the Beeb’s foremost sports commentators with his credits including seven Winter Olympics, five Summer Olympics, four football World Cups and five Commonwealth Games; he covered over 30 different sports. He was one of the pioneers of televised snooker, presenting Pot Black in the 1960s which led to the unforgettable comment: “For viewers in black and white, the blue is behind the pink.” He was a regular front-man for Sportsview and the first presenter of Summer Grandstand in 1959.
He showed such a knack for being present at historic sporting moments that he was nicknamed the Gold Medal Commentator. Among such occasions were performances from figure skater John Curry and swimmer David Wilkie in 1976, and four years later when skater Robin Cousins and swimmer Duncan Goodhew scooped the honours. Most famously, of course, he was in Sarajevo when Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean took the ice dancing gold at the 1984 Winter Olympics.
He often recalled that his favourite moment in his 20-odd years at the S.S. was the night in 1958 when the Bengals defeated the Soviet Union’s touring team. His time with the Tigers was only the start of his life-long passion for ice hockey and he worked tirelessly to promote the sport and try and bring it back to Brighton.
His other involvements with ice hockey included being a director of the professional London Lions, the farm team of the NHL’s Detroit Red Wings that played at the Empire Pool, Wembley in 1973-74; and president of the English National League in 1981-82. To everyone who met him or heard him commentating, he was Mr Ice Hockey.
He was always happy to lend his ‘name’ and expertise to any sporting organisation if he thought he could help them. Prime among these was the Sports Aid Foundation, which raised millions for British athletes and of which he was a founding director. He was chairman of the board of trustees of the National Ice Skating Association; life president of the Brighton and Hove Entertainment Managers; and a member of the cricketing charity, the Lord’s Taverners.
A modest man and one of life’s true gentlemen, Alan received a lifetime achievement award from the Sportswriters Association of Great Britain in 1996, the only broadcaster to be so honoured, and he is the only broadcaster to be inducted into British ice hockey’s Hall of Fame.
His fellow BBC commentator David Coleman said of him: “He’s not just been a close colleague for many years but also a genuine friend.” And he paid tribute to his commentating skill: “To listen to him he thinks he’s never done anything right, but to sit alongside him, especially at a high-speed Olympic ice hockey match, was a humbling experience.”
Alan Frederick Weeks was born on 8 September 1923 in Bristol. He retired from the BBC in March 1996 and died a few months later on 11 June in Hove, Sussex. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1988.