John Gwynne: Dave Lanning’s contribution has made the game of darts much bigger and better

DARTS
Legendary darts commentator Dave Lanning passed away at the age of 78 after a short illness CREDIT: LAWRENCE LUSTIG/PDC

By John Gwynne
10 NOVEMBER 2016 • 6:55PM

I became aware of Dave Lanning as a fan of World of Sport on ITV on Saturday afternoons in the 60s and 70s.

Dave’s was one of the familiar voices, covering darts, but initially speedway. He was involved in speedway as a promoter, and as an owner, and as manager. Dave was a very prominent sports journalist, particularly speedway for The Sun and that took him to Fleet Street.

For many years he helped compile the TV Times and therefore he became acquainted with many celebrities from the world of entertainment and sport, so Dave Lanning was a very prominent individual way back before he became involved in broadcasting.

His first real occupation was as a pen journalist if you like, with his typewriter. He became known in television through speedway and darts and his first real breakthrough in darts came in 1972.

The Indoor Games became a familiar feature on ITV. It was a Yorkshire Television production in Leeds, and it was Sid Waddell who was the producer of that programme.

Sid and Dave were along with the great Freddie Trueman, the former England and Yorkshire fast bowler, who presented it.

I remember that very well and it was very popular. I used to love watching that because it used to include darts.

It also had bar billiards and skittles and I think that was Dave’s first introduction into television.

Before we knew it his voice became familiar with the World of Sport, and because of his success as a speedway commentator, when ITV were looking for a darts commentator they automatically turned to Dave.

I know for a fact Dave wasn’t steeped into darts to the extent that I was. I played darts, grew up loving darts, I was involved in every aspect, even refereeing.

But in Dave’s case, and in Sid’s, they entered darts as outsiders, but they certainly acclimatised very quickly.

When big time darts was prominent in the late 70s, it was Sid Waddell and Tony Green representing the voice of darts on BBC, and Dave Lanning became the lone voice of darts of ITV.

He had a rich and wonderful Hampshire burr, he never lost that. It was attractive and it was easy to listen to his accent.

It was nice to listen to and whoever was sitting with him in the commentary box or just sharing breakfast with him and listening to his anecdotes, it was always a pleasant experience.

I first met Dave in around 1982 or 83. When ITV came up to Oldham, as they did annually to record the Blackthorn Cider Masters, Dave was the lone commentator and I introduced myself to him.

I then went down to London to audition in 1984. ITV were thinking of getting a second commentator.

I remember going down to London and I auditioned for the role as an understudy if you like, working with Dave Lanning, and it so happens that I never heard anything from them.

Dave continued to be the lone commentator on ITV until darts coverage petered out in the late 80s. It also petered out to the extent that only one tournament survived on BBC, which was the World Championship.

Dave was very much a major part of the first explosion in darts popularity in the late 70s and through the 80s.

It became very big and Dave was always ready to remind us that, whilst yes they were getting massive crowds at the Premier League and the World Championship and all the other events, that he had commentated on the News of the World Championship at the Alexandra Palace in the 60s and 70s, with 810,000 thousand upwards there.

He said ‘it’s not a new phenomenon, it just seems new.’ He was always very keen to remind us of that!

He was very much what I call a big figure in the popularity growth of darts in the first explosion, and the second explosion he was a part of that, and I’m proud to say along with myself and Sid from a commentary point view.

When the split eventually came and the first PDC World Championship was held in 1993/1994, Dave and I were the first commentators.

It was the first time I worked with Dave on Sky Sports, but it wasn’t the first time I worked with him.

When the PDC came into being, before they actually broke away and the 16 played in that first World Championship, we had done events on ITV in the regions.

Dave Lanning and I commentated on the UK Masters in Norwich in 92, in Bury St Edmunds in 93, we commentated on the UK Matchplay in 93, 94 and 95 too.

That was when the partnership started with me and Dave. Then the PDC decided to have an event called the World Matchplay, which was going to be in the summer in Blackpool.

We were delighted and Dave and I were joined by Sid Waddell, who had been poached from the BBC, and I’ll never forget the three of us working together on that very first World Matchplay.

I think people associate the early days of PDC darts with Sid Waddell, Dave Lanning and John Gwynne, we had some great fun.

I think Sid, Dave and I complimented each other well, we had some great times.

Dave Lanning was an ever present right through until he decided to retire, his last tournament being the World Cup of Darts at the back end of 2010.

He came back on one occasion. It was in January 2013 and the 2013 PDC World Championship.

It was the first one after Sid had died and conveniently they had the 3D coverage.

They wanted secondary commentary for the 3D viewers and Dave was asked if he’d like to come back and commentate on the final with me.

It would be a tribute to Sid with it being the first World Championship trophy named after him, so Dave did come back.

That was the last time and he got very emotional then. Him and Sid had known each other for 40 years and they had worked together on the original Indoor Games.

Dave will of course be remembered for being the commentator for the first ever nine darter on television.

It happened at the MFI World Matchplay in 1984 and John Lowe did the first ever televised nine darter, it was recorded and later shown on World of Sport.

Some 18 years later he and Sid were sitting together when Phil Taylor hit first ever live nine darter on UK television, against Chris Mason at Blackpool.

Dave and Sid were absolutely brilliant on that in equal measure.

They gave that particular moment of darting history the perfect wordage.

Dave was a great. The game of darts is all that much bigger and better for the contribution Dave Lanning has made.

He, like Sid, contributed to both the big explosions in the game. The one in the 80s and the one since the PDC came into being.

Dave was a friend, a colleague, an utter professional in everything he did.

He was a great bloke and darts will be indebted to him, and of course will speedway.

I’m very saddened by the fact that I shan’t enjoy a good natter with him over breakfast and listen to his anecdotes, and listen to his past life in the media in Fleet Street, and when he was in the army in Cyprus.

The PDC named their World Championship trophy after the great Sid Waddell and I think they will remember Dave Lanning’s name as well.

I think they should name one of the awards at the annual PDC Awards after him. I will certainly recommend that.

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