Gary Newbon is the doyen of TV sports broadcasting, covering seven World Cups, three Olympic Games and everything from greyhound racing to speedway and boxing. Now he tells David Johns about his exciting new venture
They must have invented the phrase ‘been there, done that, got the t-shirt’ for Gary Newbon. The veteran TV sports reporter, interviewer, presenter, producer and broadcaster has pretty much seen the lot and talked to most of the ‘greats’ – whether it’s interviewing Muhammad Ali (three times!), or Pele (seven times!!), or sparring with Brian Clough or Sir Alex Ferguson.
So, when Gary nominates his personal ‘greatest of the great’ moments as an occasion right here in his hometown Brum, you know it must indeed be something very special. “The biggest honour of all was being inducted into the Birmingham Walk of Stars,” he said. “It was a wonderful, personal moment to see my name on one of the stars and see it laid down alongside such great and famous Birmingham names.”
That was back in 2009 but Gary still recalls the occasion fondly like it was yesterday. And who can blame him when he shares the Walk with the likes of Sir Lenny Henry, Jasper Carrott, Ozzy Osbourne, Frank Skinner, Julie Walters and Nigel Mansell.
THE BIG INTERVIEW
Today, Gary is as busy ever. He regularly produces and presents series on Sky Sports – as we spoke he was in the midst of setting up a run of new autumn shows for Sky called The Big Interview. “The series is going to feature really big names, really big,” he stressed. And after spending 50 years and appearing in more than 10,000 TV programmes, Gary has decided it’s time to pass on all that knowledge to others by setting up a brand new business venture.
He will provide TV and public speaking training and voice coaching. Managed by his Prime Ticket Productions company, he says the aim is to help those who “dread speaking” in public. “When I began my TV career aged 23 at Westward TV in Plymouth, I had never spoken in public and had to learn my lessons the hard way. The biggest fear for many leading business executives or those with important public roles is speaking to large groups of people – and just drying up. I am giving them the chance through my experience of how to overcome this.”
Now aged 72 years young, Gary came to Birmingham when he was 26 to work at the old ATV studios, where he met his wife Katie who was in the station’s newsroom. The couple, who live in Solihull, have three children – daughter Claire, a showbiz feature writer, and twins Neil, an actor who has appeared in hit TV shows like Hollyoaks, and Laurence, who is a top outside broadcast cameraman.
OUR GREAT CITY
Progression up the career ladder saw Gary become controller of sport for Central Television for more than two decades. As deputy head of ITV Sport he introduced many well-known faces to the screen. He developed Jimmy Greaves as a soccer pundit as well as the likes of Aston Villa legends Andy Gray and Andy Townsend.
Gary admits that when he first came to work in Birmingham he thought it was a “pretty awful place”. He explained: “It was full of buildings that were blocks of concrete and really depressing. There was nothing like Brindleyplace for instance back then. Today is has become a magnificent city. I guess it reflects the restaurant scene which when I came here was terrible, but which is now also brilliant. There’s so much great that’s going for Birmingham now – the likes of Symphony Hall, the Hippodrome, Barclaycard Arena, all the wonderful hotels. Birmingham has improved beyond all recognition. ”
Gary laments the fact that Birmingham and Midlands sport isn’t matching up to the success of the rest of the city. “Sport has gone the other way,” he says. “Football in particular. In the past, the clubs here achieved great things. The likes of Villa in Europe, and Birmingham and Wolves with such great teams and players, and Stoke winning the League Cup. Right now, apart from West Brom, they’re all struggling a bit. It’s cyclical and I hope it all comes good again in the future. There are bright spots for our sport though. Edgbaston Stadium for instance is brilliant, hosting test matches and top cricket.”
Gary yearns for a return to the days when local TV meant something. The city used to be the hub a vibrant network of TV news and programme-making. “News and sport coverage in general is pretty thin on the ground these days, which is a real shame. I still love what I do and I have no plans to retire, subject to health, but one of the things I miss doing is the live sports coverage. Going to the football grounds and interviewing the likes of Brian Clough. I always got on well with him. You could say that Cloughie helped make my career!”
GARY’S MAGNIFICIENT 7 TV MOMENTS
1. Covering seven football World Cups and three Olympic Games.
2. Interviewing Muhammad Ali and Pele.
3. Sharing a TV studio with Brian Clough.
4. Covering the legendary Chris Eubank, Nigel Benn fights.
5. Interviewing Sir Alex Ferguson after Manchester United’s extra time European Cup victory against Bayern Munich in 1999.
6. An emotional Ferguson giving him the famous quote: “Football? Bloody hell!”
7. Covering Seb Coe winning the 1500 metres at the 1980 Moscow Olympics.