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Peter Alliss will be remembered as a consummate storyteller and charming rascal to his core

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The loss of Peter Alliss, who has died peacefully at his Surrey home at the age of 89, deprives golf not merely of its most mellifluous voice but of a grandee unyielding in his defiance of convention. While the norm today is for television commentators to prepare with ring-binders full of forensic notes, Alliss, famously, would pitch up holding only magazine cuttings scrawled with “dog” or “chicken”, the sparest of prompts for weaving his latest whimsy. Such were the foibles of an incorrigible eccentric, whose 49-year broadcasting career began in the days of black-and-white but who evoked the game he loved with colours of matchless vibrancy. Decorated though he was as a player, winning 31 tournaments, Alliss endeared himself to viewers through his fascination with golf’s absurdities and esoteric charms, inclined to dwell less on changes to the leaderboard than on the range of whiskies at the local clubhouse. He had the gift, no matter how chaotic the sporting theatre, of distilling precisely what his audience was thinking. As Jean Van de Valde thrashed around in the Barry Burn at Carnoustie in 1999, trousers rolled up to his knees in the Open’s most infamous unravelling, Alliss piped up: “What on earth are you doing? He has gone ga-ga.” No matter how tense the drama, Alliss could slice through it with a perfectly-timed piece of sideways mirth. John Cleese, no slouch himself in evoking the strange and unexpected, observed on Sunday that if the world were ending, Alliss would be his first choice as narrator. Alliss had long studied the habits of Henry Longhurst, marvelling at how his mentor could turn commentating into performance art, where an immaculate delivery of the lines could mask all manner of discord backstage. He had a particular disdain, too, for reciting statistics for their own sake. Numbers, he thought, were only ever to be used in service of humour. “5-5-5-4-7,” he said, reading out Duffy Waldorf’s first five holes at the 2002 Open. “It’s like the dialling code for the Tierra del Fuego.” The surprise is that Alliss was not a literary man by disposition. He claimed that he had only read four books by the age of 40: Lorna Doone, Treasure Island, and two others whose names he could not even remember. And yet in the tradition of the finest spike-bar raconteurs, he was inimitably, effortlessly lyrical.

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