Bob Hall, who died at the age of 76 from a heart attack while driving his car, was one of the most popular sportscasters of his generation.
A well-known face for five decades in the Midlands, where he presented everything from the Birmingham-based BBC national daytime show Pebble Mill at One to Central TV sports coverage, he was also comfortable with hard news, politics and human interest stories.
Despite his seemingly gregarious personality, he was however an enigmatic character with a complex private life which he rarely discussed, even with close colleagues.
Born in October 1945 near Leeds, Robert Hall was a bright and curious boy who read voraciously and was fascinated in his early teens with sport, crime and politics. He particularly enjoyed rugby league and football and was a lifelong Leeds United fan.
After a journalism course at Bradford Technical College, he began his career as a short-time reporter at the Craven Herald and Pioneer in Skipton, covering everything from flower shows and beauty contests to running races and funerals.
He learned the importance of accuracy, later remarking that misspelling a single mourner’s name could ruin an entire family of readers. An enthusiastic police journalist, he even enlisted as a special constable to bail out his rivals by being the first to know of local thefts or vandalism.
He joined local radio BBC Birmingham (now Radio WM) and soon after was offered a contract to cover rugby league for Yorkshire TV and Granada. His wit, good looks and gift for ad-libbing had already caught the attention of BBC network producers, and in 1979 he was recruited as presenter of Pebble Mill at One, which he privately described as “a backpack from a show, like Blue Peter for grown-ups”.
Skilled in improvisation, he specialized in outdoor broadcasts and notably presented the first live transmission on board a nuclear submarine, the Dreadnought based in Faslane, off the Isle of Arran.
Hall bravely faced the unpredictable conditions on board, fending off seasickness amid a ferocious February storm as New Seekers star Lyn Paul sang Rod Stewart’s Sailing as the entire crew joined in on the choir and all but one of the microphones failed.
In 1982, Gary Newbon, then assistant sports manager at ITV Central TV station, offered him a job as a presenter/reporter on his busy team, covering a variety of sports, particularly football. With his engaging delivery and elephantine memory, Hall was in high demand, working around the clock on the sport but also earning a reputation presenting corporate videos and on the after-dinner speaking circuit.
In 1989, he needed all his wits to avoid an acrimonious run-in with Brian Clough, after his Forest side beat Queen’s Park Rangers 5-2. Hall, who had sent his cameraman to take pictures of Clough shaking hands with his counterpart after the match, was stunned when the footage returned to show Clough punching several Forest fans around the head as they invaded the pitch to celebrate victory.
Footage of the man immediately dubbed ‘Toughie Cloughie’ led the night’s national football coverage and was broadcast around the world, while the FA fined Clough a record £5,000 over the incident . He then featured in a Sun newspaper exclusive, offering to step down as manager, although the club refused to accept his resignation.
Afterwards, Clough spotted Hall trying to avoid her. “I’m going to fall out with you, Robert,” he shouted. “You got me in a lot of trouble with this movie.”
“I didn’t cause you any trouble,” Hall retorted. “You got yourself into trouble by hitting those fans. And anyway, I know the Sun paid you around £10,000 for that exclusive, so you made a good profit.
Clough burst out laughing, “I always knew I liked you, Robert. Come in and have a drink.
Despite her professional triumphs, Hall’s personal life proved more troubled. He had two children from his first marriage, but his first and second marriages (to Central TV newsroom secretary Anne Durrant) ended in divorce. He had a subsequent relationship from which a third child was born, but that also did not last.
He also suffered from long-standing financial problems, possibly due to his family commitments, even though he was very well paid.
Hall himself always seemed happiest on the football pitch in front of the camera, and later in life he enjoyed swapping anecdotes with other reporters about Central TV’s heyday, recalling the day a colleague flew into a volcanic rage and threw his typewriter out of a fourth-story window, narrowly missing passers-by below.
When the Crossroads actresses complained that filming schedules were so tight that even if they messed up their lines or the set collapsed behind them, filming would continue, he advised, “Say that F-word real loud . This way, you will definitely be able to redo the scene.
“I think we had the best times,” he recalled. We have lived hard and played hard. When I started on TV, half the newsroom was smoking in the office… Kids these days don’t believe you when you tell them that. There was a bar at one end of the Central TV canteen, another bar 50 yards away and another just outside the front door, all open from 11am… If you can’t find someone and want ‘he’s like, ‘Oh, he went to Studio 3’, you immediately knew where he was.”
Hall left Central TV to go freelance in 2003. From 2015 he presented the breakfast show on fledgling local station Big Center TV (later Birmingham TV). He remained a sought-after football pundit, reporting on Jeff Stelling’s Gillette Soccer Saturday and was still working for Sky Sports at the time of his death.
Bob Hall, born in October 1945, died on May 27, 2022