Snooker is a strange sport in a global context, huge in a small number of countries and frowned at by the citizens of most others. It remains one of the most watched televised sports in the United Kingdom and is becoming huge in China where there are said to be an astonishing 60 million players, the famous 1985 World Championship Final set a United Kingdom live television audience record which still stands to this day. In the United States you’d struggle to find a snooker table in many parts of the country!
There have been numerous documentaries about snooker, all of which seem to be British productions. We’ve put together a list of ten of the best free online documentaries about snooker, all of them available to watch right here on Documentary Vine…
A 2002 BBC documentary which looks back at the halcyon days of snooker in the 1970’s and 1980’s, after celebrated promoter Barry Hearn had made the sport commercially attractive, at one point in the 1980’s it became the most watched televised sport in the UK. The film explores the reasons behind the sports rise in popularity, including the marketing techniques of Barry Hearn (who helped to devise a unique personality for each of the sports biggest stars), one reason that you wouldn’t have thought about is the increase in the number of people who owned a colour television!. Snooker went from being a mere pub game to breaking viewing figure records very quickly, the 1985 World Championship Final still holds the record for the biggest post-midnight viewing figures in British television history. Watch here
A 2017 documentary celebrating forty years of World Snooker Championship’s being held at The Crucible Theatre in Sheffield, which hosted its first tournament in 1977 and for a short period also hosted the ladies version of the tournament. The Crucible is to snooker what Lords is to cricket, Ascot is to horse racing, and Wembley is to English football. The documentary is presented by snooker legend Steve Davis, who himself played in eight World Championship finals at the venue and won six of them, a record which has only been bettered by Stephen Hendry who won seven. Davis was also involved in the famous 1985 ‘black ball’ final, losing on the final ball of the final frame against Dennis Taylor in front of a record television audience. Watch here
An epic two hour and forty minute long journey through the history of snooker, from its very beginnings as a past time for British troops in India in the 19th century, through its halcyon days of the 70’s and 80’s, and then on to the modern day stars of today like Ronnie O’Sullivan. The documentary is presented by legend of the game Steve Davis and narrated by veteran snooker commentator Clive Everton. It looks at the way the game was revolutionised with the advent of the colour television, growing rapidly from a game played in the pub to a spectator sport which achieved a British record television audience in 1985, a record which still stands today. The original 2002 title of the this documentary was “The Story of Snooker”, it was re-released as “History of Snooker” in 2004. Watch here
A 2010 BBC documentary which looks back at what is generally considered to the greatest ever snooker match, the 1985 World Snooker Championship final between reigning champion Steve Davis and his older rival Dennis Taylor. Davis was the heavy favourite for the game and at one stage winning comfortably, but Davis famously came back into the game and won it on the final shot of the final frame. Not only was the manner of victory extraordinary, it also achieved record post-midnight viewing figures, a record which still stands today. Over 18 million people watched the game past midnight, nothing else on television has beaten that figure in the intervening 32 years. Contributors include Stephen Hendry, Barry Hearn, David Icke, and Ted Lowe. Watch here
A 2012 episode of ITV’s Sports Life Stories, takes a look back at the life and career of the enigmatic Ronnie O’Sullivan, one of snookers most successful ever players. O’Sullivan is noted by those who follow the sport for his exciting rapid playing style and his ambivalent relationship with the sport, several times he has walked away from the sport entirely only to return when he fancies another shot at the championship. Outside of snooker he is also known for his well documented battle with depression, drink and drugs, he later penned a book about how running saved his life and career. Contributors to the documentary include promoter Barry Hearn and snooker legend Jimmy White, as well as Ronnie O’Sullivan himself who talks candidly about the highs and lows of his career. Watch here
The charismatic Jimmy ‘The Whirlwind’ White is a legend of the sport, but amazingly never won a World Championship. He is widely considered to be the best player to never lift the trophy, although he did reach the final six times and lost five finals in five years. In this 2013 episode of ITV’s Sports Life Stories White talks about his career in snooker and opens up about some of the challenges in his private life, including a battle with testicular cancer. The documentary includes contributions from various people including his children and his long-time friend and admirer Ronnie O’Sullivan. In 2014 White admitted that he’d battled a crack cocaine addiction throughout his career and stated his belief that this addiction cost him many world titles in the process. Watch here
Whilst you could probably argue that it was the rise of the colour television which made snooker commercially viable, another major factor is the genius of the businessman Barry Hearn who controlled the games biggest talents and propelled the sport to new heights in the 1980’s. Hearn brought the marketing expertise and developed the personalities of many of the sports biggest stars, including Dennis Taylor’s silly upside down glasses. Hearn was also successful in darts and boxing, and for two decades was owner of Leyton Orient football club, but it was snooker which gave him his big break after he purchased a chain of snooker clubs at just the right time to capitalise on the sports growing popularity. Barry Hearn: The People’s Promoter is a 2012 documentary looks back at the career of Hearn. Watch here
A 2010 documentary which looks back at the life and career of the enigmatic Alex Higgins, two times winner of the World Snooker Championship. Higgins was the most exciting player of his generation, playing the sport in a way which no player had done before in the same way that Maradona mesmerized football fans with his unique abilities. Higgins was his generations Ronnie O’Sullivan, and that’s why he earned the nickname the ‘People’s Champion’. Like so many of those who are blessed with a special talent he was also tainted by his demons, alcohol abuse and depression played a pivotal part of his life and probably stopped him from reaching his full potential in the sport. His darker moments included threatening to have rival player Denis Taylor shot. Watch here
Snooker has never had a child prodigy like Stephen Hendry, who first picked up a cue at the age of 12 when his father purchased him a child sized snooker table. Just four years later he was a professional and competing in his first World Snooker Championship at the Crucible, fast forward another five years and he became the youngest ever World Champion and from that point forward ruled the sport for eight years as the official number 1 player, a rise which even Ronnie O’Sullivan couldn’t match. He remains the record holder for the most World Championship wins with seven. This documentary was broadcast in 1988 and charts the earliest two years of his career, up to his Grand Prix victory in 1987, and provides an insight into the blossoming of his relationship with his manager and mentor Ian Doyle. Watch here
A one hour long authorised documentary from the early 1990’s (possibly 1991?) about Alex Higgins, at the time the most controversial player in the game. Higgins was a brilliant player but was involved in several serious incidents including one game at a major tournament where he got angry and headbutted a match official, the documentary includes contributions from various people including his manager Barry Hearn. Sadly Higgins went on to fight a long battle against throat cancer, he had cancerous growths removed from his mouth in 1994 and 1996, and in 1998 was formally diagnosed with throat cancer. Higgins had been a heavy smoker for many years and despite his diagnosis he continued to smoke and drink, he died in the year 2010 at the age of 61. Watch here
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