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Friday 10 April 2015

Richie Benaud Dies Age 84

In news just in, Australian cricketing commentator and icon Richie Benaud has passed away. He was 84. He was born in 1930 in the western Sydney suburb of Penrith.

His family says he passed away peacefully in his sleep overnight. He was in a Sydney hospice. Richie had been receiving treatment for skin cancer.

He is survived by wife Daphne and two sons.

He was the voice of cricket, and his dulcet tones announced the sound of the Australian summer. He was also a talented cricketer in his own right in his younger years. He made his international Test debut with Australia in 1952 (versus West Indies) and his last Test was on 1964 versus South Africa.

He is of course most renowned for his commentating. After the 1956 England tour, Benaud stayed behind in London to take a BBC presenter training course. He took up a journalism position with News of the World, actually beginning as a police roundsman before becoming a sports columnist. In 1960 he made his first radio commentary in the United Kingdom at the BBC, after which he moved into television. After retiring from playing in 1964, Benaud turned to full-time cricket journalism and commentary, dividing his time between Britain (where he worked for the BBC for many years before joining Channel 4 in 1999), and Australia (for the Nine Network). Overall he played in or commentated on approximately 500 Test matches.

His trademark - wearing a cream jacket during live commentary - came from Channel 9 owner Kerry Packer, who suggested the look to help Benaud stand out from the rest of the commentary team.

He also helped to design a computer-based parody of himself available for download off Channel 4's website called Desktop Richie.

After downloading it, cricket fans would be treated to live Test match updates and weather reports from a cartoon version of Benaud with actual voice samples such as "Got 'im!" and "That's stumps... and time for a glass of something chilled".

In 2004, Benaud starred in a series of television ads for the Australian Tourism Commission, aimed at promoting Australia as a tourist destination. Benaud's ad featured him in various scenic locations uttering his signature comment, "Marvellous!".

Benaud became a staunch advocate of cricket being available on free-to-view TV. and in fact chose to end his British commentary career, which spanned more than 42 years, when the rights to broadcast live Test match cricket were lost by Channel 4 to the subscription broadcaster British Sky Broadcasting.

Benaud's book My Spin on Cricket was published in 2005, and his younger brother John also played Test cricket for Australia.

Benaud's distinctive speaking style has been frequently parodied on the Australian comedy series Comedy Inc. and of course Billy Birmingham's 'The Twelfth Man' comedy recordings, which have spanned over twenty years.

On 18 February 2009, during a radio interview, Benaud announced that he would be retiring from television commentary. Benaud said: "I’ll be doing Australian cricket next year—2010—but I don’t do any television at all anywhere else now and when I finish next year, then I’ll be doing other things...But that’ll be no more television commentary".

It was announced on 15 November 2009, that Benaud had signed a three-year agreement with the Nine Network to continue being part of their cricket coverage until 2013, although his role would change from that of ball-by-ball commentary. Benaud said: "I won't be doing live commentary."

After crashing his vintage 1963 Sunbeam Alpine in October 2013 in Coogee he sustained a cracked sternum and shoulder injuries. Slow recovery meant he was unable to commentate for Australia's Channel Nine during the 2013–2014 Ashes Test series.

In November 2014, at age 84, Benaud announced that he was diagnosed with skin cancer. Benaud was made an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in 1961 for services to cricket. He was inducted into the Sports Australia Hall of Fame in 1985.

In 2007, he was inducted into the Australian Cricket Hall of Fame at the Allan Border Medal award evening and in 2009 he was inducted into the ICC Cricket Hall of Fame.

Here is a photo taken by Nick Wood, to accompany an interview I did with the legend several years ago for Sydney weekly magazine 'City Weekly.' (copyright Nick Wood):

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