Alex Higgins was raw and unpredictable on the snooker table, outspoken and badly behaved off it.
For a remarkable period in the 1980s, he was among a select group of well-dressed men in tight-fitting suits who embodied sporting superstardom as they chased after multicoloured balls on a green table.
The story of how snooker landed on our screens and captivated an audience of millions is told in a BBC Two three-part series, starting this Sunday at 9pm and featuring the great Belfast-born Higgins.
Snooker’s golden age will be brought back to life by those at the very heart of the story – Jimmy White, Steve Davis, Coalisland’s Dennis Taylor, Stephen Hendry, Ray Reardon, Barry Hearn and more – sporting heroes from working-class backgrounds who quickly became household names.
Mixing sporting prowess with unapologetic excess, this new generation of snooker players managed to take the game out from the dark corners of working men’s clubs into the bright lights of a money-spinning, sporting soap-opera.
This is a story of a magical era, when an entire nation could be united by a fascination with snooker and where its leading players became unlikely superstars.
The first episode of the series explores how Alex ‘The Hurricane’ Higgins helped transform snooker from a game played in the backrooms of working men’s clubs to a national sporting obsession.
Interest in the sport had been growing thanks to the new possibilities of colour broadcasting, and in particular the weekly snooker show Pot Black, first commissioned by none other than David Attenborough.
But it was the antics of the unpredictable Ulstersman and snooker genius, Higgins that took the game stratospheric – and declared war on the 1970s snooker establishment, entering into a years-long rivalry with the man who more than anyone embodied the old guard, ex-policeman Ray Reardon.
Higgins and Reardon didn’t see eye to eye, but it was well known that Higgins could start a fight in an empty room. As the 70s wore on, the tabloids gleefully reported on a string of on and off the table misdeeds.
Almost inevitably, Reardon and Higgins eventually came face to face in the World Championship Final of 1982, in what was by far the biggest tournament to date. The clash of the two snooker titans – the paragon of the establishment against the self-described People’s Champion – would be the match that redefined the British public’s relationship with the sport and set the course for a decade where it would become box-office gold.