Tony Butler, legendary West Midlands radio presenter and pioneer of the soccer phone-in – obituary


Tony Butler, who has died aged 88, was a family title within the West Midlands as an unignorable presenter on native radio and a pioneer of the soccer phone-in.

Butler had been working as a sports activities reporter for The Day by day Telegraph and as a contract radio commentator when, in 1974, he was appointed sports activities editor of Birmingham’s fledgling unbiased radio station BRMB. On a analysis journey to the USA, he found that sports activities phone-ins have been already a fixture on regional radio: he was notably struck by the noisily opinionated fashion of the presenters and their aggressive perspective to their callers.

Butler was quickly making use of the brash transatlantic fashion to the world of soccer, a startling change of tone at a time when UK sports activities broadcasting was, as he disparagingly phrased it, “very BBC”. Though he had no concept if any listeners would wish to participate in a British equal, within the occasion 28 individuals phoned in to the primary version of his Friday night time present.

His phone-in on BRMB grew to become important listening as he delivered tirades in opposition to poor gamers or managers in his distinctive Wolverhampton rasp, or locked horns with listeners who referred to as in to cheer or bemoan the efficiency of Wolves, Blues, Villa or the Baggies. Callers who outstayed their welcome or contradicted the host too vehemently have been summarily minimize off, Butler inevitably deploying the scathing parting shot: “On yer bike!”

The callers have been usually so heated that Butler’s present grew to become one of many first reside programmes to be broadcast on a time delay, with an engineer given 4 seconds’ grace through which to exchange any unhealthy language with a snatch of the BRMB jingle. “The lads have been by no means too unhealthy. It was the ladies who have been worst – their language was horrible,” Butler recalled.

Additionally the anchor of BRMB’s match protection on Saturday afternoons – one other catchphrase, geared toward listeners whose crew was floundering, was “Get out your prayer mats” – Butler quickly grew to become one of many best-known personalities within the West Midlands.

He acquired wider consideration when the Brummie comic Jasper Carrott (an previous good friend of his) started repeatedly ribbing him on tv. Within the days earlier than radio phone-ins had turn out to be established as a dependable supply of inane remarks, Carrott raised large laughs just by quoting Butler’s callers verbatim (“Hiya Tone, I used to be down the Villa at this time they usually have been magic – Andy Grey hit this one ball, if it had gone within the internet it’d have been a purpose”). He additionally mocked Butler’s banal quiz competitions and horrible file at predicting match outcomes (“I’m the world’s worst tipster,” Butler agreed).

The success of Carrott’s routines emphasised that on the time there was nothing fairly like Butler’s programme wherever else on the radio. He was definitely disliked to an uncommon diploma by the soccer institution, and was accused of placing extra strain on struggling groups together with his excoriating criticisms. He was unrepentant, although: “Someone has to inform the chair and the managers that they ain’t doing the enterprise.”

Butler was additionally concerned in additional unsavoury controversies. In 1984 he left BRMB after being accused of grabbing the neck of his disabled colleague Brian Savin in the middle of an argument.

In 1987 he discovered a berth at Radio WM, the BBC’s native West Midlands station, presenting a brand new Friday night time soccer phone-in in opposition to his previous present on BRMB; he proved so standard that he was quickly appointed the station’s each day breakfast present host, widening his remit to interview native politicians and different notables.

He received into additional hassle in 1989, nonetheless, when he was accused of racism after making remarks concerning the black Wolves participant Shane Westley hanging from the crossbar and consuming bananas; Wolves banned all Radio WM reporters from their video games.

In 2007 he was pressured to challenge a grovelling apology after opining that ladies mustn’t place themselves at risk by becoming a member of the Armed Forces and saying of Performing Main Seaman Faye Turney, on the time being held hostage in Iran, that if she had “her head chopped off, it might serve her proper”.

Nonetheless inside just a few weeks he was honoured with the Lifetime Achievement prize on the Sony Radio Awards, a measure of his monumental influence on broadcasting, for good or in poor health. Butler’s improvements and sturdy fashion have spawned not solely a technology of outspoken phone-in hosts akin to Danny Baker and Alan Inexperienced, but additionally, within the case of stations akin to Talksport, a big and profitable sector of at this time’s broadcasting trade.

Tony Butler was born in Wolverhampton on Might 15 1935, the son of Ernie Butler and his spouse Ella, and grew up on his father’s farm. He proved no scholar at Wolverhampton Grammar College, however flourished as editor of the college journal, and earlier than he left was already overlaying sport for the Bayliss Information Company: his first project was to report on a soccer match and a rugby recreation that have been being performed on adjoining pitches.

At 16 he joined the Birmingham Submit and Mail as a trainee reporter. Throughout this era his father was dying of most cancers and his 15-year-old brother Graham, left to handle the farm, was killed in a capturing accident.

Butler was basically slightly shy and unadventurous, however, as he recalled, “Graham’s demise inspired me to provide issues a go”. After Nationwide Service he grew to become a sports activities reporter for The Day by day Telegraph, specialising in rugby: he additionally made common broadcasts for the BBC, though the Company inspired him to take elocution classes.

At BRMB and BBC Radio WM, in contrast, he was inspired to provide full rein to the accent he shared together with his listeners.

In 1994 he defected to the industrial station Xtra-am, earlier than returning to Radio WM in 1998. He additionally offered Midlands As we speak for BBC tv, in addition to his personal exhibits, Biking Butler and Boating Butler.

In 2009 he left the BBC and have become co-host of an everyday soccer phone-in with Tom Ross on BRMB’s sister station Gold, earlier than in poor health well being pressured his retirement in 2012.

Butler raised 1000’s of kilos as supervisor of the BRMB charity soccer crew, and, regardless of his status for sexism, was an enthusiastic promoter of ladies’s soccer. Latterly his bêtes noires included David Beckham (“He can’t deal with, he can’t head a ball and doesn’t rating except it’s from useless balls”) and the alternative of skilled sports activities journalists with ex-players within the commentary field.

He judged the spotlight of his profession to be the one World Cup he lined, in Germany in 2006, throughout which he praised the England coach Sven-Göran Eriksson’s capability to win matches “even if his crew didn’t perceive his formation or his techniques”.

Butler was a surprisingly dandyish determine, favouring jackets in loud colors and noting in 2002 that “I’ve received sufficient garments in my wardrobe to final till I’m 110”.

Tony Butler married his first spouse, Millie, at 18; that they had three sons. The wedding was dissolved in 1994 and in 1998 he married Catherine Grounsell, a dance trainer 29 years his junior, though they later separated.

Tony Butler, born Might 15 1935, died July 14 2023


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