The Daily Telegraph

Eddie Butler

Welsh internatio­nal who moved into the commentary box to become the BBC’S ‘voice of rugby’


EDDIE BUTLER, who has died aged 65, was a rugby player who captained club and country before going on to become a greatly admired broadcaste­r and commentato­r for the BBC.

On the pitch he was a powerful No 8 (anchoring the scrum from the back) and played 16 times for Wales, six of those games as captain. He had a brief stint with the British and Irish Lions and was a stalwart of the great Pontypool side of the late 1970s and 1980s.

After retiring from the game in 1990, he would eventually assume from Bill Mclaren the mantle of the BBC’S “voice of rugby”, with his smooth yet passionate commentari­es – more often than not alongside his friend and verbal sparring partner, Brian “Bulldog” Moore – and his moving, poetic voice-overs in a warm baritone that accompanie­d those stirring film montages the BBC do so well.

In the commentary box he was never short of a memorable line. In the 2008 Six Nations, as England fell apart in a winning position to lose their first home game against Wales for 20 years, he declared: “Oh, England, what have you done? And Wales, what are you doing?”

In 2005, a kick from Gavin Henson gave Wales a winning 11-9 lead against England. Before Henson took the kick, Moore remarked that the fly-half had told the media that he shaved his legs to reduce drag. Butler replied: “If he kicks this he can shave any part of his body he wants” – and as the ball sailed between the posts, he cried: “Shave away, Gavin! Shave away!”

Edward Thomas Butler was born on May 8 1957 in Newport, south Wales, the son of Kenneth and Margaret. When he was three the family moved to Raglan, near Pontypool, where Kenneth, who had moved from England just after the war, took a job as a research manager in a nylon factory.

Eddie was educated at the independen­t Monmouth School, then took a gap year in Spain before reading French and Spanish at Fitzwillia­m College, Cambridge, becoming a triple rugby Blue and graduating in 1979.

Just before going up to Cambridge he had taken a call from Pontypool’s legendary coach Ray Prosser, and would become one of the linchpins of a side that rampaged its way through the rest of that decade and the next.

“Ray Prosser was an absolute giant of the game,” Butler recalled. “We had our set way of playing, which was very much the ‘Pross’ way. Rugby was to be played vigorously up front and everybody else had to fit into the mould. We trained mercilessl­y and then we had a very simple game plan. Basically, you sold yourself to the collective. There was absolutely no individual glory.”

Butler would serve as Pontypool captain for three seasons during those glory years, and in 1980 he made his debut for Wales in the 18-9 win against France at Cardiff Arms Park. His first game as captain was a 13-13 stalemate against England in 1983 – “Totally disastrous,” he said. “It was an ugly draw.”

In fact, he came into the national side in what was a relatively fallow period following their all-conquering exploits of the Seventies. “It wasn’t an easy ride,” he admitted. “We were generally criticised far more in the media than we were praised, simply because everybody took it for granted that Wales would carry on winning.” And, as he put it: “The captain was fair game.”

In 1983 Butler was called up as replacemen­t to the Lions tour of New Zealand, only to find that the two No 8s he was supposed to replace were fit again. On the bench for a game against Counties Manukau, he was jogging round the pitch when he was caught up in a brawl involving dozens of drunken spectators: “It became a bit of a Rorke’s Drift moment in the middle of the pitch.” He played in one tour game before his Lions time was up.

The following year, aged only 27, he quit the internatio­nal stage when he realised that he was enjoying his BBC work more than the rugby, though he carried on until 1990 with Ponty (where he was known to his teammates as “Educated Edward” or “Bamber”, thanks to his Cambridge years).

Alongside his playing career, Butler became a teacher in Cheltenham, then in 1984 joined BBC Radio Wales as a press and publicity officer, and when he “fell out with the sports department”, in his words, he forged a second career as a property developer.

In 1989 he began writing for the newly launched but short-lived

Sunday Correspond­ent. “That was a brilliant job,” he recalled. “It was the

Titanic setting sail and we all knew it was heading straight for an iceberg, but boy, we partied on deck while it was afloat.”

The paper folded after little more than a year, and in 1991 he joined The Observer, also writing for its sister paper The Guardian. By then he had returned to the BBC fold, thanks to his old Wales teammate Gareth Davies, who was head of sport for BBC Wales.

Butler did his first commentari­es alongside Bill Mclaren, and after the great man’s retirement he became the BBC’S lead rugby union commentato­r, though for a while he found it an uncomforta­ble step-up: “For the first time, I had to become a student of broadcasti­ng.”

He became known for his meticulous preparatio­n (though he took few notes, preferring to keep the informatio­n in his head, likening the experience to cramming for an exam) and, just as Mclaren had done years before, he developed his own inimitable style.

Away from rugby, he commentate­d on the archery at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, and he also presented several BBC programmes about the country he loved so well, including

Welsh Towns at War, Wales and the History of the World, Hidden Histories

and two series of Welsh Towns.

He commentate­d at the Invictus Games and even took on the occasional football job, including interviewi­ng Eric Cantona, another sportsman with the soul of a poet, for Grandstand

in 1994.

He wrote three novels, The Asparagus Thieves, set during the war, and the rugby-based The Head of Gonzo Davies and Gonzo Davies, Caught in Possession. In later years he became a staunch supporter of Welsh independen­ce, and addressed a rally at Merthyr Tydfil in 2019.

Eddie Butler also became an ambassador for Prostate Cymru, and he was taking part in a trek for the charity in Peru, along with 25 others, including his daughter Nell, when he died in his sleep at Ecoinka base camp near Cusco in the Andes.

He is survived by his second wife Susan, whom he married in 2009, and by three daughters and three sons.

Eddie Butler, born May 8 1957, died September 15 2022

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 ?? ?? Butler: a poet at the mic. Below, offloading to Wales teammate Adrian Hadley under a challenge from England’s John Carleton in 1984
Butler: a poet at the mic. Below, offloading to Wales teammate Adrian Hadley under a challenge from England’s John Carleton in 1984

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