Des Lynam Biography

PHOTO: Des Lynam

Des Lynam was born Desmond Lynam, to Edward and Gertrude, who were both nurses battling unemployment in Ireland. Before the Second World War, when Lynam was four, the family moved to Brighton, where his parents had found work.

His father joined the British Army and was part of the medical corps. Lynam grew up with a fascination for newspapermen in the movies, with their trench coats and hats, and dreamed of one day becoming a journalist. He attended Brighton Grammar School and decided against going to university, something he later regretted.

In 1965, at age 23, he married his Sussex sweetheart, Susan Skinner, and they had a son, Patrick (born 1970, now a businessman). The marriage began to break down in 1972, due to Lynam’s career commitments, and they were divorced in 1974.

Working briefly in banking and then as an insurance salesman, he became an associate of the Chartered Insurance Institute and an inspector. In the late 1960s, he began freelance work in radio, more as a hobby than a job, but it soon became apparent that broadcasting was what he truly wanted to do. His first job was with Radio Brighton in 1968, presenting the Saturday night sports report. He worked for the now defunct Radio Caroline before beginning his BBC career as a boxing commentator, moving on to host ‘Sports Report’ on Radio 2 from 1969 to 1978.

Switching to television in 1978, he presented BBC’s ‘Grandstand’ on Saturdays. It was in 1984, when David Coleman left the BBC, that Lynam truly became the face of BBC Sport. When the BBC decided in 1992 to end ‘Grandstand’ after 48 years, Lynam was not surprised, calling the show a dinosaur. He also presented ’Sportsnight’ from 1991 to 1997 and ‘Match of the Day’ from 1988 to 1999.

Lynam has covered every major sporting event during his career, fronting Wimbledon, the Grand National, the Olympic Games (1980-1998) and Football World Cup (1982-1998), as well as other non-sporting programmes, such as ‘Points of View’ and ‘The Holiday Programme’. He was cast in a 1990 episode of the television series ‘Alas Smith & Jones’, that ran from 1984 to 1998 and starred Mel Smith and Griff Rhys Jones. In 1996, he was voted Top Presenter of All Time in a viewer’s poll, marking 60 years of BBC television.

In a move away from sports, in 1998 Lynam recorded an album of 22 poetry readings, to a full orchestral accompaniment. The poets on the album included Roald Dahl, WH Auden and Sir John Betjeman. The last reading on the album is ‘The Scilly Isles’, a poem Lynam wrote in protest against the Falklands War, in Christmas 1982 whilst on holiday in Spain. In 1998, he briefly returned to BBC Radio 2 to present the 5-7pm Drivetime show, but only on Fridays, as Johnnie Walker presented the show from Mondays to Thursdays. That same year, he was cast in a cameo role in Arthur Smith’s film for the BBC, ‘My Summer with Des’ (1998).

After a 30-year partnership with BBC, and seeking a new challenge, Lynam made a highly publicised move in joining rival ITV in 1999. He became their main football presenter, including coverage of the UEFA Champions League, Euro 2002 and the FA Premier League. In 2000, he hosted the BAFTA Television awards. Having been with ITV for four and a half years, at age 61, Lynam announced in 2004 that he was leaving television presenting after Euro 2004, because of his age.

He began freelance broadcasting in July 2004 and went on to host ‘We’ll Meet Again’, BBC1’s May 2005 coverage of the 60th anniversary of VE Day, the celebration of the end of World War II. In June 2005, he was guest presenter for the third time of an episode of BBC quiz show ‘Have I Got News for You’ and in June and July 2005, co-hosted with Sir David Frost the series ‘The World’s Greatest Sporting Legend’ on Sky One.

On 21 August 2004, to the great delight of sports fans around the country, he rejoined BBC Radio Five Live to present a new Saturday show, interviewing top names in the sporting world. The show, called ‘Des Meets…’, was presented in Lynam’s relaxed, conversational style and also broadcast on digital television. In April 2005, Lynam returned to Wimbledon reporting for Radio Five Live for its coverage of the 2005 Championships. He had been the familiar voice of Wimbledon in the 1970s, before moving on to cover the tournament for BBC television, and was welcomed back with open arms.

Moving again to television in September 2005, he became host of Channel 4 television quiz show ‘Countdown’, following the death after heart surgery of Richard Whitely, who had hosted the show for 23 years, since its inception at Channel 4’s launch in 1982. Lynam had always been a fan of the show and was surprised and flattered by the offer. He soon endeared himself to the viewers and worked well with co-star Carol Vorderman, whom he had known for ten years.

Only a year later, in September 2006 at age 64, Lynam announced his departure from ‘Countdown’ at Christmas 2006, breaking his original two-year contract. He stated that he had thoroughly enjoyed his time on ‘Countdown’, calling it an intelligent and friendly show, but it was time for him to go. Having to travel to the studios in Leeds, from his home in West Sussex and then recording five shows in a day, was becoming tiring and Lynam told the Daily Mirror, "I'm going to withdraw and save the wear and tear”.

One of Britain’s finest and most popular broadcasters, Lynam has twice won the BAFTA Richard Dimbleby Award for The Year’s Most Important Personal Contribution on Screen in Factual Television, in 1994 and 1996. He was the 1994 and 1998 Royal Television Society’s Sports Presenter of the Year and five times winner of the Radio and Television Industries Club Sports Presenter of the Year Award (1985, 1987, 1988, 1993 and 1997). In 1996, he won the Broadcasting Press Guild’s award for Best TV Performer in a Non-Acting Role. He was voted Host With the Most in a readers’ poll to mark the 75th anniversary of Radio Times magazine in 1998 and in 2003, received a Lifetime Achievement award from the Royal Television Society for his contribution to factual television.

Usually guarded about his private life, Lynam decided to write his biography, which was published by Harper Collins on 3 October 2005. The title, ‘I Should Have Been at Work’, originated in a remark he had made years before. In 1998, he introduced an important daytime football match during the World Cup with “Good afternoon”, raising an eyebrow slightly, “Shouldn’t you be at work?”.

He never remarried but has lived with his long-term partner, interior decorator Rose Diamond, since 1974 and they have a home in Worthing, West Sussex. Now that his broadcasting commitments have lessened considerably, he has more time to enjoy his other interests, such as cycling, tennis, golf, restaurants and theatre. He has also hinted that he may now have more opportunity to pursue his interest in writing. Lynam’s work has been described as ‘bright, intuitive and witty’ by ITV’s sport controller, Brian Barwick, and he is known for his calm demeanour and relaxed charm. This much loved and respected master of broadcasting is certain to be in the public sphere for many years to come.

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