In Britain, 2012 was heralded as a momentous year with the superb Olympic Games and Paralympic Games, preceded by the Diamond Jubilee of HM Queen Elizabeth II.

For fans of It’s a Knockout, the year started with an auspicious announcement, one that I first heard while completing my early morning wash and brush up. The radio in my bathroom blurted out the fantastic news that Stuart Hall has been named in the New Years Honours List and was the recipient of an O.B.E. for services to broadcasting and charity. Like so many others, I punched the air and let out a little cheer of sheer delight. This seemed to be the culmination of a long and successful career and the completion of a renaissance back into the public consciousness. Then came the pleasure of seeing photographs of the investiture at Buckingham Palace a few months later, congratulations were the order of the day.

Fast forward to December 2012. Little did I know on Saturday the 1st, I would be listening to his last football reportage. It contained all the familiar bon mots and floral English describing the match between Liverpool and Southampton at Anfield for BBC Radio Five Live.

With Christmas just around the corner, I planned to celebrate the Festive season by watching a Jeux Sans Frontières recording or two and raising a glass to Stuart Hall on his eighty third birthday. Little did I know, however, that circumstances were going to change in such dramatic fashion and certainly beyond my comprehension. What followed left initial feelings of shock and disbelief turning eventually to dismay, anger and sheer disgust.

James Stuart Hall was born on December 25th 1929, the son of James Stuart - a baker - and his wife Mary. He also had a brother, Keith. He was educated at Glossop Grammar School and rose up the ranks to become Head Boy. Following his National Service, he attended UMIST – The University of Manchester. For a time he joined the family firm as the Director of Catering, but his pastimes centred on sport. He was keen on motor sports - two or four wheels made no difference - and football became a passion, so much so he eventually signed professional terms for Crystal Palace FC, playing as a wing half. In 1958, he married Hazel and they had two children Danny and Francesca.

His career as broadcaster can be traced back to 1957 when he held the microphone in hand to describe the action at the Oulton Park Motor Racing circuit in Cheshire. This led on eventually to him joining the BBC in 1959 and the start of a forty-three year association with Britain’s leading broadcast outlet. Sport was his forte and he was hired to contribute to BBC radio’s Sports Report and Radio Newsreel and on television to the early days of the pioneering sports programme Grandstand.

In 1965, the BBC began to introduce daily news magazine programmes for the English regions and in the North West of England, the programme was called Look North. For the next quarter of a century, Stuart Hall would be the familiar face and voice of the news current affairs and the lighter side of life from Chester in the south to Kendal in the north and all points in between. The programme eventually was renamed Look North West and from 1983 it became known as North West Tonight. Stuart remained at the helm of these programmes as co-presenters came and went. He also appeared regularly on the daily BBC show Nationwide. On most occasions, his appearances in this programme were "down the line" from Manchester, but every so often he would be on air from the rarified atmosphere of the BBC’s Lime Grove studios in London.

One of the great joys of watching him presenting those local programmes were the hints he would drop about where this weeks It’s a Knockout or Jeux Sans Frontières were coming from later that evening on BBC1. I remember such times vividly and also the excitement I felt, waiting for the show I loved so much to start.

Stuart Hall left the BBC in Manchester in 1990. There was no fanfare and no opportunity to say on air his farewells to the viewers. Not long afterwards he did reappear locally, but two buttons across on the tv remote control. Up he popped on Granada Television, the ITV franchise for North West England.

He joined a revamp of the long standing Granada Reports brand, which had just been renamed Granada Tonight. He was no longer the main newsreader, but his regular contributions alongside Granada stalwart Bob Greaves were seen as a good opportunity to dominate in the local viewer ratings battle. During his short time with Granada he also acted as compère, contributor and voice over artist for several of their programmes.

He may have switched sides on the box, but Hall remained a regular part of BBC radio’s output. He became a regular voice on BBC Radio 2, whether in a music and chat show late on Friday evenings in winter or as host of the Sunday afternoon sports programme during the summer. When sports coverage transferred to BBC Radio 5 and its successor BBC Radio 5 Live, he remained a familiar and popular voice to many listeners. In 2012, on the night of the Olympic Games Opening Ceremony, he reappeared on Radio 2 hosting an edition of the long running Friday Night Is Music Night as the BBC Concert Orchestra gave a performance in celebration of sport.

On Television he was the original question master of A Question of Sport and he also was referee on the football themed Quizball, but it was with It's A Knockout and its pan-European counterpart Jeux Sans Frontières that Stuart Hall would become synonymous. In 1972, he was hired by the show’s original producer Barney Colehan to replace David Vine, who was leaving after four years. Legend has it that the conversation between Hall and Colehan was robust and according to Hall a deal was only reached after Colehan resorted to reminding him that he was under a BBC contract. So began a decade long tenure with the programme that would propel Stuart Hall to national stardom. He grew into the role of the main host alongside Eddie Waring and referee Arthur Ellis.

The superb records on this website give far greater detail than I could offer but suffice to say presenter and programme fitted hand in glove. I first came across the series in 1977. I was hooked by the competitive element, I loved similar shows such as Superstars and We Are The Champions but I joined Knockout when the big figures had begun to appear on screen. To watch the Giants or Tweedles play games such as musical chairs was hilarious but I also enjoyed the games of strength and skill. For me it wasn’t just about the silly costumes - I was enraptured by the whole thing. It took my imagination on transports of delight and Hall was near to the centre of it. I have never yet heard any other broadcaster introduce a programme in the way that he did. Also, the same can be said for his ability to make both the home audience and those at the location feel equally involved and, yes, there was the infectious laughter too.

Some of the victims of Hall’s abuse that will be chronicled in this piece have described his laugh as sinister and like a child catcher and during Knockout’s run on BBC TV, critics made comment that Hall’s laugh was put on and false. I admit that, looking back, there are occasions when that I can sympathise deeply with the former perspective and agree with the latter opinion, but there are also times when it was genuine and brought you as a viewer to helpless laughter yourself.

It's A Knockout and Jeux Sans Frontières remained on air regularly until 1982 and I do remember with real sadness watching the final Finale from Urbino. Of course, as is documented here, the programme did continue until 1988 on BBC1 with regular specials including the infamous Grand Knockout Tournament of 1987. Later, in 1993, it was Hall who was chosen to voice the English language commentary of the 1992 and 1993 series of Jeux Sans Frontières for Challenge TV.

For a while during the 1990s and 2000s, Knockout and Hall came and went out of fashion but in recent years he had begun to appear more on television and radio as a wave of nostalgia for the programme returned. He was the subject of an edition of This Is Your Life, where the surprise guests included Guido Pancaldi and Cees Kloos who related a story, that you can read about in the 1980 section of this website.

Hall also commentated on the anarchic Japanese obstacle course game show Ninja Warrior - Sasuke (again for Challenge TV) and wrote a column on sport for the Radio Times. His autobiography was published in 2000 and he gained the status of broadcasting veteran and, in some quarters, national treasure. But that was all to change irrevocably.

In May 2012, the journalist and columnist Yasmin Alibhai Brown received an anonymous letter alleging that Hall had sexually abused the writer during the 1970s. It was passed on to police in Ealing and in turn to Lancashire Police, who investigated and in December 2012 arrested Hall, charging him with three historic counts of indecent assault between 1973 and 1984 involving girls aged between 9 and 13. After being released on bail, Hall denied any wrongdoing and subsequently in January 2013 he pleaded not guilty to all three charges at Preston Magistrates Court. A trial would take place at Crown Court. More women came forward after media coverage of the case to say they had been sexually abused by Hall, which led to eleven further charges, laid before a magistrates court. In February 2013, Hall again denied all the charges and outside the court in a statement to the press and media, he called the charges “pernicious, callous, cruel and above all, spurious”.

In April 2013, in a pre-trial hearing at Preston Crown Court, Hall pleaded guilty to fourteen charges of indecent assaults involving thirteen girls aged between nine and seventeen. This was not public knowledge until reporting restrictions were lifted in May 2013 when the Crown Prosecution Service chose not pursue a charge of rape and three charges of indecent assault by the same complainant. In a statement by his barrister, Hall issued an unreserved apology to his victims. The BBC immediately terminated Hall’s contract and have subsequently launched an inquiry, in particular to investigate claims that he was able to abuse girls on BBC premises.

 
 

In June 2013, at Preston Crown Court, Judge Anthony Russell QC sentenced Hall to a fifteen month jail term. A month later, the Attorney General, Dominic Grieve MP, referred the sentence to the Court of Appeal for review after several complaints that the sentence handed down was too lenient given the severity of the offences. During sentencing, the judge had said that the jail term was limited by the maximum sentence available at the time the crimes were committed, which was two to five years. The maximum sentence for similar offences has more recently been increased to ten years.

Subsequently in July 2013, the review of Hall's sentence took place at the Court of Appeal. Hall watched the proceedings on a video link from Her Majesty's Prison Preston. Details were given to the court of his current circumstances. Lord Chief Justice Lord Judge ruled that the original sentence had been "unduly lenient" given the impact on his victims and increased his jail term to thirty months. Lord Judge added that Hall had "got away with it" for decades and "lived a lie for more than half his life".

In October 2013, Hall's O.B.E. award was "cancelled and annulled" by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, with his name being "erased" from the register.

In May 2014, Hall was tried for additional offences which had not come to light at the time of his original trial. Consequently his prison term was extended by two and a half years, to be served once his initial thirty month term was completed, following his conviction regarding an assault on a thirteen year old girl at a dinner party. During sentencing, Mr Justice Turner remarked that there had been a "breach of trust" and that Hall had acted with "a sense of arrogance and immunity... vile bravado and horrible betrayal", had shown "a lack of candour or remorse," and criticised him for not admitting to these offences when he was convicted of others in 2013. He served his prison sentence and was released on 16th December 2015 having served half of his sentence. The Ministry of Justice said: "Offenders automatically released on licence at the halfway point of their sentence are subject to strict controls. If they fail to comply with these conditions or their behaviour indicates it is no longer safe for them to remain in the community, they can be immediately returned to prison."

 
 

I can think of no more adequate a way to sum up than to offer this reflection. First and foremost, Stuart Hall breached the trust of the women he abused and he rightly has faced punishment for these offences. Much less importantly, but still necessary to be recorded, he breached the trust of the many people who looked up to him and respected him, to whom he had brought joy and pleasure. They are left bewildered and desperately sad for those he hurt so deeply.

This profile has been difficult to compile for many reasons and many reading it may feel that it should not have been written at all. For good or ill, Stuart Hall’s association with It's A Knockout is undeniable and therefore a resumé of his career for the purposes of the JSFnetGB site draws a line under that. I can only hope that I have given sufficient prominence in this profile to the deeds done by this man on innocent women.

by Mike Peters