Alistair McGowan takes a trip through the BBC archives to look at the lives and careers of Alex 'Hurricane' Higgins, Jimmy 'Whirlwind' White and Ronnie 'the Rocket' O'Sullivan.
Browse content similar to The People's Champions. Check below for episodes and series from the same categories and more!
Pot the reds, then screw back for the yellow, green, brown,
blue, pink and black.
-'He's done it!'
-It sounds so simple.
And the top players in full flow, sinking ball after ball,
have always made snooker look deceptively easy.
But in truth, it's one of the most tantalising
and testing games there is,
Demanding skill, strategic thinking and immense concentration.
And over the years, the masters of the game,
with their different temperaments and styles of play,
have frequently had millions of fans like me
glued to our seats into the wee small hours.
Here, we focus on the careers of three of the most dynamic
and naturally gifted players ever to pick up a snooker cue.
and Ronnie O'Sullivan.
The Hurricane, the Whirlwind, and the Rocket.
All names synonymous with speed, flair and unpredictability.
And all spoken of as the people's champion.
Snooker's first and, some say, greatest genius was Alex Higgins.
And when the Belfast born Hurricane first appeared on the scene
in the early 1970s, cocky and confident,
snooker had never seen anything like it.
His swagger instantly attracted a younger audience
and a huge amount of media attention.
Especially after he made the finals of the World Championships
at his first attempt, in 1972.
They call him Hurricane.
A quiet man, a confident man.
You'd never notice him in a crowd but in his own twilight world,
Hurricane Higgins is almost a god.
From Accrington, Alex Higgins.
Hurricane Higgins is only 22 years old, but already
he has all the ingredients of a top-class competitor.
He is cold and dedicated, he has got judgment, nerve and flair,
but most important of all, he has ambition.
For Hurricane Higgins wants to be the man.
The champ, the king.
And he knows his time is coming soon.
The time when he may become the finest snooker player in the world.
Hurricane was born in Belfast but he lives in Accrington, Lancashire.
Every day, he practices hard in the smoky atmosphere
of a club near his home.
His timing and precision are practically faultless.
He always seems to defy the laws of nature, giving the balls
a life of their own, as if each single one is obeying his command.
If you were to compare yourself with a sportsman
in a more popular sport, who would you choose?
No doubt, Muhammad Ali.
-See yourself as a Cassius Clay, do you?
Or a Georgie Best, one of the two.
You know you have been consistently beating men who are many years
your senior and who should have had far more experience than you had.
What do you think you have got that makes it special?
I think God gave me a gift and I dedicated myself to that gift
that he has given me and practised every day.
When you play well, when you feel well in yourself,
you can do anything.
Well, I find I can. You know.
I can play a shot five or six different ways,
it all depends how I feel.
How would you sum up your position in the snooker world today?
I would say at this time I'm in the top two.
And, after next week in Birmingham, I think I will be the top one.
A week after that report, Alex had achieved his goal,
beating John Spencer to become
the sport's youngest ever world champion, aged just 22.
Well, actually at this moment, I think I'm in a bit of a daze.
I think I'm just starting to come out of it, you know,
and realise that I'm the world champion.
But those comparisons with George Best would turn out to be
more prophetic than imagined.
Higgins was box office, but with the fame and the plaudits
came all the distractions that made him so erratic.
And he was soon making headlines on the back AND the front pages.
And though he may have been a snooker genius,
he was far from invincible,
losing in the World Championship finals to Ray Reardon in 1976.
And Cliff Thorburn in 1980.
In 1982, Higgins was having the worst year
of his professional career.
Then, somehow, he reached the semifinal of the World Championship
to play Jimmy White in a match that has gone down in snooker folklore.
It was the best of 31 frames - first to 16.
White was leading 15-14 and up 59-0.
Looking certain to win, he missed a red.
Higgins stepped up to the table, adjusted his fringe
and went on to produce what many believe
is the greatest clearance of all time.
-Well, what would you do here, John?
-Well, I think he's got to have a go
at the blue or the green and plenty of points on the table.
With the scoreboard stacked against him,
Alex Higgins couldn't afford to make a single mistake.
That's a tremendous shot under pressure.
Lot of courage, Alex has got.
It was a frame that had players and experts marvelling.
Even years later, not least a certain Steve Davis,
talking here to snooker writer Phil Yates.
The guy is a genius.
I don't know of another snooker player in that situation,
with so much depending on it, could have played those shots.
It wasn't the greatest break in the world,
because he was out of position all the time.
But each of those shots, individually,
there was so much pressure on each one of them,
it was the greatest clearance
we are ever likely to see on a snooker table.
He will always remain my number-one favourite player.
That win took Higgins to the 1982 final,
where he delivered another of snooker's most unforgettable
moments, beating the reigning champion, Ray Reardon,
and becoming world champion himself for the second time.
Fantastic! APPLAUSE AND CHEERING
And the Embassy World Snooker Champion for 1982
is Alex Hurricane Higgins!
It was never going to be an understated celebration.
This was something else.
The Hurricane bringing on his wife, Lynn,
so he could hug both the trophy and his baby daughter.
This was raw emotion and human drama,
the like of which snooker fans had never experienced before.
Ladies and gentlemen, the new world champion, Alex Higgins!
Sadly, the happy family scenes didn't last long.
Higgins could still be a wizard with the cue,
but off the table, he was unravelling and drinking too much.
A Jekyll-and-Hyde figure, courting trouble
and blaming everyone but himself when it found him.
Police officers interviewed the snooker player
Alex "Hurricane" Higgins today about an allegation that
he head-butted a competition official.
Tonight, in bizarre head gear,
Higgins emerged from his house to talk about the day's events.
I've been to see the police today about allegations
that were made against me.
They are pending.
The ideal thing is that I turned round
-and have to wait for the outcome...
Oh, my phone. Golly gosh.
Can you look this way, Alex?
This is very important. It could be my solicitor.
Alex, turn around this way a little bit.
Is this going well? Send more money.
There's one thing I'd like to say.
I hope my public comes and supports me. I've no doubt they will.
Could you face life without snooker, Alex?
-No more questions.
-Could snooker face life without me?
The game's authorities came down on him hard.
Ever the showman, Higgins,
with his manager Howard Kruger, visited the Wogan Show...
MCGOWAN AS WOGAN: ..to reveal his punishment live to telly
and to the nation.
I know, cos I met you beforehand and you'd just heard the result
of the tribunal, and I know you're a little disappointed,
to say the least, at the result. We'll ask you, Howard, because you
obviously know the details. What's going to happen of this tribunal?
The bad boy of snooker gets dragged up in front of his peers,
what have they done to him?
Well, they've fined him £12,000
and suspended him from the next five tournaments.
-It's quite a...
-Does that include the World Championship?
No, we can play in the World Championships,
but the ban starts immediately afterwards.
Now, is that what you expected?
No, it wasn't. It's quite severe.
-The thing is, if I can chip in...
With this type of tribunal and with the rules that the PBSA carry,
there is no right to appeal,
so the truth of the matter is that I've decided to accept the
punishment and come back fighting,
because it's the only action one can take.
It can be a blessing in disguise, I would think,
in the respect that it will give me six months to sort of, like,
enjoy three rounds of golf a week, instead of none,
which I have had, and also to give me a chance to reassign
myself to getting back to where I belong.
You're not called the Hurricane for nothing.
-Are you a man who can respond to six months...
-In the wilderness?
..doing nothing, yeah?
No, well, the ideal thing is that we're going to go and do a tour.
Framework are going to organise a tour.
I can go back to the grassroots and meet the people again,
because snooker and I, there are so many tournaments that they
hardly see any of the top professionals on the road.
Equally, that's where it arose from, the very fact that you used
to go out and do the exhibitions in the heartlands.
-You get back to the people.
-Go back to the people, yes.
-Are you sorry?
-I'm sorry, yes.
Of course I'm sorry, because, like, I don't think that the incident
was diffused when it could have been diffused at that particular time.
Ideally... I mean, it's not very nice to head-butt anyone.
Predictably, perhaps, the ban didn't improve things.
In 1990, Alex generated more headlines with another attack
on an official and another ban, which prompted this.
So I would like to announce my retirement
from professional snooker.
But I'm not playing snooker any more,
because this game is the most corrupt game in the world.
His lifelong love-hate affair with snooker was over.
The cost of a lifetime's heavy smoking in snooker halls
was discovered in 1998.
And in Higgins' eyes, the game and its sponsors were partly to blame.
They knew, because they hid so much evidence.
They haven't told the public enough
about the dangers.
Oh, lovely shot.
What's your feeling about cigarettes and the companies that make them?
Nothing but disgust.
In Northern Ireland, I received
44 radiotherapy treatments.
I had, if you can see here, I've had something removed.
A gland or something,
removed from in here.
This is like a rock.
The tobacco companies and snooker, they're as thick as thieves.
What do you think the tobacco companies have got out of snooker?
Well, obviously I think that they've got their advertising
for a song for 25 years.
Cigarettes everywhere in sight. Freebies everywhere.
Most venues, most snooker players were given free cigarettes.
They were everywhere but strewn on the floor.
Alex Higgins now faces a hard battle against his illness.
It destroys your stamina, your energy,
all the things that you want in latter life.
Are you going to survive this?
Course I am.
Yes, cos I've got a heart like a lion.
The cancer was an opponent Higgins would fight for years.
After a decade of radiotherapy, he'd get the all-clear,
but this was to be no comeback triumph.
He'd been left barely able to eat, and when he did make
one of his increasingly rare public appearances,
fans were shocked by his fragility.
-My name is Alex Higgins, world champion,
1972, 1982 in the game of snooker.
I hope to do well and raise money for the premature baby unit
at the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast.
The funeral has taken place of the snooker player
Alex "Hurricane" Higgins, who died last month
after a long battle with throat cancer.
His funeral procession made its way through the streets
of his hometown of Belfast a short time ago.
On the Belfast street where Alex Higgins grew up,
they said goodbye to their local hero.
Let's hear it for the Hurricane!
Snooker players from across the UK were there,
including Higgins' closest friend, Jimmy White.
Ultimately, Higgins couldn't cope with the fame his talent brought.
He became addicted to gambling and to alcohol.
But, throughout it all, he remained popular.
We had fantastic fun on the road,
you know, we had brilliant, great times.
He'll be sadly missed. I will miss him till the day I die.
Jimmy White was one of the first players
who had been directly inspired by Alex Higgins.
Emerging in the late 1970s from the snooker halls of South London,
White adopted Higgins' quickfire style of play, and made it his own.
Snooker had found its next big thing.
And, with the game's huge popularity making it more of
a business than ever, image was becoming increasingly important.
But I think hair, we'll go for a traditional look,
because after all, we're going to dress him right.
He'll have a classical look.
We'll see what Bernard at the salon can do.
What I'm thinking of doing, actually,
is to perm the hair to give the body here on the top.
That should set the face off nicely.
-Shall we wash him and see what we can do with him?
MUSIC: Gonna Make You A Star by David Essex
# Oh, is he more, too much more, than a pretty face?
# I don't think so
# It's so strange the way he talking
# It's a disgrace... #
I'm creating a visual image.
Just the appearance is going to be looked after,
for the sex point of view - the sex image for the women viewers.
That's being dealt with.
He's going to look better, hopefully people will like him to look better.
Since leaving school officially, Jimmy White's successes have
too often been marred by his problems away from the table.
He has, for instance, been banned from tournaments for being drunk,
including an event organised by Pontin's.
STATEMENT READ OUT
..to remonstrate with him...
The one thing I've got to put over to you is that the bad side of
the image, all the problems,
all the things that I wasn't associated with,
which I like to call the past,
problems in barrooms and anywhere, police or anything,
as soon as you get involved in that, you're in trouble.
The press pounce on it. You've got to stop, for your own sake.
So you think you're going to really be very careful at all times
not to mix with the wrong people.
Yeah, well, I've not, since the last time...
I was quite upset with all the publicity.
I've not done anything wrong since.
Higgins has had a string of things, I think, over his career.
I'm quite expecting it from Jimmy.
As and when it arrives, I'm going to make the most of it,
but I'm certainly not going to encourage it.
I'll be very happy if nothing happens,
other than him winning at the table.
MUSIC: Starstruck by The Kinks
# Taken in by the light
# You think you'll never look back
# Starstruck for me
# Don't you know that you are?
# Starstruck for me
# And you always will
# Starstruck for me
# Ooh, yeah
# Starstruck for me
# Starstruck for me. #
Every penny I used to get, I used to do in, you know,
-all the money I earned, I used to knock it out.
-What about gambling?
Was that ever a problem for you?
Well, I used to gamble, yeah.
I don't have time. I'm on a wage now, see,
so I can't do all my money in.
-Did you lose much when you were a kid?
-What sort of money would you lose?
-I don't know, really. I could...
I've done, you know, quite a lot of money.
What about the image that people are now trying to create for you?
What do you think of that?
I think it's very good, because, as I said, I was a bit of a tearaway.
Now, like, I'm changing my image.
But it's being changed for you, in a way.
Wouldn't you rather present Jimmy White, the real Jimmy White,
-to the public?
Well, yeah, well, it is me, really, when I'm on the table.
I just want to pot balls, you know?
But what about away from the table, the suave Jimmy White?
Well, I've got to behave myself now, I'll get slung out, I think.
# How long you waited to get where you are... #
Well, I see him in five years' time, if all goes according to plan,
as the best in his profession.
The Kevin Keegan of snooker.
Or maybe the John McEnroe.
Either way, a huge success and the number one in the world.
What a character, and what a player.
When David Icke calls you a character,
you know you're on to something.
From the 1980s onwards,
Jimmy White has been one of snooker's most popular
personalities, one of the ultimate flair players,
favouring risky crowd-pleasing shots over safe, tactical play.
It's earned him the love of the fans.
A fantastic performance. Wait for the applause.
CHEERING AND APPLAUSE
But it has also cost him many a match.
Not least six World Championship finals.
Whirlwind White was unfortunate to be playing at the same time
as Stephen Hendry, his nemesis,
who beat him in four of those world finals.
He was unlucky OFF the table, too.
Just listen to the list in this introduction.
Our first guest has lost six World Championship finals,
squandered £3 million on gambling and drinking, survived cancer,
and been unwittingly involved in the biggest betting scandal in
the sport's history, but he is, without doubt, one of the greatest
talents his sport has ever seen, and everybody loves him - Jimmy White.
That, of course, is not to mention all the other bits and bobs
that the tabloids have loved.
So who's been writing the script of your life? EastEnders?
Yeah, absolutely. Um, some of it's true, some of it's exaggerated.
That's enough on that one.
If we talk about the snooker first of all, though,
six world title defeats.
You know, if you hung up your cue tomorrow,
is that going to be something that's going to haunt you to the grave?
Yeah, if I didn't think I could win the World Championships,
I wouldn't play. I don't play just for the money.
I still think I'm good enough.
A couple of times I was in winning positions.
I missed a black against Hendry, I was 14 up against Hendry and lost.
I lost 18-16 to Steve Davis, but, you know,
that's all part of the game.
You know, like, I've lost six finals,
so if I can get to another one, I can win one.
You've squandered £3 million on drinking and gambling.
How do you do that?
Um, I lost most of it gambling - horses, dogs, cards.
I was very bad at all three of them.
-What was the biggest single bet you ever had?
-Oh, I don't know.
I think... I had £15,000, I think, on one, but that was many years ago.
-Was that a loser?
-I think it won, actually.
-Did it really?
-You're always seen as the great rebel with a cause,
as the inheritor to Alex Higgins' title.
When you look at the sort of state that he's in now,
a rather forlorn figure, in a way, does that sadden you?
I feel very sorry for Alex. You know, I'm a good friend of his.
He's his own worst enemy.
He has a few drinks, he gets a bit aggressive, but, you know,
-he's been treated bad, he's been made an example of...
You know, when he's got in trouble for certain...
You know, he causes 90% of them.
I still think that he's got enough talent that if he practised,
stayed off the booze, I still think he could be in the top 32.
Do you think he's had a hard time from the sport's governing body?
-He has and he hasn't. That's, like 50-50 situation.
So you say he's made a rod for his own back, in a sense,
but don't you, as top sportsmen, have to set examples?
Yes, you know, you don't... I try and...
If you win and lose... If you lose, you know,
you've still got to get on it.
When you come out, you've got to sign the autographs,
you've still got to be friendly
to the people who support you, you know?
I intend to do that. I think most of us do.
Yeah. You got a great reception when you came down here.
You have this sort of enduring appeal,
even for people who aren't great snooker fans.
Have you ever sat back and analysed that?
Well, I think it's my game I play. I take a lot of chances.
If I win, I win it the hard way.
I think people appreciate that, that I put my game on the line.
-Have you consciously nurtured that reputation?
-Not at all, not at all.
I'm just a guy from the street, from the billiard hall.
I just try and do the best I can.
But while he may have tried his best, years later,
Jimmy revealed that his demons did get in the way of success,
and were much more serious than people realised at the time.
I was always a big drinker.
I sort of had dabbled in a bit of cocaine to carry on drinking.
I sort of hid this for about 15 years
from my close friends, my family.
I'm a bit ashamed that I done that.
I apologise to my supporters for doing that, you know,
because I would have won, probably, ten World Championships.
Ten, do you think so?
Well, I was that good. Not being flash, you know, I was that good.
Especially early days. But I took that path. I'm not proud of it.
If anyone is about to ever take cocaine, just don't,
because it can ruin your life.
That must have, I mean, not just had an effect on your career,
but it's got to have an effect on your marriage,
on your family life, on your kids.
Well, I hid it very well.
Coming from a snooker hall, you tend to be a bit tricky, you know,
I hid it very well.
I didn't do it at home, so as soon as I was out on the road,
doing exhibitions, you know, gambling,
that was when I used to take it.
Was there not drug testing, though, within snooker?
Well, there was drug testing.
But, with cocaine, I think it's like seven days and it's out your system.
Snooker was always my first love,
even though I had this terrible addiction.
I used to make sure that I had two weeks clean before I would play.
It's so interesting hearing you say, "I apologise to my fans",
because it matters to you, that relationship.
They would all say, and I would certainly say,
it's not our life you ruined, it's yours.
It's you that could have won those things.
It kind of makes me think that winning wasn't about winning
for you, it was about winning for the fans, actually.
You know, I had great support, I've still got great support,
but I did still give 100%.
I would spend, like,
50 hours a week on the practice table and I would get myself ready.
I did win ten ranking tournaments and 46 invitation tournaments.
Sounding a bit flash now.
So, you know, I done my bit.
A competition Jimmy did win was the final episode, in 1986,
of the BBC snooker series Pot Black.
The show was revived for a time in 1991,
alongside a one-off tournament, Junior Pot Black,
which is where most fans first encountered
a young Ronnie O'Sullivan.
So what's going through your mind here, Ronnie?
You know, you're not getting any consistency here.
Well, he's covered the corner pocket with the pink, so I know if I
pot this red, I score, because no red goes into that corner.
If I miss it, I'm not leaving him anything,
so that's a shot to nothing, really.
He's moved the pink here, and it opens the pocket up for the
three reds around there by the pink spot.
As soon as I pot this, I had to really score a few points here.
This is the thing that so many people underestimate
about the game - it's thinking ahead, isn't it?
It's just like a game of chess.
There we go.
That works out fine.
How long have you been playing?
I've been playing six years, ever since I was nine.
Well, it must seem a long time for you, then, in comparison to
a lot of the other juniors who are taking part in the tournament.
When can someone like yourself actually turn professional?
You can turn professional when you're 16,
as long as your birthday is before September.
But that's where I'm a bit unlucky, really,
cos I was born in December and I'm 16 three months after September,
so it means I have to wait another year around
until I'm 17½.
Ronnie was unquestionably the most exciting new player
since the Hurricane and the Whirlwind.
A nickname was inevitable.
And when in that first year Ronnie set a speed record for the
fastest "best of nine frames" match, he became the Rocket.
He then became the youngest player to qualify
for the World Championship,
and, in 1993, beat Stephen Hendry in the final of the UK Championship.
And we're seeing snooker history being made here.
..18 years and 9 months,
was the youngest winner ever at a ranking tournament.
The Grand Prix.
This young man is not 18 yet.
Like all great players, John, he's finishing in style.
I'm sure we're going to see so much of this young man
in the next few years.
Yes, that goes without saying.
I'll just say to the manor born, he's relished it.
Yes, Stephen Hendry will shake his hand.
I know he admires Ronnie's play, we all do.
A wonderful, wonderful exhibition by this young man.
His first ever major tournament,
The Royal Liver Assurance UK Championship,
and he's done it in so much style.
Ten frames to six.
The 17-year-old Ronnie O'Sullivan.
The Rocket seemed unstoppable,
and then in 1997, this happened.
The snooker player Ronnie O'Sullivan has made the fastest ever
maximum break in the history of the game.
He cleared the table in just five minutes 20 seconds at the
Embassy World Championships
and earned himself £147,000.
"The money is not important to me", he said, "I just want to be happy".
What a fantastic maximum break!
Unbelievable feeling to make a 147.
I mean, I haven't had one for ages, even in practice,
-so just to have it in a match, and especially...
-And at the Crucible.
I mean, that's exactly what I mean.
You can have maximums in other tournaments...
I mean, I've never had a maximum in another tournament, you know,
there's only one venue as far as snooker's concerned,
and that's Sheffield.
That incredible feat had the snooker world in awe,
but like Higgins and White,
O'Sullivan had problems with addiction and depression.
Was there a chance that you felt that you might almost
-self-destruct a few seasons ago?
-Yeah, I was.
I was gone at one stage.
You know, I just couldn't control anything I was doing.
I was just like a time bomb.
You know, just waiting to go. I went. I paid the price for it.
But I suppose something like that had to happen
for me to realise that I was going down the wrong road.
As soon as that World Championships was over,
there were ups and downs in that tournament,
I realised after then that I had to sort myself out,
because I was never like that as a youngster.
Did you get advice from senior pros?
Did you talk to people like Jimmy and say, "What do you reckon"?
Well, Jimmy's always been top man for me,
ever since I turned professional.
I remember going to a tournament at the World Masters,
and every other snooker player there...
I'm not saying they were above themselves,
but he was the only person to come over to me
and shake my hand and says, "Hello, I'm Jimmy White".
I said, "Well, I know who you are", you know what I mean?
"I'm Ronnie O'Sullivan".
I just buzz off that. That meant so much to me.
He's a bit like a fath... Not a father figure, he's like a mate.
I mean, did you see a lot of yourself in him?
I mean, I've been tagged as the most natural player in the world.
You just watch Ronnie's game,
he's just like exactly how I used to play ten years ago.
I still play fast, but, you know, I think about a few shots now,
I see the value in them.
Ronnie just gets down, does the business.
That's what the game needs and loves.
And all Ronnie's achievements seemed even more impressive
when, at the same time, his father was serving
an 18-year jail sentence for murder.
What was it like growing up in your family?
Amazing. I mean, I was just given every opportunity,
everything I needed - love, care, support, confidence,
-the greatest mentor that I could ever have.
-That was your dad?
So I was...
I probably underachieved,
considering all that I was given as a kid.
-You think you've underachieved in life?
-Considering what I was...
Yeah, I do,
on the basis of what I've won.
If you look at the hard facts of what I've won as a competitor,
I believe I've definitely underachieved.
You're 15 years old, your dad is going to spend 18 years in jail.
-Obviously he's your hero.
You could have completely gone off the rails at that point.
Yeah, but then I could have completely... Well, I did.
I did for a certain amount of time.
But not completely, at that point.
You still carried on with your snooker, didn't you?
Yeah, cos it's otherwise that thing of if I didn't, then I was
going to be...
I felt the responsibility in a way that if I failed,
then my dad would have felt the responsibility...
That the reason that I failed was what happened to him.
I couldn't allow that to happen.
I can't wait to get in there.
It's been about six weeks since I last seen him.
-How do you think he's going to react?
-I don't know.
I think we'll both be a little bit emotional, but as I say,
he's always said to me, "Be strong", and that's how I'm a man.
I'm just going to try and behave like a man.
Let's go back to when you started playing snooker.
At what point, as a kid, did you think,
"I'm a little bit special at this. I've got a talent"?
I thought that I was good when I was about ten.
-That's when you got your first century.
-I got my first century.
I thought, you know, there's obviously some talent there,
but I just love playing.
I just absolutely love playing.
That's when I started to realise that I could possibly be
a professional or I had dreams.
Dreams then turned into,
"Oh, hold on, you know, I could actually make it" when I was about
13, 14, because I was pretty much the dominant amateur player
at 13 or 14.
I'd turn up, there'd be 130 players in the room, and I'd walk in
the room and you could just see them go, "He's here again". I never...
I'd never see that, but I felt it.
Peter Ebdon at the top of their game, they were like 21,
I was only 13. They didn't want to play me.
You thought that was your pinnacle around then.
Yeah, I kind of thought, "This is it",
I can't get any better than I was then, because I didn't feel
like I could miss and I didn't feel like I could get beat.
If I did get beat, I was so disappointed that I'd come
back the next week and I'd just have to win.
Did you love winning at this point?
Because you've said since that winning doesn't give you
-what you think it should.
-Yeah, I used to love it.
I used to get disappointed if I never got given a trophy.
They'd give me money and I'd be like, "Where's my trophy?"
It was all about the trophy.
He's had numerous run-ins with the snooker authorities.
I would like to apologise most sincerely.
Hitting an official, lewd comments at a press conference in China,
walking out of a match, allegedly breaking his cue tip to get
a 15-minute break to name but a few.
At the '96 World Championships,
he was accused of disrespecting his opponent.
..all that left-handed practice.
When you make your break, do you see..
Is it visual, is it your hands, what jumps into operation first?
I just see big pockets.
I see balls that are light.
I can see that I can make them do whatever I want them to do.
I see cushions and I see them cushions as a way of
me getting around this area.
I just see every part of the table as a help, even the knuckles.
-I can use that knuckle...
-Always? Is this how you always see...?
-Not always, sometimes.
-Do the pockets shrink?
That's when you're in trouble!
That's when the game becomes difficult and hard.
But that's probably the easiest way of explaining what it feels
like when you're at one with the game.
You see the table and you think,
"Right, OK, I know what I'm going to do here."
Sometimes you know that you can pot it, but you just think,
"No, I'm just going to play safe a bit. I'm going to make them suffer.
"I'm going to slowly do him today."
-So you kind of play with it, you know?
-Is that as satisfying?
Oh, it's amazing. It's the greatest feeling.
Have you ever wished that your genius, your brilliance,
had been in another sport?
Yeah. Oh, I'd have loved to have been Federer or Tiger. Cor!
Yeah, but what do you love about them, because they've just
dominated a sport...which you could?
Yeah, but it's the sport, isn't it?
Tennis is, like, a one-off.
I think snooker is a very hard game where you're sitting there,
you have to sit in your chair and be with yourself and be with
your mind, whereas tennis, it's a reaction sport.
You're in control of what you do,
but snooker is not that type of game.
You've got to sit there and you've got to be a gentleman,
you've got to be, "Oh, yeah, yeah.
"A miss and he'll play another ten attempts."
Do people really want to watch it? I mean, come on!
He's the biggest star snooker currently has,
possibly the best player of all time.
And, as this clip underlines, also a great entertainer.
OK, right, now, you see,
the thing is what we've got here is a snooker table,
or as Richard Hammond said when he arrived here this morning,
-"Crikey, a football pitch."
As you can see, we've got four red balls there.
What we were wondering is can you sink everything on this table,
that's how many balls?
-14 balls faster than the Stig can get round the lap?
OK? Now normally at the Crucible,
if somebody's mobile phone goes off, big distraction, what happens?
-They get thrown out.
-They get thrown out because that's a distraction.
We've got a slightly...bigger distraction than that for you.
Would you like to have a look at what car the Stig is going to
be driving while you do this?
Turn around, on that telly, can we show it? What is that?
They actually did the same thing to me once, just nicked the car.
All right, so here we go.
-We reckon that car, because it is only a 500...
..it's not going to be that fast. We reckon about 1:35, 1:40.
-14 balls in 1 minute 40 seconds, do you reckon?
-No, I don't know.
SHOUTS OF ENCOURAGEMENT
Go on, Ronnie!
Let's give it a whirl.
You're allowed to take the break and be satisfied with the position
of the reds before we start the clock, OK?
Here we go.
-You've missed. Oh, no, wait.
-Yeah, I'll take that.
-You'll take that.
OK, so, right, here we go.
SHOUTS OF ENCOURAGEMENT
Ronnie, hold on. I'll start you.
Three, two, one, go!
He's got one in.
Oh, there's a lot of tyre smoke there, Ronnie, and it's your tyres.
Try not to be put off. He's coming up to the first corner now.
-Oh, my word!
He's got a bit of backspin there.
He's off, he's off the track. He's off the track. Here we go.
Now, where's he got to? He's coming up to Chicago now.
Let's have a look at what he's doing.
He's not got much power to play with.
Backspin nearly off again. How's he going here? One more...
No, he's on the pink.
One more red to go, as the Stig is now heading toward the Hammerhead.
Go on, get out the way! The world's worst referee brought in.
Here we go, right, that's all the reds gone. The Stig is now...
He really is, he's got understeer.
Don't look at the screen, man, it's going to slow you down.
He's fighting, he's wrestling.
OK, he's coming up now to the Follow-through.
This is where you had the problem. Green's gone. Here comes the brown.
He's coming up now. He's really moving.
He's nearly off the track there. Go on, Stig.
Go on, Stiggy!
He's going through.
He's going to miss. It's in.
The Stig is going... Second to the last corner.
He's on the second-to-last corner.
You missed! He's coming up to the last corner... Yes!
Oh, look at that.
Now he can cross the line.
Ladies and gentlemen, Ronnie O'Sullivan!
Your fan base comes from the way you've played the game,
how you attack the game, you know, the flair, that's my style of play.
That's Ronnie's style of play. There was Higgins had that as well.
Here we go, black in the top left-hand pocket.
Is snooker lacking more of those characters coming through?
If Ronnie O'Sullivan was to walk away from snooker,
what would that do to the sport?
Great question. I think snooker would be in serious trouble.
Snooker is played by a lot of people who,
you know, find the sport very difficult, but are intrigued by it.
When they see the likes of O'Sullivan, it just,
you know, gives them that extra buzz.
He's just magical to watch.
The Hurricane blew himself out.
The Whirlwind died down,
and someday the Rocket will stop firing too,
but these giants of the green baize, three kindred spirits,
will never be forgotten by lovers of the game worldwide.
Their combined careers have provided over 40 years of wizardry on
the table, and drama off it.
And for those snooker fans who love excitement over everything else,
Alex Higgins, Jimmy White and Ronnie O'Sullivan
will always be snooker's unholy trinity,
and the people's champions.
Snooker superfan Alistair McGowan takes a trip through the BBC archives for an affectionate look at the lives and careers of three of snooker's best-loved and most charismatic stars - Alex 'Hurricane' Higgins, Jimmy 'Whirlwind' White and Ronnie 'the Rocket' O'Sullivan.
We look at the early television appearances that captured each of them before they really hit the big time, chart the ups and downs of their careers and examine programmes ranging from Wogan to Top Gear to get a real sense of why each of this trio were, in their day, known as 'The People's Champions'.