In honor of David Irvine: Tennis reporter for The Guardian and renowned improviser.

David Irvine, who has died aged 88 after a long illness, was a born storyteller. He reported for the Guardian for more than 27 years, first on northern rugby union and cricket and then, for 20 years, as the tennis correspondent.

He was a skilled worker, renowned as the “master of improvisation” in his field, due to his impressive talent for dictating large pieces of content to copytakers without any preparation. His son Chris, who is also a journalist, recalls: “He could easily write 1,200 words on a Wimbledon final without using any notes, and this passion for his work enhanced his writing. It was his strength, him truly relishing his job, embodying the essence of a traditional journalist.”

Irvine was born in 1935 in Kendal. At the age of 17, he began working at the Kendal office of the Lancashire Evening Post. He received guidance from Harry Griffin, who wrote the Guardian’s Lakeland Diary for half a century. Irvine quickly became a reporter covering Donald Campbell’s accomplishments on Coniston and Ullswater with his Bluebird K7 hydroplane.

After completing his national service, he began his career in sportswriting by becoming the rugby union, cricket, and speedway correspondent for the Coventry Evening Telegraph. During his tenure at the newspaper, Coventry rugby club experienced a significant increase in success. In 1969, he achieved his ultimate goal of becoming the northern rugby union correspondent and cricket writer for the Guardian. He worked out of their Manchester office on Deansgate.

In 1976, while on vacation in Spain, Irvine received a call from Peter Preston, the editor, offering him the position of tennis correspondent, replacing David Gray. His first Wimbledon coverage was in 1977 for Virginia Wade’s victory. Throughout his career, he reported on over 70 grand slam events and enjoyed the camaraderie of the tennis circuit and the competition between players such as Björn Borg, John McEnroe, Jimmy Connors, Martina Navratilova, and Chris Evert. He was one of the pioneers in recognizing the importance of statistics. According to his successor at The Guardian, Steve Bierley, Irvine was a kind person who excelled at finding interesting stats, even before the era of Google.

David Irvine

He was seldom seen without a cigar or a glass of red wine while off the court, earning him the nickname “Noddy” for occasionally dozing off during matches. He frequently sprinkled his writing with allusions to classical music and made sure to attend performances at Carnegie and Avery Fisher Halls during the US Open. His most memorable experience was getting to meet renowned American violinist Isaac Stern and dancer Rudolf Nureyev.

The victory of the North of England against the All Blacks in Otley in 1979 was the most enjoyable topic for him to write about. However, his most treasured sporting memory was not from his reporting work, but from being present at Old Trafford in 1956 to witness Jim Laker’s record-breaking 19 wickets against Australia.

Following his retirement as a tennis correspondent in 1996, he continued to work independently for the Guardian and Observer, covering tennis and rugby union. Later on, he also contributed to the Times, reporting on rugby league. Despite retiring, his passion for sports remained strong. However, the passing of his wife Eileen in 2006 after a battle with multiple myeloma greatly affected him. He is survived by his two sons, Chris and Rob, with the latter also working as a journalist.


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