The World Championship at the Crucible Theatre, Sheffield, has become snooker’s Wimbledon, the climax each spring to the snooker year. It is an exhaustive examination of skill and psychological capacity, a 17-day marathon of the mind. It is incomparably the game’s most prestigious title. Many other fine events, some with long-standing sponsors, are greatly valued elements of the circuit, but the sponsorship of the championship by Embassy in 1976, its move to the Crucible in 1977 and the BBCs decision, a year later, to cover comprehensively every day’s play all emphasised a pre-eminence which remains unchallenged.
1993 saw the World Professional Billiards and Snooker Association’s contracts with Embassy and with the BBC, the latter also encompassing the Grand Prix at Reading in October, the UK Open at Preston in November and the Masters at Wembley in February, are the commercial cornerstones of the professional circuit.
Once the BBC had demonstrated that large numbers of the public liked watching championship snooker table events at length, ITV began to compete on this front and made its own contribution. Chiefly because eight- or nine-day world ranking events gave too many scheduling problems, ITV fell by the wayside to leave BSkyB as the showcase for most of the circuit’s other major events.
Snooker’s status as a television sport would have amazed the game’s pioneers. It has long been accepted that the game played on a snooker table was invented in India in 1875 by a young subaltern, Neville Chamberlain, as an amalgam of various billiard table games although it has recently become clear that some form of the game was being played in London clubs in the 1860s.
It continued for half a century as either a sociable way to pass an hour on the snooker table or, increasingly, as a gambling game which nurtured a new breed of player. Even when Joe Davis took the leading role in establishing the world professional snooker championship, it was only in the context of ‘scratching to get a living’, which was the lot of even the best billiard players of the 1920s.