It’s just gone midnight on a Sunday night. There’s work tomorrow. School. You should be in bed.
Instead, you — along with 18.5 million other people around the country — cannot drag yourself away from your TV.
On the box is playing the 1985 World Championships Snooker final between reigning champion Steve Davis and outside-shot Dennis Taylor, a match that has gone down as being one of Britain’s greatest sporting moments.
At its best, snooker is an addictive, geometric dance of balletic precision, featuring expert cueing and tactical nous.
The sport’s flagship event, the World Championships, got underway in Sheffield this weekend and in doing so became one of the first events to welcome back crowds in England since the coronavirus pandemic hit.
Snooker has been a bastion of British sporting television since the championships moved to the Crucible Theatre in 1977.
In 1985 though, the sport was the hottest ticket in town, so much so the World Championships final became one of the most watched sporting events in British television history — with millions tuning in to the closing stages after midnight.
Snooker was big business throughout the 80s, pulling massive TV audiences and making genuine stars of the top players.
In an interview with the BBC, Taylor remembers snooker being “bigger than any other sport, even football and golf” in the mid-80s, with the players becoming household names — even featuring in pop songs of dubious provenance.
The reason for this was circumstance and visibility.
“There was only four channels, something like that, to watch,” Taylor said, “so everyone seemed to watch [snooker].”
Davis went even further, describing snooker’s popularity during that era as “stupid”.
“[There was] a trapped audience, nobody had anything to do on a Sunday evening, Sunday afternoon, [so] they sat and watched the snooker.
What was the 1985 final so enthralling?
The enduring appeal of the 1985 final comes from the myriad of storylines that developed during its playing.
The 11th seed and clear underdog, Taylor — complete with a unique set of glasses that left you in no doubt which decade you were in — found himself 8-0 down in the blink of an eye as Davis, who would win six World Championships in nine years during the 80s, dominated.
However, a missed green in the ninth frame handed Taylor an opening and, buoyed by the fervent support of a crowd desperate for more action, fought back strongly.
Over two gruelling days’ play, the pair traded blows, sending the match into a deciding, 35th frame.
That final frame took over an hour to complete — 68 minutes of the most gruelling, high-pressure sporting action you can imagine — the enthralled audience at home and in the room seemingly oblivious to the fact that Sunday had turned into Monday.
Later, Davis described the final frame as “a trauma” — and not just because of how it ended for him, but for how much pressure the players were under.
“Nerves have now taken over,” said BBC commentator Ted Lowe when Davis missed a regulation blue mid-way through that marathon final frame, a miss typical of the contest in the closing stages.
Incredibly, after 14 hours and 50 minutes of game time, the match came down to the final ball of the final frame — the only time this has happened in World Snooker history.
After potting the pink, Taylor, now trailing in the final frame by just three points, went over to the World Championship trophy and prayed in an attempt to summon some last-minute divine inspiration.
The final ball created drama though, with both players missing their mark amidst the suffocating tension.
An attempted double in off the cushion from Taylor missed the centre pocket by millimetres, Lowe muttering, “I have never known an atmosphere like this,” as the crowd struggled to contain themselves.
Taylor appeared to throw caution to the wind, attempting outlandish shots as playing safely was put on the backburner.
Leaving a tough, but gettable pot to win, Taylor’s chance appeared to have gone, only for Davis to fluff his lines.
“No,” a surprised Lowe said, the crowd roaring for the penultimate time as Taylor was left with a straight-forward pot to finish the match.
Taylor did sink the black, prompting an eruption of unbridled joy from the enraptured crowd.
The then-36-year-old brandished his cue above his head, before wagging a knowing finger at his supporters and kissing the most coveted trophy in the sport.
Will there ever be a communal viewing experience like that again?
The Black Ball Final is still the most watched post-midnight program of any show in UK television history.
That 18.5 million was a third of the United Kingdom’s population at the time.
To put those viewing figures into some perspective, the 1985 Live Aid concert — a once-in-a-lifetime event that took place throughout an afternoon — earned the BBC a TV audience of 24.5 million.
Admittedly a similar percentage of the population watched England’s 2016 World Cup defeat to Croatia, which was the highest rating British TV program in 2018 — but that happened in prime time, not after midnight.
In contrast, the highest rating Australian sporting event on TV in 2018, game one of State of Origin, was watched by just 13 per cent of the population.
Both players said that it was unlikely anything like that would ever happen again.
“I think it’s because of the choice nowadays.” Taylor told the BBC.
“When you think of the viewing figures they used to get … nowadays you get four or five million people tuning in for any sporting event it’s big numbers because of the choice that people have.”
Davis argued the same, saying that there is too much choice now.
“That can’t necessarily happen again anywhere now that there are multiple television channels.”
An unmatched viewing experience
That people are still talking about that match in such reverent tones 35 years on speaks volumes of snooker’s enduring, albeit slightly nostalgic appeal.
In an era where you can watch everything from wood chopping to competitive pizza tossing on ESPN (yes, really), it’s perhaps not surprising that the game’s grip on the public consciousness has slipped ever so slightly.
“[Snooker] was ideally placed as great theatre,” Davis said.
Ideal lockdown-viewing, perhaps.
That the World Championships is being used as a guinea pig for fans to attend the UK’s sporting COVID-19 recovery is perhaps incongruous considering its history as a television product.
Five-time World Champion, the enigmatic Ronnie O’Sullivan, is not a fan of fans being allowed in.
“I just think it’s an unnecessary risk [to have spectators].
“I just don’t think you want to be putting people’s lives at risk. You look at the NHS and you think ‘this is like a war at the moment … anything to take the stress off them is paramount’.”
But with attendances capped at a third of capacity, just 300 fans, the vast majority will, once again, be glued to their screens instead.
And, in the chastened circumstances the world finds itself in at the present time, that may be no bad thing, although the likelihood of any match this year matching the interest of that 1985 final is remote.
Davis, who would go on to win the next two World Championship titles and become known as one of the greatest of all time, said the contest helped define him.
“The fact that I was involved in something where so many people remember what they were doing and where they were when they were watching it, you know, wow.”
The UK is set to announce its first step in easing coronavirus restrictions tomorrow, but the Government says there won’t be any dramatic changes yet.
Elsewhere, Brazil has registered 10,222 new confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus in one day, while Donald Trump says he isn’t worried about a spread of the virus in the White House after a Mike Pence aide tests positive.
This story will be updated throughout Saturday. You can also listen to the latest episode of the Coronacast podcast.
Saturday’s top stories:
Another Newmarch House resident dies, no new cases in Qld, WA
Great-grandmother Fay Rendoth tested positive three weeks ago but her family said the physical isolation had impacts on her health and led to her passing.
There have been 69 COVID-19 cases linked to the home, including 32 staff and 37 residents.
In the past 24 hours, NSW recorded five new cases of coronavirus out of a record 13,692 tests.
Of the five new cases, one person was exposed to the virus while overseas, two were close contacts of known cases and two are still under investigation.
To date, 294,949 people have been tested in NSW, 3,052 have been positive for COVID-19 and 82 per cent of those are now fully recovered.
The number of coronavirus cases in Victoria has risen by 10 since yesterday to 1,477.
Four of the new cases are linked to an outbreak at an abattoir in Melbourne’s west — bringing the total number of cases there to 75.
About 140,000 tests have now been carried out in the state.
Queensland has recorded no new cases for the second day in a row. The state’s total number of confirmed cases remains at 1,045.
Twenty cases in Queensland are active, with nine of those in hospital.
For the ninth time in 10 days, WA has recorded no new cases of COVID-19.
The state has just seven active cases, one of which is in regional WA.
Not much change expected when Britain begins lockdown relaxation
Prime Minister Boris Johnson will not announce any dramatic changes to the UK’s coronavirus lockdown in the first stage of relaxing restrictions, with the PM adopting a cautious approach to try to ensure there is no second deadly peak of infections.
Mr Johnson is due to announce the next steps in the nation’s battle to tackle the coronavirus on Sunday, after a review of the current measures that have all but shut the economy and kept millions at home for over six weeks.
“You have to be realistic, there isn’t going to be dramatic overnight change, we will be very, very cautious as we loosen the restrictions,” Environment Minister George Eustice said.
The United Kingdom overtook Italy this week to report the highest official death toll from coronavirus in Europe.
The death toll has increased the political pressure on Mr Johnson, whom Opposition politicians and some scientists say waited longer than other European leaders to order a lockdown to curb the spread of the virus in March.
Ministers have dismissed that charge, saying they took the right decisions at the right time.
But with an increasing number of anecdotal reports that more people are flouting the lockdown in anticipation of Sunday’s announcement, the Government is under pressure to make any new rules as clear as possible after being criticised for mixed messaging.
China to reform disease prevention system
China will reform its disease prevention and control system to address weaknesses exposed by the coronavirus outbreak.
“This coronavirus epidemic is a big test of our country’s governance and governing ability, and it exposed the weak links in how we address major epidemic and public health systems,” said Li Bin, vice minister of the China National Health Commission.
The commission wants to modernise the system, using technology like artificial intelligence and cloud computing for medical research, tracing of infections and distribution of resources.
China has been criticised domestically and abroad as being initially slow to react to the epidemic, which first broke out on a large scale in Wuhan.
Madrid and Barcelona will not move to next stage of Spain’s lockdown exit
Madrid and Barcelona will not progress to the next phase of Spain’s lockdown exit that will allow bars, restaurants and places of worship to reopen in some areas from Monday.
The country’s two biggest cities do not currently meet the Government’s criteria for easing measures, Health Emergency Chief Fernando Simon said.
Madrid and the region of Catalonia, where Barcelona is the capital, account for nearly half of Spain’s overall cases. Half of the country’s new cases in the past 24 hours were in Catalonia.
About half of Spain’s population will move onto the next phase of easing lockdown measures, including the Canary Islands and the Balearic Islands.
Spain’s death toll from the coronavirus rose by 229 on Friday (local time), up from 213 added the previous day, the health ministry said.
It brings the overall death toll to 26,299, out of 222,857 diagnosed cases.
Spain started to loosen its lockdown, one of the strictest in Europe, this week, with people allowed to go outside for exercise and small businesses like hairdressers reopening with social-distancing restrictions.
The Government is aiming for a return to normality by the end of June and wants to open beaches for sunbathing and ease more restrictions on shops and restaurants in the final phase of lockdown.
US tightens visa rules for Chinese journalists amid coronavirus tensions
The US has tightened visa guidelines for Chinese journalists, in response to the treatment of US journalists in China.
The new rule comes amid tensions between the two nations over the global pandemic, including a series of retaliatory actions involving journalists in recent months.
In issuing the new regulation on Friday, the Department of Homeland Security cited what it called China’s “suppression of independent journalism”.
The regulation, which will take effect on Monday, will limit visas for Chinese reporters to a 90-day period, with the option for extension.
Such visas are typically open-ended and do not need to be extended unless the employee moves to a different company or medium.
A senior DHS official said the new rules would allow the department to review Chinese journalist visa applications more frequently and would likely reduce the overall number of Chinese journalists in the US.
The new rules will not apply to journalists with passports from Hong Kong or Macau, China’s two semi-autonomous territories, according to DHS.
Brazil hits new record for daily coronavirus deaths
Brazil has registered 10,222 new confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus and 751 deaths, the health ministry says.
Friday’s daily deaths exceeded the previous record of 615 on Wednesday. Overall, Brazil has registered 145,328 confirmed cases of the new coronavirus and 9,897 deaths.
Meanwhile, auto production in Brazil and Mexico, Latin America’s top producers, plunged by an unprecedented 99 per cent in April as a result of the coronavirus crisis, with the two countries building a total of just 5,569 vehicles.
In normal times, Mexico and Brazil produce over half a million cars a month combined. The industry accounts for hundreds of thousands of jobs and several percentage points of their respective countries’ gross domestic products.
“The situation is difficult and dramatic,” Luiz Carlos Moraes, president of Brazil’s automakers association, told reporters.
The statements on production, made on Friday by Mexico’s Inegi statistics association and Brazil’s Anfavea automakers association, are the first available window into the sheer extent of the crisis for automakers in Latin America.
Pence staffer tests positive
US Vice-President Mike Pence’s press secretary has the coronavirus, the White House says, making her the second person who works at the White House complex known to have tested positive for the virus this week.
President Donald Trump, who publicly identified the affected Pence aide, said he was “not worried” about the virus spreading in the White House.
Nonetheless, officials said they were stepping up safety protocols for the complex.
Pence spokeswoman Katie Miller, who tested positive Friday (local time), had been in recent contact with Mr Pence but not with the President. She is married to Stephen Miller, a top Trump adviser. The White House had no immediate comment on whether Mr Miller had been tested or if he was still working out of the White House.
Ms Miller had tested negative on Thursday, a day before her positive result.
“The tests are perfect but something can happen between a test where it’s good and then something happens.”
The positive test for the senior Pence aide came one day after White House officials confirmed that a member of the military serving as one of Mr Trump’s valets had tested positive for COVID-19.
Six people who had been in contact with Ms Miller were scheduled to fly with Mr Pence on Friday to Des Moines, Iowa, on Air Force Two. They were removed from the flight just before it took off, according to a senior administration official.
None of those people were exhibiting symptoms, but were asked to deplane so they could be tested “out of an abundance of caution”, a senior administration official told reporters traveling with Mr Pence.
All six later tested negative, the White House said.
Illusionist Roy Horn, of Siegfried & Roy, dies of COVID-19 complications
His partner Siegfried Fischbacher paid tribute to Roy, saying “he was a fighter his whole life including during those final days”.
“There could be no Siegfried without Roy, and no Roy without Siegfried.”
Kim sends letter to Putin
North Korea says leader Kim Jong-un sent a letter to Russian President Vladimir Putin to congratulate him on the 75th anniversary of the allied victory in World War II and wishing Russia success in fighting its coronavirus outbreak.
The report by Pyongyang’s official Korean Central News Agency on Saturday came a day after it reported Mr Kim sent a personal message to Chinese President Xi Jinping to praise what he described as China’s success in getting its COVID-19 epidemic under control.
Some experts say the North could intensify its diplomatic outreach to neighbours, particularly China, as it seeks economic help after closing its border for months to fend off the virus.
KCNA says Mr Kim’s message, “sincerely wished the President and people of Russia sure victory in their struggle to build a powerful Russia by carrying forward the tradition of the great victory in the war and to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus infection”.
5yo in New York dies from rare COVID-linked illness
A five-year-old boy in New York state has died of an illness linked to COVID-19, and dozens of other children in the state have fallen severely ill with a similar malady that scientists have linked to the coronavirus, Governor Andrew Cuomo says.
Governor Cuomo added there had been 73 reported cases in the state of children becoming severely ill with symptoms similar to Kawasaki disease — a rare inflammatory condition in children — and toxic shock syndrome.
“There has been at least one fatality because of this and there may be others that are now under investigation,” he said.
“This is every parent’s nightmare, right, that your child may actually be affected by this virus.
Cases of rare illnesses in children associated with exposure to COVID-19 were first reported in Britain, Italy and Spain, but doctors in the United States are starting to report clusters of kids with the disorder, which can attack multiple organs, impair heart function and weaken heart arteries.
China objects to Taiwan’s observation of key WHO meeting
Taiwan will fail in its bid to take part in a key WHO meeting, as its efforts are based on politics rather than health concerns, China says.
Taiwan, which has won praise for its handling of the outbreak, is excluded from the WHO, due to the objections of China.
Taiwan has been lobbying to attend, as an observer, the May 18–19 gathering of the WHO’s decision-making body, the World Health Assembly (WHA), and has high-level support from the United States and several of its allies, including Japan.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said Taiwan was trying to use the pandemic for its own political purposes.
China, under its “one China” policy, China considers Taiwan a breakaway province ineligible for state-to-state relations or membership of bodies such as the WHO.
All but a handful of countries in the world have diplomatic relations with China and not Taiwan.
Colombian company creates a bed that can double as coffin
A Colombian advertising company is pitching a novel if morbid solution to shortages of hospital beds and coffins during the coronavirus pandemic: combine them.
ABC Displays has created a cardboard bed with metal railings that designers say can double as a casket if a patient dies.
Company manager Rodolfo Gomez said he was inspired to find a way to help after watching events unfold recently in nearby Ecuador.
Families in the coastal city of Guayaquil waited with dead loved ones in their homes for days last month as COVID-19 cases surged. Many could not find or were unable to afford a wood coffin, using donated cardboard ones instead.
Gomez said he plans to donate 10 of his new beds to Colombia’s Amazonas department, where resources are in short supply. So far there is no indication whether the beds will be put to use and no orders have been placed.
The Bogota-based company is usually at work on advertisements but has been mostly paralysed over the past month as Colombia remains on lockdown. The South American nation has reported nearly 9,500 confirmed cases of the virus.
The beds can hold 150 kilograms and will cost about $130 each, Gomez said.
He said he worked with a private clinic on the design, which he hopes will be put to use in emergency clinics that might become short on beds.
WHO warns 190,000 could die in Africa in a year
The coronavirus could “smoulder” in Africa for years and take a high death toll across the continent, WHO warns.
WHO estimated that if no containment measures were taken, COVID-19 could cause deaths ranging from 83,000 to 190,000 people in Africa in the first year of the pandemic.
More than 52,000 confirmed infections and 2,074 virus-related deaths have been reported by African countries, according to figures released on Friday by the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.
The total number of cases has risen by more than 42 per cent in the past week.
The disease appears to be spreading more slowly across Africa than in Europe, according to the WHO report.
Officials say that could be due to poor surveillance or less developed transport links.
VE Day a sombre occasion across Europe
The 75th anniversary of the surrender of Nazi Germany to Allied forces, marking the end of World War II, has been far more low-key that would ordinarily have been expected.
The big celebrations planned were either cancelled or scaled back dramatically and people across Europe were asked to mark the moment in private.
There were no mass gatherings, but that day of liberation was remembered nonetheless. For the few surviving World War II veterans, many living in nursing homes under virus lockdowns, it’s a particularly difficult time.
WHO food safety and animal diseases expert Peter Ben Embarek said live animal markets were critical to providing food and livelihoods for millions of people globally and that authorities should focus on improving them rather than outlawing them — even though they could sometimes spark epidemics in humans.
Meanwhile, WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus used the 40th anniversary of the eradication of smallpox as an example of what could be achieved in the battle against COVID-19.
But there were lessons to be learned, he said.
Though a vaccine for smallpox — which killed 300 million people in the 20th century — was developed in 1796, it would take another 184 years to eradicate it, he said.