OBITUARY: Butler's mastery of mic meant he was bigger than just rugby

OBITUARY: Eddie Butler’s mastery of the mic meant he was bigger than just rugby. The legendary broadcaster and former Wales captain spent his words as if they were £20 notes, invariably finding one to capture the moment when others would use 20

  • Former Wales rugby star Eddie Butler has died fundraising in Peru aged 65 
  • Butler, who has 16 caps for Wales, was taking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu 
  • The popular commentator died peacefully in his sleep at a base camp on the trail

Eddie Butler will go down in broadcasting folklore as the man who followed the toughest act in television sports commentary and took it to new heights.

That he succeeded against the odds by daring to specialise in a game long synonymous with Bill McLaren’s Scottish burr made the achievement all the greater and the colourful Welshman’s sudden death all the more shocking.

Typically, Butler did it by bucking the trend, aided and abetted by his mastery of the English language. In an era when too many commentators talk too much, he spent his words as if they were £20 notes, invariably finding one to capture the moment when others would use 20.

BBC rugby commentator Eddie Butler has died in his sleep aged 65 while fundraising in Peru

Such economy made him a master of the less-is-more school, his skill as a wordsmith leading to the broader canvas of Olympiads and other international events far beyond Rugby. Butler’s last scripted voice-over, on the global reaction to the death of The Queen, underlined his special status as a multi-dimensional broadcaster.

Nobody appreciated that more than the forthright England hooker Brian ‘The Pitbull’ Moore, his sparring partner and side-kick throughout an enduring Six Nations double act on BBC television which never failed to entertain and infuriate, sometimes in equal measure.

‘Ed, I’m sorry I never told you how much I admired you as a broadcaster and as a man,’ Moore tweeted. ‘Well, it wasn’t like that between us, was it? Sport has lost an iconic voice. I’ve lost a dear friend.’

Butler (centre) won 16 caps for Wales in his career and captained his country on six occasions

How cruelly poignant that he should die as he lived, pushing the boundaries ever higher, this time during a hiking adventure along the Inca Trail in the Peruvian Andes where he had been accompanying his daughter Nell.

He was there not for his own aggrandisement but with a band of volunteers to raise funds for the Prostate Cymru charity. They confirmed that he had ‘passed away peacefully in his sleep’ at a base camp.

Throughout his life, Butler specialised in confronting mountainous issues and shrinking them into molehills by the sheer dint of his personality. As a public schoolboy and a Cambridge University graduate, he somehow found the nerve to put himself at the disposal of Pontypool RFC, then the most blue-collar of rugby clubs as well as just about the best in Britain.

Butler enjoyed a prosperous career as a player and then became the voice of rugby for the BBC

Their fearsome reputation had persuaded a few English clubs, notably Leicester, to break-off fixtures rather than continue to run the risk of being beaten up at Pontypool Park on a wet Wednesday night. The posh newcomer with the matching accent soon found out why.

The new No 8 survived the initiation, albeit at the expense of the standard broken nose, gave as good as he got and soon won the respect of a pack which included such tough hombres as the ‘Viet-Gwent’: the all-Wales front row of Bobby Windsor, Charlie Faulkner and Graham Price.

Butler loved Pontypool and they loved him, calling him ‘Bamber’ as in Gasoigne of University Challenge fame. A hard-school apprenticeship toughened him up for promotion to the Test arena. Unfortunately, his six-match reign as captain in 1983 coincided with Wales in the deepest of recessions after the feast of the sumptuous Seventies.


In post-rugby life, he went on fighting his corner, from the early days as a frustrated assistant producer at BBC Wales through the years before he got the recognition his ability demanded.

His interests extended far beyond the narrow confines of sport to major issues, like Welsh independence. Post-Brexit politics made Butler a convert to the cause but not blind to the weakness of the argument.

‘There is a terrible lack of self-confidence in Wales,’ he said earlier this year. ‘There’s no question that we, in general, do not feel we are strong enough and even brave enough to take the responsibities of governing ourselves.’

The broadcasting world far beyond Wales will be all the poorer for a story-teller who still had so much more to give, one who went closer to proving himself a jack of all trades and master of everyone.

He is survived by his wife Susan and six children.

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