Doug Mountjoy, Welsh former miner turned star of the late 1970s snooker circuit – obituary

Telegraph Obituaries
Doug Mountjoy in action at the Crucible Theatre, Sheffield, 1980s - David Muscroft/Shutterstock
Doug Mountjoy in action at the Crucible Theatre, Sheffield, 1980s - David Muscroft/Shutterstock

Doug Mountjoy, who has died aged 78, was a snooker champion whose shot-making skills and liking for colourful ruffled shirts became familiar to millions of television viewers during the 1970s and 1980s, as the BBC’s coverage of the game transformed its profile and turned its stars into household names.

A former coal miner, Mountjoy only turned professional at 34 after winning the World amateur title in 1976. His victory led to an invitation to the Masters event the following year. He defeated Fred Davis and Alex Higgins en route to the final, where he saw off his fellow Welshman, Ray Reardon.

Mountjoy continued this sensational start to his career by winning the Pot Black title and the UK Championship the year after, and then the 1979 Irish Masters. With Reardon and Terry Griffiths, he helped Wales to claim the first two World Challenge Cups, adding the Champion of Champions trophy for himself in 1980.

An attack of Bell’s palsy, which affected his ability to blink, then afflicted him for a time. Mountjoy had recovered sufficiently by 1981 to reach the final of the World Snooker Championship itself. In the semi-final, he racked up what was then a record for the competition with a break of 145.

His opponent in the final, however, was Steve Davis. He proved too strong for Mountjoy in taking what would be the first of six World titles, ushering in his domination of the game. By contrast, Mountjoy had by the late Eighties started to slip out of the Top 16 rankings, his decline culminating in a 13-1 defeat to Neal Foulds at the 1988 World Championships.

In despair, Mountjoy turned to the coach Frank Callan, who told him that he could no longer play by instinct and instead rebuilt his cueing action. When Mountjoy arrived at Preston’s Guild Hall, the venue for the 1988 UK Championship, he was 100-1 outsider to win the title. But he revenged himself on Foulds, and by the time he played Griffiths in the semi-final was so relaxed that he went to sleep in his dressing-room during the interval.

Mountjoy was then 46. Facing him in the final was the 19-year old prodigy, Stephen Hendry, but the likeable Welshman again defied predictions to win by 16 frames to 12, making three consecutive century breaks on the way. He took home £88,000 in prize money. He quipped “My bank manager won’t believe this” – then almost doubled his winnings by triumphing in the Mercantile Classic a few weeks later.

Doug Mountjoy - David Muscroft/Shutterstock
Doug Mountjoy - David Muscroft/Shutterstock

Douglas James Mountjoy was born at Tir-y-Berth, near Caerphilly, on June 8 1942 and grew up around Ebbw Vale. He followed his father down the pit and once survived being buried when a roof fell in. In the evenings, he would play snooker, winning the Welsh amateur title in 1968. Mountjoy subsequently claimed the Welsh professional championships five times.

Ranked No 5 in the world in 1991, for many years he was the oldest player to have participated in the finals of the World Championships. Shortly after having done so at 50, however, cancer was discovered – he had been a heavy smoker – and he had a lung removed.

His troubles did not end there. An acrimonious falling-out with his son-in-law, who had been his manager, led to claims of funds being misappropriated. Faced with large debts, Mountjoy declared bankruptcy in 1995 and his house was repossessed. He subsequently worked as a coach in Dubai before returning to Wales, where he continued to play snooker in working men’s clubs.

His wife Yvonne predeceased him and he is survived by a son and a daughter.

Doug Mountjoy, born June 8 1942, died February 14 2021