Timing was everything in the career of former world snooker champion John Spencer.

The Bury-born master of the green baize rose to fame just as snooker was taking off on British TV in the 1970s.

He became a household name on the popular TV snooker programme Pot Black, along with Ray Reardon, Fred Davis and Dennis Taylor, and won a string of national and international events.

Spencer also notched up a series of firsts. He won the world professional title at his first attempt, was the first winner of both the Masters and Irish Masters’ tournaments and was the first winner when the World Championship moved to the Crucible Theatre in 1977.

He was also the first player to make a maximum 147 break in a competition, although it was achieved on an untemplated table in 1979 and not officially recorded.

Spencer was born in Radcliffe, Bury, in September 1935 and started playing snooker on local tables at the age of 15.

He was runner-up to Ray Reardon in the English Amateur Snooker Championships in 1964 and again in 1965, this time losing to Pat Houlihan.

He finally won the trophy in 1966, beating Marcus Owen by 11 frames to five in the final.

Reardon turned professional later the same year and won his first World Championship in 1969 after his bank loaned him the £100 entry fee!

He lost the 1970 semi-final 37 frames to 33 to eventual winner Reardon, but beat Warren Simpson 37-29 in the 1971 final.



Spencer became a household name by winning the BBC TV snooker programme Pot Black in 1970 and 1971. He was runner-up in 1974 but defeated Dennis Taylor in 1976 final, becoming the show’s first triple winner.

All kinds of accidents befell Spencer in the 1972 World Championship which he eventually lost 37-32 to Alex ‘Hurricane’ Higgins.

Exhausted after a major tour of Canada, he was trapped in a lift and involved in a minor car crash on the way to playing the Irish star. In spite of this, Spencer graciously said Higgins won ‘fair and square.’

Spencer won the inaugural British Masters tournament at the West Centre Hotel in Fulham in 1975 after beating Reardon in a knife-edge final. Tied at eight frames apiece, the match was decided on a re-spotted black.

Spencer won the first ever World Championship at Sheffield’s Crucible Theatre in 1977, defeating Canadian Cliff Thorburn 25-21 in the final.

He was also the victor at the first Irish Masters in Goffs’ Sales Room, County Kildare, beating Doug Mountjoy 5-3 in the final round.

Spencer suffered from the neuromuscular disease myasthenia gravis in his later playing career. It gave him eye problems including double vision.

When news broke of the illness in 1984, Higgins called at Spencer’s house with a bottle of Bacardi. He had to drink it himself as Spencer was not allowed alcohol.

Although he kept playing, Spencer’s form never recovered. He made his final TV appearance in 1997 in a Seniors’ version of Pot Black.

He devoted much of his time to charity fund-raising in later life. He was diagnosed with stomach cancer in 2003.

Spencer died in Bolton at the age of 70 in July 2006.