Who was Royal Brougham?

The legendary baseball broadcaster Jack Buck passed away recently, and longtime Seattle Mariner broadcaster Dave Niehaus was reflecting upon that loss.

Niehaus talked about how, one by one, the last remaining old-school announcers were beginning to leave us. The guys who had begun careers by "cutting their teeth on the radio" by doing radio only.

In the days before TV had become a regular part of experiencing a ball game, radio was true art that required the work of a true artist. Usually it is easy to spot the old-timers, as they are perhaps not quite as photogenic as their younger counterparts, and have a kind of grizzled passion for, and deeply ingrained knowledge of, whichever game they report on for a living.

That also goes for the print media, where the styles have certainly changed.

In Seattle these days, we have our mainstays. There exist the likes of Steve Kelley, Blaine Newnham, and Dawgman.com readers' personal favorite, Art Thiel. All three are columnists that provoke readers to think, laugh, and scream.

However, whenever the words "Royal Brougham" are uttered, it usually involves the giving of directions, as the street named for him runs right by Safeco Field. A Google or Yahoo search utilizing his name brings about the term "Royal Brougham Way" several times, but in virtually every link, addressing the street but not the man.

At one time he meant much more to Seattle than simply the name of a street. His impact is such that not only did the city name a main street after him, they also named a sports pavilion as well as a public transportation station in his honor.

One of his last hurrahs professionally was at the 1978 Rose Bowl (an amusing story I shall soon get to), yet his career started back in the days of "Gloomy" Gil Dobie and Enoch "Baggy" Bagshaw!

Brougham had a very folksy way of writing, usually conveying a neighborly approach to his readers. At the peak of his popularity, from about 1935-1955, Royal Brougham's fan mail surpassed that of all other P-I writers combined.

As the late Emmett Watson described Brougham, "He often wrote against a backdrop of pain and private sorrow . . . Royal's old Underwood typewriter was battered and worn. From many years of use, the keys were slicked down to bare metal; the painted letters had disappeared so that each key was bright, shiny- and blank. Also worn down to the metal was one spot in front of the space bar, a small area which Royal nervously rapped with the side of his balled-up fist as he strained for just the right word or phrase, a sentence with punch in it to quicken the beat of the story."

Continued Watson, "He had an uncanny sense for what quickened a reader's interest, for what held a reader and brought him back day after day."

He also managed to stir up both people's angst, as well as conscious, throughout the years. When the Slush Fund Scandal hit the University of Washington in 1955, Roscoe "Torchy" Torrance publicly decried how Brougham was not lending support to him despite reportedly false rumors being bandied all about.

He made a point of rallying for the cause of de-segregating Seattle's golf courses and bowling alleys. He publicly chided and pushed the University of Washington for being so slow to recruit talented local black athletes.

In the 1940s he publicly lamented (and was rough) with the downfall of the great George Wilson.

Perhaps the greatest Husky football player of all time, the former legendary running back of the 1920s had fallen in with alcohol and tough times. The two finished on good terms at the 1960 Rose Bowl, when Brougham invited Wilson into Washington's winning locker room, where the former Husky was stunned to see that the current players knew all about who he was. (Wilson would die just three years later, alone upon a San Francisco loading dock).

Brougham was creative and generous. During the period of World War II, he spearheaded the promotions that raised over $250,000 for servicemen recreation.

He also crafted some lines that have certainly never been uttered in the English language before, such as "Hi Diddle Diddle, Robin Earl up the Middle".

Earl was the huge 250-pound fullback from Kent, Washington, that wore #99 for the Huskies in the early 1970s.

He sometimes was self-serving in his column and his comments, and yet had a heart full of generosity. At the worst point of the Great Depression, word came from Randolph Hearst's office in New York that all workers were receiving large pay cuts. His workers would only find that out ten years later, as Brougham took money from his own salary to maintain the guys working under him at their same salaries.

As beautifully described by Emmett Watson, "the office he reigned over was an incredible gaggle of characters: half-illiterate copy boys, drop-in drunks, pastors, priests, politicians, athletes, gamblers, pimps and promoters. Brougham (who never drank) had a strange attraction for boozers, especially Joe Ryan, the self-styled ‘Mayor of Bothell', who staggered in regularly to disrupt Royal's concentration."

In Husky circles, Brougham is best remembered for what occurred following the 1978 Rose Bowl. The Huskies had just stunned the college football world with a thrilling 27-20 victory over the two-touchdown favored Michigan Wolverines. Now on in years, Brougham was there in somewhat an honorary role, though he did file his column prior to kickoff.

When the game was over, Brougham left the press box and made his way into the bus, which was to take Washington back to its hotel. He admitted later how he was taken aback by how glum everyone on the bus was, and of how incredibly silent the ride was.

Brougham had mistakenly boarded the Michigan bus. No one said anything to him during the ride, and Royal didn't figure it out and find his way back to the proper hotel until well after midnight.

The Seattle-PI had a hoot over this, and promptly ran a front-page story detailing his misadventures.

When Royals Brougham's time on earth was up, it somehow seemed appropriate that God decided to take him from his home away from home – the press box. It was in the Kingdome that he collapsed, and in a local hospital he died, a short time later.

He was a great writer who presided over Seattle's sports scene in the city's truly formative years.
Derek Johnson can be reached at djohnson@dawgman.com.

Photo of Royal Brougham courtesy of College Publications Archives.

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