Jackie Rea, who has died at the age of 92, was one of the original eight players who contested the BBC programme Pot Black in 1969, which showcased the advent of colour television in Britain by putting snooker into living rooms across the country.
Such was the popularity of the game that snooker was transformed from folk sport to a multi-million pound professional enterprise, making household names of its best players and providing endless TV drama.
It came too late for Jackie, a popular and gregarious man, who was 48 when that first series was broadcast, but he enjoyed a lifetime of snooker in various roles and, for him, enjoyment was the most important part.
Rea began playing at the age of nine in the Dungannon pub managed by his father.
After the second world war, he won the 1947 Irish amateur title and turned professional, winning the Irish professional championship, a title he held, bar one defeat, until Alex Higgins beat him in 1972.
There was never a worse time in history to be a snooker professional than the 1950s, when support for the World Championship, built up by its original champion and promoter, Joe Davis, dwindled following the 15 times winner’s retirement.
Rea reached three world semi-finals and, in 1957, lost to John Pulman in the final in Jersey, after which the event ceased.
It was revived as a series of challenge matches in 1964 but did not go open again until 1969. Rea reached the quarter-finals as he did again in 1970, but by now his best years were behind him.
But he was a popular booking on the exhibition circuit, which players relied on to bolster often meagre on table earnings.
In terms of patter, trick shots and general entertainment, Rea invented the type of snooker exhibition later perfected by the likes of John Virgo and Dennis Taylor, which were not just about players turning up and playing club members but providing comedy and laughs, which would guarantee return bookings.
Rea retained his professional status, pitching up at qualifiers as much for the love of the game as any thoughts of reaching venues.
He won the odd match here and there but was eventually relegated from the circuit in 1990, at the age of 69.
Rea had been something of a mentor to Alex Higgins, although they once came to blows after the volatile Higgins insulted Rea’s wife, leading Rea to fell the Hurricane with a well aimed punch. The two resumed their friendship soon afterwards.
Rea had won the 1955 News of the World tournament, worth £500, but the snooker boom came too late for him to benefit.
In many ways, though, he was an early trailblazer not just for snooker but for snooker professionals: for how they could project their personalities and characters.
His funeral will be held in Cheadle Hume, Cheshire, where he lived for many years.