That’s over

One of the most recog­nised voices on the ra­dio will no longer be heard after Nor­folk-born Henry Blofeld signed off from Test Match Spe­cial for the last time. He spoke to TONY WEN­HAM about his life in cricket

EDP Norfolk - - Inside - An Evening with Henry Blofeld, Jar­rold, Thurs­day 9 Novem­ber, 6.30pm. www.jar­rold.co.uk/events

A fond farewell to Nor­folk­born cricket com­men­ta­tor Henry Blofeld

HE WAS just half an hour from an un­likely Eng­land cap... Henry Blofeld, that is – the dis­tinc­tive RP voice of Test match cricket, the bum­bling bon viveur and all-round na­tional trea­sure. But don’t be fooled: some grit went into the pro­duc­tion of this pearl.

The 1963-64 Eng­land tour of In­dia was not go­ing well as the dreaded Delhi belly gripped the team. On the morn­ing of the Bom­bay Test, Eng­land were re­duced to 10 fit men and the hap­less Guardian scribe Henry Blofeld was on stand-by.

When told by the tour man­ager that he might play, Henry ap­par­ently replied that he would cer­tainly play if needed, but if he scored 50 or up­wards in ei­ther in­nings “I was damned if I would stand down for the Cal­cutta Test”. In the event, a de­bil­i­tated Micky Ste­wart rose from his sick bed and took the field, deny­ing our hero the ul­ti­mate ac­co­lade.

In fact, less than a decade ear­lier, Henry Blofeld was prob­a­bly the best school­boy bats­man in the coun­try, cap­tain­ing Eton Col­lege, play­ing for Nor­folk and scor­ing a cen­tury at Lord’s against pro­fes­sional op­po­si­tion. Fu­ture se­lec­tion for Eng­land on merit was a real pos­si­bil­ity.

Then tragedy struck. He rode his bi­cy­cle un­der a bus and was un­con­scious for a month. “When I came back. I just wasn’t the same player,” he ex­plained on a re­cent visit to Nor­wich, ahead of his last Test Match Spe­cial

(TMS) broad­cast after 47 years dur­ing the fi­nal Eng­land-West Indies Test at Lord’s.

“While I was re­cov­er­ing at home, the Eton cap­tain in ab­sen­tia, I had to lis­ten to the Har­row match score on the ra­dio news. I blubbed.”

Henry, now 78, was still good enough to earn a cricket Blue at Cam­bridge (if not a fi­nal de­gree) and rat­tle the Lord’s picket fence again with an­other cen­tury. De­spite the ad­van­tages of a priv­i­leged up­bring­ing on the Nor­folk Broads in an an­cient landed fam­ily, its sec­ond son had to make a liv­ing, and the City of Lon­don called – briefly.

The in­com­pa­ra­ble PG Wode­house is of­ten in­voked in any en­counter with Henry. For fans of the Psmith and Mike sto­ries, how­ever, Henry’s bank­ing days are the clos­est it comes; any com­par­i­son with the well-heeled id­iot Ber­tie Wooster is erroneous, for Henry has al­ways had to make his own way in the world.

“Ex­ist­ing in Lon­don on £360 a year plus lun­cheon vouch­ers was jolly dif­fi­cult, es­pe­cially with my ex­trav­a­gant tastes,” says Henry, who lists his favourite hobby as ‘drink­ing wine’, fol­lowed by ‘eat­ing food’ and ‘go­ing out’.

The for­mer Times cricket cor­re­spon­dent John Wood­cock eased Henry into jour­nal­ism and a post at The Guardian be­fore he was picked up by the BBC.

Henry, known by mil­lions of TMS fans around the world for his ob­ser­va­tions on pass­ing pi­geons and buses, was ed­u­cated early in the art of cricket com­men­tary. “They said you have to paint the scene,” he ex­plains. “You want the lis­ten­ers to say: ‘You made me feel as if I was there.’”

While the old rules still ap­ply as TMS cel­e­brates its 60th year, the voices in the com­men­tary box are chang­ing – more es­tu­ary English, pro­fes­sional pun­dits and now women.

“TMS like ev­ery­thing else re­flects so­ci­ety,” says Henry. “My voice is very un­fash­ion­able these days, al­though I like to think it is not self-con­scious and has a cer­tain hu­mour to it. I do think the ladies should be as good as the men, and there is no ques­tion that they are.

“So I don’t think TMS will miss me. I’ve only done about five or six Tests in the last five years... In a way, I’ll be re­lieved. I’m the last of the old farts.”

He may have signed off from TMS but his many fans can keep up with him at the Mad­der­mar­ket The­atre in Nor­wich this month in a two-man show with for­mer Eng­land off-spin­ner Graeme Swann and then next May at the Mad­der­mar­ket as well as dates at Hun­stan­ton. Oh, and there’s a new book, Over and Out, pub­lished this month.

“It’s go­ing to be a lot of fun,” says a happy Henry with a hand­shake and (fi­nally): “My dear old thing.”Š

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