Sum­mer just won’t be the same with­out Henry!

Ali­son Mitchell pays trib­ute to com­men­tat­ing leg­end Henry Blofeld, who re­tired af­ter the third Test at Lord’s

The Cricket Paper - - NEWS -

As we all clapped, Henry looked gen­uinely touched, and then he seemed a lit­tle sur­prised to hear the gen­er­ous ap­plause that was sweep­ing around the stands

My dear old thing…” Sum­mers won’t quite be the same in the Test Match Spe­cial box af­ter Blow­ers bowed out of com­men­tary on a bright and breezy fi­nal day of the Test match against the West Indies at Lord’s. The change­able weather that Satur­day matched his unique blus­tery and ec­cen­tric style. And so it was, that af­ter a lap of hon­our at the end of the match (sug­gested by the MCC) and a visit to the Eng­land dress­ing room (by in­vi­ta­tion of the cap­tain), the sun even­tu­ally went down on a re­mark­able 45 years in the TMS box.

I will miss Henry’s hearty “good morn­ing!”, his mis­chievous chuckle, his quirky at­tire and, of course, his colour­ful com­men­tary.

Henry made no se­cret of the fact that his de­te­ri­o­rat­ing eye­sight in re­cent years had made com­men­tary harder than it used to be (“lis­ten­ers will now be re­lieved to know that their chances of be­ing told the right name of the field­ers at third man and fine leg have greatly in­creased” – he wrote on an­nounc­ing his re­tire­ment) but what I al­ways loved when lis­ten­ing to Henry was his sense of ex­cite­ment and abil­ity to build an­tic­i­pa­tion ev­ery time the bowler ran in, cou­pled with his vivid de­scrip­tions of the scene in front of him.

When the lis­tener is re­ly­ing on the com­men­ta­tor for pic­tures, the tini­est de­tail can bring an au­dio com­men­tary to life in the mind’s eye. One such line that sticks with me, out of many, was his de­scrip­tion, once, of an ap­par­ently enor­mous furry black bum­ble bee that was hov­er­ing out­side the com­men­tary box win­dow. It was “hang­ing in the air like a Christ­mas Pud­ding”. I im­me­di­ately had the im­age of a fat and round, gi­ant black fuzz-ball loi­ter­ing omi­nously in Henry’s line of vi­sion. He took great de­light in bring­ing a sense of play­ful­ness to any scene.

I was pleased to have been at Lord’s to share in Henry’s last match and to be amongst the team gath­ered in the com­men­tary box to ap­plaud him from the air­waves when he fin­ished his fi­nal stint of com­men­tary.

With Mark Stone­man and Tom West­ley pick­ing off the runs for Eng­land, it was easy to judge that play wouldn’t go on long enough for Henry to get an­other stint, and so as he set­tled in along­side Tuf­fers for what would be his fi­nal 20 min­utes as a TMS com­men­ta­tor, it was nat­u­ral for the rest of us to come to­gether grad­u­ally in the box be­hind him. When I ar­rived, there were al­ready tears in the eyes of pro­ducer Adam Mount­ford at how this was “the end of an era”. It truly was.

I didn’t ex­pect Henry to say any­thing too pro­found or self-in­dul­gent as he took the head­set off for the last time. He thanked the lis­ten­ers and re­marked how they had all been say­ing they would miss him. He added, “But I tell you what, I’m go­ing to miss you some­thing dread­ful.” There was then a very en­dear­ing and typ­i­cally Blow­ers mo­ment, when he had to crane for­wards to read the rota be­fore he signed off, as he had for­got­ten who he was hand­ing over to. When he an­nounced that it was Ed Smith, he sim­ply de­clared, “how lovely!” and that was that. Once he had un­tan­gled his head­phones from his binoc­u­lars’ strap, 45 years of Test Match Spe­cial com­men­tary was at an end.

As we all clapped, he looked gen­uinely touched, and then he seemed a lit­tle sur­prised to hear the gen­er­ous ap­plause that was sweep­ing around the stands out­side the com­men­tary box as well. We had to tell him to look out of the win­dow and see that the ap­plause was for him.

On the TV footage of his good­bye, you can see how peo­ple lis­ten­ing in the stands be­low the me­dia cen­tre were cran­ing their necks to look up at the com­men­tary box and sa­lute Henry as he bade farewell. It was a fond mo­ment – and well cov­ered by Sky Sports as well, who recognised Henry’s con­tri­bu­tions to cricket writ­ing and broad­cast­ing over the years and, of course, his pop­u­lar­ity as a per­son­al­ity.

The pub­lic don’t al­ways get the op­por­tu­nity to show a broad­caster how ap­pre­ci­ated and loved they are un­til it’s too late.

When Blow­ers an­nounced his re­tire­ment back in June, my mind went back to our friend and for­mer col­league Christopher Martin-Jenk­ins, who died too soon, in Jan­uary 2013 from can­cer. He was only 67, and had he been able to con­tinue com­men­tat­ing up un­til a mo­ment of his choos­ing, he too would have been ap­plauded from the air­waves (as much as it would have em­bar­rassed him).

Henry was con­scious of this and he and I talked about CMJ and oth­ers, on the Fri­day in the com­men­tary box. Blow­ers told me how over­whelmed he’d been at the out­pour­ing of trib­utes to­wards him when he an­nounced his re­tire­ment, and he felt very for­tu­nate that he’d been able to step down on his own terms and soak up ev­ery­thing that had hap­pened since. I’m glad Henry has had that op­por­tu­nity, too.

So we will miss Blow­ers in the TMS com­men­tary team, but he will be busy with his many other ac­tiv­i­ties, and I know we will still see him at Test matches when he is back from what will be­come his new base in Menorca. He may even make the odd ap­pear­ance on the pro­gramme with a story or two. I hope to still meet up with him and his lovely wife Va­le­ria for the oc­ca­sional lunch as well.

By the time this is pub­lished, we will have en­joyed a pri­vate re­tire­ment din­ner with Blow­ers, which is sure to fea­ture much cham­pagne.

In the mean­time, the cricket con­tin­ues, and I will al­ways be mind­ful of the ad­vice given to me sev­eral years ago by Blow­ers to paint the whole pic­ture for the lis­tener, to go into all four cor­ners of the can­vas and not just the 22 yards in the mid­dle. He also told me to never try to im­i­tate an­other com­men­ta­tor. “Be your­self.”

It is ad­vice that the inim­itable and unique Blow­ers fol­lowed to the let­ter.

PIC­TURE: Getty Im­ages

Lap it up: Henry Blofeld on his lap of hon­our fol­low­ing Eng­land’s third Test vic­tory at Lord’s

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