JIM WHITE

TEST MATCH SPE­CIAL

The Oldie - - PURSUITS -

When Henry Blofeld signs off for the fi­nal time from Test Match Spe­cial in Septem­ber, we can ex­pect he will make rather more of the mo­ment than the great John Ar­lott did, when he re­tired, back in Septem­ber 1980.

‘Af­ter a word from Trevor Bailey it will be Christo­pher Martin-jenk­ins,’ was the last we heard from the great­est of all cricket com­men­ta­tors, be­fore he headed off to the West Coun­try to spend more time with a well-rounded claret.

Blofeld, you feel, will be a lit­tle more flam­boy­ant in his de­par­ture. When he wraps up his broad­cast­ing ca­reer at the tail end of the Third Test against the West Indies at Lord’s, he will rel­ish the mo­ment with a flour­ished ob­ser­va­tion about a but­ter­fly flut­ter­ing on the com­men­tary box win­dow ledge. Or a pi­geon flap­ping in the out­field. Or maybe – if he is be­ing true to form – by misiden­ti­fy­ing the guy field­ing at third man.

For 45 years (with a brief di­ver­sion to Sky), Blow­ers has been en­ter­tain­ing lis­ten­ers with his whimsy, his chuck­ling asides and his com­ments about pass­ing dou­ble-decker buses, de­liv­ered in an ac­cent which sug­gested he had not so much a plum in his mouth as the en­tire prod­uct of the Vale of Eve­sham.

So fa­mil­iar did he be­come that his catch-all greet­ing when he couldn’t re­mem­ber a name has be­come a phrase lodged in the col­lec­tive con­scious­ness. How we will miss the Dear Old Thing.

But for those of us brought up on the glo­ries of TMS, it does not mean this is the end. Blow­ers may have gone, but the show will go on, as it did when Ar­lott left; as it did when Bailey grouched for the last time; or when CMJ was cru­elly and pre­ma­turely taken from us.

This is what TMS does: it ab­sorbs new per­son­nel, cre­ates new forms of de­liv­ery, keeps it­self rel­e­vant; care­fully, with min­i­mal fuss or fan­fare, it adapts to the times. As a model for broad­cast­ing longevity, it has few equals.

I’ve lis­tened for at least fifty of its sixty years, in­tro­duced – in a man­ner fa­mil­iar to many of the faith­ful – by my fa­ther.

An aca­demic, Dad spent his sum­mers glued to the tele­vi­sion, ap­par­ently mark­ing fi­nals pa­pers while his at­ten­tion was wholly ab­sorbed by the new ways Eng­land’s bats­men had dis­cov­ered to fail.

But the thing was that, while he was watch­ing the ac­tion un­fold on the screen, he had the tele­vi­sion sound turned down, pre­fer­ring the ra­dio. That, he in­sisted, was where the best pic­tures came from.

So it was that I came to love Jon­ners and Blow­ers and Ag­gers, and all the other over­grown school­boys who have oc­cu­pied the TMS box. Over time, my af­fec­tion for the show has hardly loos­ened.

And that’s de­spite the pres­ence of Ge­off Boy­cott, a man whose ev­ery ob­ser­va­tion about his mother waft­ing a stick of rhubarb in­spires a Pavlo­vian lurch for the off-switch. Yet there are those who find his flat­tened Fitzwilliam vow­els and grumbly things-ain’t-whatthey-used-to-be mis­an­thropy com­pelling. That’s the thing about TMS: among its rota of com­men­ta­tors, we can all find not just a per­sonal idol, but a favourite baddy.

One friend took against Blow­ers af­ter the Dear Old Thing got di­verted dur­ing a test match against Zim­babwe when, with Eng­land need­ing four off the last ball, his at­ten­tion was seized by a pass­ing African crow and he for­get to men­tion the score.

Over the years, the cast has changed. So has the com­pe­ti­tion. Were Dad still around, he might pre­fer to keep the sound up on the ex­cel­lent Sky cov­er­age. As­tute TMS pro­ducer Adam Mount­ford brought in his own mod­ern range of ex­per­tise: Michael Vaughan, Ed Smith, even Phil Tufnell, when not ban­ter­ing.

Mount­ford added Daniel Nor­cross to the mix, crow­bar­ring him from the ri­val on­line out­fit Test Match Sofa to give voice to the stat nerd in us all. Dur­ing the Women’s World Cup this sum­mer, there has been a rich and re­ward­ing in­cur­sion of fe­male voices, led by the su­perb Ali­son Mitchell, the best of the new guard.

Post-blow­ers, there is no need to panic. We TMS fans are in safe hands.

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