TEST MATCH SPECIAL
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.