Well- loved programmes from the world of wireless
The idea that a ball by ball radio commentary on a cricket match could prove appealing was initially dismissed as nonsense. However, a BBC producer called Seymour de Lotbiniere, nicknamed “Lobby” and at six feet eight inches a giant of a man, thought otherwise. In due time he was proved correct and Test Match Special has since evolved into a national institution.
Often referred to simply as TMS, the programme has widened in scope to include not only test matches but T20 ( Twenty20), other limited over formats and also professional county cricket in all forms and competitions.
The first live radio broadcast on cricket is believed to have been as far back as 1927 but it became popular when Howard Marshall, a man of wit and wisdom, and the precursor of things to come, began his garrulous style during the Thirties. Coverage then gradually increased until the arrival of Test Match Special in 1957.
At the time, televised sport had yet to take off with cinema newsreels weeks behind so the radio was still king and, as far as cricket is concerned, remains so for thousands of its avid followers.
What makes TMS so special? The answer lies in the varied selection of people taking part who are so good at their job that the cricket becomes almost secondary. Add in the
metaphorical chocolate cake and other goodies sent in by listeners then one has the ideal mix of humour and competitive sport.
Many commentators, presenters, and ex- professionals have taken part down the years but nobody has, or ever will, overtake the listeners’ enthusiasm for Brian Johnston ( Johnners). Joviality does not come close to describing his character and who can forget him helpless with mirth when Jonathan Agnew ( Aggers) wound him up over an unfortunate double entendre. One of his spoonerisms is unprintable but his alleged classic clanger “The bowler’s Holding, the batsman’s Willey” is claimed to be apocryphal. However, unbridled glee was heard in the commentary box when Johnners really did say something unintentional but hilarious. After a long pause following a batsman’s collapse after being hit somewhere extremely painful, play restarted with his comment “One ball left”!
Apart from Johnston several others have made a name on the programme. E. W. Swanton ( Jim) started in 1938 and was a large man who ran his own invitation team. However, he didn’t appreciate being lampooned as he was once live on air. When he saw all the cricketers and umpires
walking towards the commentary box he expressed puzzlement but was then silenced when the spokesmen shouted up “We can’t concentrate because there’s too much noise coming from a large object up there!”
Rex Alston began in 1945 and managed 20 years. Meanwhile the quiet Hampshire burr of John Arlott lasted from 1946 until 1980. Never short of a pithy comment, when George Mann of England was bowled by Tufty Mann of South Africa he said “Mann’s inhumanity to Mann!” On another occasion he described a streaker interrupting play as “.... not very shapely and it’s masculine — and I would think that it’s seen the last of its cricket for the day!”
Other familiar commentators have included Neil Durden- Smith, Robert Hudson, Peter West, Christopher Martin- Jenkins, Tony Lewis, Don Mosey ( nicknamed The Alderman by Johnston because of his demeanour), Jack Bannister, and the unmistakable Henry Blofeld ( Blowers) who recently retired to great acclaim.
In many respects Blowers epitomised the programme because he was able to talk about anything and everything with admirable enthusiasm. Whether it was the pigeons strutting in the field or a London bus going past the Oval, it mattered not one jot, and his bonhomie and “dear old thing” became the stuff of legends.
What other sports programme has proved so enjoyable whether or not the match was actually taking place? Indeed, some have argued that Test Match Special is at its best when play has been interrupted by rain or bad light because the inevitable interviews and chit- chat are so warm and friendly. Typical was when ardent cricket fan William Roache
( Ken Barlow in Coronation Street), was interviewed and was desperate to commentate on the first ball after lunch. His offer was politely but firmly rebuffed.
In addition to the commentators one must also mention Peter Baxter, producer from 1973 until 2007, and scorer Bill Frindall who succeeded Arthur Wrigley who retired in 1966 after 32 years with his pencil and scorebook. Frindall, nicknamed the Bearded Wonder and a compiler of obscure cricketing data, was 42 years in the job!
Summarisers were also an important part of the team and tears were shed in 1999 when both Fred Trueman, the former Yorkshire fast bowler, and Trevor Bailey ( Boil), the former Essex all- rounder were sacked to make way for younger men. Trueman’s “I don’t know what’s going on out there!” and Bailey’s gentler summaries are still missed by many.
Current summarisers include Vic Marks ( The Vicar), Phil Tufnell ( Tuffers), Geoffrey Boycott, Michael Vaughan, and Graham Swann. Pranks have become commonplace and a particularly clever one was played on Boycott by the rest of the production team when Aggers pretended that some of Geoffrey’s test centuries were to be wiped from the record books because they involved unofficial tours. Boycott was almost speechless, an unusual fact in itself, before Aggers declared it was “a complete windup” to which the ruffled Yorkshire response was “You muppet!”
Many overseas commentators have enjoyed time on TMS, perhaps the best known being Tony Cozier from the West Indies. In short, the programme is so well regarded by listeners that when it was announced it might be removed from Radio 4 Long Wave, intervention arrived in the shape of John Major, himself a regular and keen cricket enthusiast.
TMS — long may it continue.
This popular little book appeared in the Fifties, aimed mainly at those listening to the radio because live televised cricket was still a rarity.
The 1978 TMS team, from top left clockwise: Tony Lewis, Henry Blofeld, Christopher Martin- Jenkins, John Arlott, Don Mosey, Fred Trueman, Brian Johnston, Trevor Bailey, and scorer Bill Frindall.
In less than a decade Armchair Cricket had grown from the small green book opposite to this grander affair, still edited by Brian Johnston.
In the box with the Bearded Wonder, Aggers and Johnners.
E. W. Swanton ( left), broadcast cricket on the radio from 1938 until 1975, his nickname “Jim” being a diminutive of “Jumbo” as he was a large baby! Rex Alston ( right) began cricket broadcasting in 1945 and commentated on many other sports as well.
Tony Cozier ( left) was for many years the voice of West Indies cricket while John Arlott ( right) was regarded by many as the voice of English cricket. Both men were well respected by their colleagues.
An outstanding TMS duo, Henry Blofeld ( left) and producer, Peter Baxter.