Well- loved pro­grammes from the world of wire­less

Evergreen - - Summer 2018 - PETER WORS­LEY

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.

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