Episode 102: Wendy Wimbush – fifty years of keeping but never settling scores

Cricket authors (and obsessives) Peter Oborne and Richard Heller launched a podcast early in 2020 to help deprived listeners endure a world without cricket. They’re no longer deprived of cricket, but still chat regularly about cricket topics with different guests each week – cricket writers, players, administrators and fans – hoping to keep a good line and length but with occasional wides into other subjects.

Wendy Wimbush has given a lifetime of service to cricket. She is best known as the BBC scorer in the 1970s but has also worked in other capacities in other countries and with some of the most famous names in cricket. She is the guest in the latest edition of the cricket-themed podcast by Peter Oborne and Richard Heller. In Peter’s unavoidable absence, Roger Alton takes up the attack.

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Wendy describes her entry into scoring, aged 11, as a clergyman’s daughter who was “good at sums.” When her father formed a male cricket team he set her to work with Diana Rait-Kerr’s celebrated but challenging manual on how to score. In their first match, the opposition’s experienced scorer guided her efforts and she was captivated then and forever after by the magic of cricket numbers and the complex task of making them reconcile. Blessed with great powers of concentration, she has never had to allocate imaginary runs to batters or bowlers as so often happens in lesser cricket.  1-3 minutes

Wendy did not follow any structure for progress in her career: she scored for pleasure as a spectator at county matches in Kent and would regularly answer requests for detailed information from neighbours. “I was doing my job before I even knew it existed.” She also kept scrapbooks on England and Kent cricket. One wet day at Lord’s in 1972, she was spotted by the BBC scorer, Bill Frindall, pasting cuttings in her book. He invited her to the commentary box – and just three weeks later she was scoring her first game for the BBC. Others followed and then came another surprise – an invitation to work for E W “Jim” Swanton, the legendary cricket correspondent and close-of-play summarizer. 3-6 minutes

She gives a revealing portrait of Swanton, belying his crusty image and suggesting how deeply he had been marked by his ordeal as a Japanese prisoner of war. Proudly she describes her duties (typing, editing, researching, keeping notes for him when he left the press box) as the “amanuensis” for the man she addressed for years as “Mr Swanton”. She especially relished being vindicated when he questioned her identification of a fielder who had taken a catch. 7-9 minutes

Wendy describes her meticulous preparations for meeting likely information requests in the days before the answers could be summoned by computer. Everything was typed and assembled into a pack for press people and commentators. She prepared separate cards with vital information for each player and kept four updated in readiness for each moment of play – two bowlers and two batters. She cannot remember being stumped by a request for information – or handing a colleague the wrong player’s card. Her duties also included creating captions rapidly and accurately.  She is scornful about some of the pointless statistics given out now. 18-22 minutes

Working for Swanton and earning his trust gave her authority in the male-dominated cricket world of the 1970s. She did not have to break a glass ceiling. But she narrates two sexist incidents which would now be thought shocking but were then considered routine. 10-11 minutes

She lists her three idols, Richie Benaud, Ted Dexter and Tom Graveney. She especially admired Benaud’s gift for silence in commentary and ordinary conversation. She had worked for Ted Dexter after Swanton and pays tribute to his unique and multi-dimensional personality. Travel with him was exciting when he elected to fly his private six-seater aeroplane. He prepared her to take over if anything happened. His motorbikes and cars were almost as exciting. She reveals his regular cricketing anxiety dream. 11-18 minutes

Wendy describes her experience in the press box in the English summer of 1977, when there were rumours of a secret major development for the touring Australian cricket team. It was a time of subdued conversations hastily abandoned. She was actually working for the Australian manager, Len Maddocks, and rushed to join him at Hove when the news of the Packer scheme leaked at a party given by Tony Greig. She recalls the shock and disappointment of the four Australians not selected by Packer, and her efforts to calm one of them, Kim Hughes, whom she admired deeply as a player. She also had a good relationship with Dennis Lillee, Jeff Thomson and Rodney Marsh, even after Lillee knocked her out – for once accidentally rather than deliberately, demonstrating his action in the commentary box. In common with other previous guests, she had a deep respect for the character of Ian Chappell, especially for his loyalty to former colleagues in adversity. 26-33 minutes

She had several encounters with Don Bradman, one in the aftermath of an asthma attack in the dust of Adelaide which forced her to leave the scorebox. The book for that session was in the amateur hands of Richie Benaud and Rodney Marsh. 33-36 minutes

Wendy worked in Australia for ABC in the aftermath of the Kerry Packer affair. She explains the personal and technical background to the invitation which came to her from Bobby Simpson (former Australian captain, later commentator and coach). In spite of Packer’s victory in securing broadcasting rights in Australian cricket, he did not have the reach to transmit through the huge distances of the Australian countryside, which still depended on ABC’s boosters. After a long legal battle, ABC won back the right to transmit cricket there. Wendy enjoyed eleven years of escape from English winters working for them. 22-25 minutes

Wendy describes her long service to the Cricket Writers Club as Treasurer and Assistant Secretary. The hardest assignment was organizing its annual lunch and corralling its attendees. 45-47 minutes

Returning to the art of scoring, Wendy recalls its early history with notches and sticks. Very early on in her career, she had evolved her own system with coloured pencils based on a linear grid rather than the orthodox scorebook. It made it much easier to reconstruct a game ball by ball and record optional details,  and avoided the clutter (at lower level cricket) when a bowler bowls a great number of wides and no-balls. The tempo of modern cricket, with fewer dot balls, may have made life more difficult for scorers, but she is more concerned with the loss of subtlety and intricacy which she loved to capture when scoring county games at the start of her career. She is glad to have retired before cricket became swamped with T20 – and refrains from comment on the Hundred. 36-44 minutes

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Peter Oborne, Richard Heller & Roger Alton

Roger Alton, guest host for this episode, was formerly editor of The Observer and The Independent, and is currently the Sports Columnist for The Spectator. 

Peter Oborne has been the chief political commentator for the Daily Telegraph and the Daily Mail, a maker of several documentaries and written and broadcast for many different media. He is the author of a biography of Basil D’Oliveira and of Wounded Tiger, a history of Pakistan cricket, both of which won major awards.

Richard Heller was a long-serving humorous columnist on The Mail on Sunday and more briefly, on The Times. He worked in the movie business in the United States and the UK, including a brief engagement on a motion picture called Cycle Sluts Versus The Zombie Ghouls. He is the author of two cricket-themed novels A Tale of Ten Wickets and The Network. He appeared in two Mastermind finals: in the first his special subject was the life of Sir Gary Sobers.

Oborne & Heller cricketing partnership

Jointly, he and Peter produced White On Green, celebrating the drama of Pakistan cricket, including the true story of the team which lost a first-class match by an innings and 851 runs.

Peter and Richard have played cricket with and against each other for a variety of social sides, including Parliament’s team, the Lords and Commons, and in over twenty countries including India, Pakistan, the United States, Ireland, Spain, Portugal, France, Greece, Australia, Zimbabwe, New Zealand and Morocco.

The Podcast is produced by Bridget Osborne and James Willcocks at The Chiswick Calendar.

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