Episode 22: Talking with MCC’s Head of Heritage and Collections Neil Robinson

Cricket authors (and obsessives) Peter Oborne and Richard Heller have launched a new podcast to help deprived listeners endure a world without cricket. They chat regularly about cricket topics – hoping to keep a good line and length but with occasional wides into other subjects.

Neil Robinson is the MCC’s Head of Collections and Heritage at Lord’s. He is responsible for one of the world’s greatest collections of sporting art, artefacts, and memorabilia, as well as a constantly expanding Library of over 20,000 books and complete collections of journals, many rare, as well as the MCC Archive, a treasure trove for historians and not only of cricket. Previously the MCC’s Librarian and head of research, he has given unstinting help to thousands of writers on cricket.

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Neil describes the scope of the collections (up to 5,000 works of art or artefacts, hundreds of thousands of photographs) and its nineteenth-century origins, especially the efforts of Sir Spencer Ponsonby-Fane, an MCC grandee associated with the club for no fewer than 75 years. The oldest photos show the first English overseas cricket tour, of the USA and Canada, in 1859 as well as the sheep used to crop the field before the lawnmower was invented in the 1860s. Two other historic photographs show the English playing cricket in Yokahama, Japan, in 1863: amid great tension, the sides carried weapons on the field to defend themselves from expected attack by samurai.

Neil also mentions the first English cricket tour of Australia in 1863 – as a late substitute for a cancelled tour by Charles Dickens (a cricket fan).

He describes the restoration at the Natural History Museum of one of the most popular artefacts – the sparrow killed in mid-flight by a ball from Jehangir Khan (father of Pakistan’s Majid Khan). The gender of the bird has finally been established.

Neil describes the efforts to build up the audio archive of over 200 cricketing interviews, to make the collections, especially the portraits, more representative of non-English countries and of women, and to put more of the collections online, a priority heightened by the temporary shutdown of the Lord’s Museum and the ending of tours. The collections are to be reviewed in the light of current concerns over associations with slavery and colonial oppression.

Neil reveals the amazing Victorian romance hidden in the Ashes urn – and his own remarkable experiences in transporting it to Australia as part of a (non-cricketing) exhibition.

He describes the creation of his own cricket book –  Long Shot Summer  – the history of England’s deeply troubled Test match year of 1988.

Finally, Neil describes some of the vital historic materials in the MCC Archive, especially records of all the England tours organized by MCC as late as 1968. He explains the gaps caused by the haphazard way records were preserved before the Archive was begun in 2006.

Peter Oborne & Richard Heller

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.

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.