Episode 34: “To take us to tea – and beyond”: the incomparable Henry Blofeld

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.

For over fifty years, there have been few pleasures to compare with spending a cricketing hour with Henry Blofeld. He is the joyous guest of Peter Oborne and Richard Heller in their latest cricket-themed podcast.

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Henry explains his philosophy as a radio commentator on TMS and elsewhere of making listeners feel part of a real cricketing event. If they hear only the events in the middle “it all becomes rather two-dimensional and not very warm or human.” Hence the buses, pigeons and colourful spectators which made his commentaries world-renowned. After his early nervous start on TMS, Peter Baxter, its long-serving producer, gave him a gentle encouragement to “go over the boundary” a bit more. “I think at times I’ve gone too far over the boundary ever since.”  1-4 minutes He has no regrets over the end of incidental detail for scene-painting in modern commentary, which he attributes in part to the demands of short-form cricket for constant updates of the score and match situation. 1-4,  57-59 minutes

He tells of his happy escape (very similar to that of Mike and Psmith in his beloved P G Wodehouse) from a joyless career in banking into cricket reporting,  through the good offices of John Woodcock, the great cricket correspondent of The Times. This was in 1962, when newspapers had far more cricket coverage and he fears that today’s trapped banker Blofelds would find it impossible to make a similar career change. 5-13 minutes  His later entry into commentary was almost equally fortuitous. 25-26 minutes

Henry’s brilliant career at a cricketer at Eton was halted by a horrific accident (with a bus). He gained a Blue at Cambridge and had a Minor County and first-class career but never reached the promised heights. He speaks candidly but philosophically about the physical and emotional impact of the accident, and his determination throughout his career never to look back on what might have been and always to seek out new sources of excitement and fulfilment. 14-20 minutes

He shrewdly analyses his “Bertie Wooster”mannerisms and style of dress – and denies strongly that his unique tones owed anything to elocution lessons. (He comes from a vocally distinguished family.) 21-24 minutes  He uncorks a startlingly good imitation of John Arlott, while paying tribute to his  personal kindness and mentorship.  28-31 minutes Brian Johnstone was cordial but detached.  28-29 minutes E W Swanton (“the demi-god of the press box”)  gave him little help, apart from one job with fagging duties. 31-34 minutes That was on England’s 1967-68 tour of the West Indies. Henry offers insight into Basil D’Oliveira’s personal problems on that tour, and believes that like Fred Trueman on an earlier tour he was poorly supported by his captain and manager, Colin Cowdrey and Les  Ames. 48-50 minutes

He gives a warm and vivid tribute to the supreme stylist of the press box, and his great personal friend John Woodcock. He had unique powers of observation and analysis. He recalls their adventurous journey overland  from London to Bombay in 1976, their transport (a vintage Rolls Royce Silver Ghost) and their clothing in sharp contrast to the lorry drivers and hippies they met on the route. The last stages were marked by an unexpected cricket match in Tehran 38-39 minutes and the accidental purchase (and ingestion) of some strong hashish in Kandahar. 43-44 minutes When they heard over the radio commentary on a Test match between India and New Zealand they realized (like the two cricket-obsessed English characters in The Lady Vanishes) that they had regained access to civilization. 34-45 minutes

After years of interviewing players, Henry explains why he thinks their answers to questions have become more guarded and boring: partly the influence of corporate sponsorship and firm media coaching and control, partly the loss of intimacy and trust between players and journalists. 46-48, 50-51 minutes

Henry relays his love of his new home in Menorca, especially watching cricket matches in the remarkable Menorca Cricket Club, built on rough fields from which a million stones had to be removed: these once belonged to Richard  Heller’s mother. 51-53 minutes

Finally Henry speaks of his long personal and professional friendship with Peter Baxter of Test Match Special. He discounts an alleged dastardly plot by Baxter to remove him – a plot foiled by a national campaign led by Peter Oborne. Baxter understood cricket (unlike his predecessor Michael Tuke-Hastings) and Henry credits him with TMS’s many advances and growth in audience appeal. 54-57 minutes.

Get in contact with the podcast by emailing obornehellercricket@outlook.com, we’d love to hear from you!

Listen to more episodes of Oborne & Heller

Next episode – Episode 35: “Absent, caught fire” and other great moments from Scotland’s cricket heritage

Previous Episode – Episode 33: New Zealand cricket’s long journey to success

Listen to all episodes – Oborne & Heller on Cricket


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.

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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