Episode 74: Two festive offerings from 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.

The incomparable Henry Blofeld switches on the festive lights as the guest of Peter Oborne and Richard Heller in their latest cricket-themed podcast. Henry explains his choice of the nailbiting finishes in the cricket matches beautifully described in his latest book Ten To Win… And The Last Man In. He also describes his recently-completed project: a three-part documentary of his full and vivid life.

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Henry opens with a simple theory to explain England’s Ashes successes in Australia – or more recently, failures: the presence or not of reliable opening batsmen. Minute 1

As to the book, Henry distinguishes the matches he actually saw, to which he gives some personal perspective and the earlier historic ones which have always fascinated him. These begin with “Spofforth’s match” in 1880 (“I was late for that one”). Nearly all of them are Test Matches, which he regards as the highest form of the game, although one pushed to the margins by the proliferation of shorter-form competitions. 2-5 minutes

One exception is “Fowler’s Match”: Eton versus Harrow 1910. Henry tells the hilarious story of the senior Etonian who abandoned the match in despair only to hurtle back to Lord’s in mid-haircut on learning the score in Harrow’s second innings. He reflects on the melancholy casualties among the players in the Great War, but also describes the huge social significance the fixture retained, with fashionable crowds in tens of thousands attending the two matches he played in the 1950s. 5-11 minutes

Another non-Test match he selected was the surprising victory of the side selected by the veteran former England captain, Archie MacLaren, over the all-conquering Australian visitors of 1921. It was watched by MacLaren’s chief cheerleader, Neville Cardus: the hero was another veteran, Aubrey Faulkner. 12-17 minutes

Turning to his choice of the Sydney Test between Australia and England, Henry describes its hero, Frank Tyson, and shares Don Bradman’s assessment that he was the fastest bowler of all time. Henry describes a memorable confrontation of his own with Tyson after he had retired from cricket and was living in Australia – provoked by a borrowed sweater. 21-24 minutes

He reflects on Bradman, whose massive accumulation of runs is remembered less fondly than the artistry of Victor Trumper and Ranjitsinhi. He describes two delightful memorabilia of Ranjitsinhi which were recently given to him. 25-27 minutes

Henry is able to share his love and knowledge of P G Wodehouse, by recording his presence in the crowd at “Jessop’s Match”: England’s victory at the Oval in 1902, earned with a legendary last-wicket stand between George Hirst and Wilfred Rhodes. Another spectator was a schoolboy who would become the playwright Ben Travers. Henry recalls his excited recollections of the match (in his 90s) as a guest on Test Match Special.  28-30 minutes

One of the great finishes Henry saw himself was the draw in Georgetown in 1968, earned by England’s last pair, Alan Knott and Jeff Jones, against the West Indies. He reveals the remarkable content of their mid-pitch conference before the last over, faced by Jones, a number 11 with no batting pretensions, against the great Lance Gibbs. His experience in the press box that day leads him to describe his up-and-down relationship with E W Swanton. 31-36 minutes

Henry defends his choice of the 1957 Birmingham Test, when Peter May and Colin Cowdrey wore down the West Indian spinner Sonny Ramadhin with pad play in a massive stand. Ramadhin bowled 98 of the 258 overs in the England innings: it was no consolation to him that the Laws of cricket were changed to prevent a repeat performance. It leads Henry to  mention the record sequence of maiden overs bowled by the Indian spinner, Bapu Nadkarni, at a touring England side in the 1960s of which he (Henry) nearly became an emergency member. 37-44 minutes

Henry outlines the three one-day matches he selected, including the 2019 World Cup Final and the Women’s World Cup Final in 2017, won for England through a late burst of wickets by Anya Shrubsole. They had shown the same dramatic unpredictability which made his Test Matches so memorable. 44-47 minutes

Henry then describes the shooting at his beautiful home in Norfolk of the documentary of his life, in substitution for a planned theatrical tour wrecked by Covid. It has been edited into three half-hour sections. The first deals with his cricket upbringing, in Norfolk and then at Eton and Cambridge, terminated by an innings defeat at the hands of the examiners. The second tells the story of his escape from the City into cricket reporting, commentating and broadcasting, the third is about his post-broadcasting life, including theatre and television, the Best Marigold hotel, and cruise ships. He describes his other home in Menorca and its delightful (and arduously created) cricket club. 48-56 minutes

Ten To Win…And The Last Man In is published by Hodder & Stoughton.

The documentary, At Home With Henry, can be downloaded from Henry’s Twitter feed @blowersh from December 18.

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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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