Saturday, July 1, 2017

Butterflies on wheels: 24 to 30 June 1967

Kent were second in the table by the end of this week after a rain-induced draw against Northamptonshire and a strange game at the Oval that was a two-and-half-day funeral dirge before becoming an Iron Maiden gig on the last afternoon. The Times correspondent, John Silchester, was impatient with Kent’s “care-worn, over responsible” approach on the first day:

On the second day, on which only 173 runs were scored, Silchester was prepared to make the “dully difficult” pitch take its share of responsibility. Like his colleagues around the country, he was impressed by Norman Graham:

Set 250 to win, Surrey batted with an aggression absent in the game thus far, a triumph of “mind over marl” for Silchester. Edrich and Stewart put on 133 for the second wicket, taking Surrey to a position of 111 to win from 95 minutes with nine wickets left. But no other batsman reached double figures as Underwood’s slide-rule accuracy and variations of pace removed both partners and three of the rest as those nine wickets mustered just 38 between them. 

Who was this John Silchester, with his shrewd observation and pleasing phrases? Why had I not heard of him before? It should have been obvious given that Silchester was a Roman settlement just north of Basingstoke, the home town of John Arlott, who took the name as his Times identity, the Observer having exclusive use of his real name. As a disguise it was as effective as a comedy moustache. It was in January 1967 that The Times had started giving its correspondents a byline. For the best part of two centuries before that they had been anonymous. Has there ever been a better collection of cricket writers on one paper at one time than Woodcock, Gibson, Arlott and Thomson? It was in the following year that Arlott became the cricket correspondent of The Guardian, under his own name.

As we approached high summer county cricket was becoming more peripatetic. This week Peterborough, Colchester, Bournemouth, and Lydney were among the Championship venues. Gloucestershire played at Lydney, the other side of the Severn in the Forest of Dean from 1963 to 1969. At least by 1967 the Severn Bridge was in place; before then it would have taken a couple of hours to drive there from Bristol.

Gloucestershire have long been cricketing missionaries, taking their message to new places in the county and beyond. During my 19 years in Bristol I watched them play at home at eight grounds, one more than Kent home venues at which I have got out the binoculars and scotch eggs. Those eight include Moreton-in-Marsh (another long drive from Bristol, especially for the one ball of a 1991 Sunday League match that they got in before the rain came), Swindon (in the shadow of the main stand of Swindon Town FC), the Wagon Works and Archdeacon’s Meadow in Gloucester, and three grounds in Cheltenham. Beside the College, there was the Victoria Ground against the Indians in 1986 and the Dowty Arle Ground for a Benson and Hedges zonal game in 1992, both because of building work at Bristol.

The defeat of Surrey moved Kent to second in the Championship, four points behind Yorkshire, who had a game in hand. Leicestershire slipped to third, drawing against Somerset thanks to a fifth-wicket partnership of 148 between Barry Dudleston and Jack Birkenshaw. Dudleston made the first of his 32 first-class hundreds. Regular readers of My Life in Cricket Scorecards will know that Dudleston was to become my personal ski instructor almost two decades later, so commemorating his maiden century is the least I can do. No cricketer has had his name misspelled more often than Barry and The Times marked the occasion by doing so in two different ways; Duddleston in the headline and first two paras and Duddlestone thereafter. 

England won the second test in four days despite losing two half days to rain. A first innings of 386 was enough for a winning margin of an innings and 124. On paper they don’t look a bad side, with Pataudi, Wadekar, Borde and Hanumant Singh among the batsmen and the quartet of four great spinners. But they were mostly at the start of their careers and inexperienced in English conditions; having no fast bowlers worth the name didn’t help either.

In the wider world the big news story of the week was the trial of Mick Jagger, Keith Richard and others on drugs charges. Jagger was sentenced to three months for the possession of four pep pills (as they were called then) which he had purchased legally in Italy, but which it was technically illegal to bring into Britain. This spurred the editor of The Times, William Rees-Mogg (father of Jacob Rees-Mogg) to write his most famous leader “Who Breaks a Butterfly on a Wheel?” in which he stridently condemned the sentence.

Fifty years later, today’s Times features an interview with Jagger in which he describes that edition of The Times being delivered to his cell: “The Times was thrown through the slot in my cell door, and thudded and hit the concrete floor of my cell and I thought, ‘What the f*** is that?’ I thought, ‘Well, that’s nice, they’re delivering me The Times’.” A lovely story, but had Mick scanned the front page more carefully he would have read an account of his release from Brixton prison on bail the previous afternoon.

Wimbledon’s first week was in progress. It was the last amateur championship and the first British outside broadcast in colour. This was independent of the black-and-white coverage and required its own commentary, which was provided, rather bizarrely, by the DJ Keith Fordyce. 

David Dimbleby was a Panorama reporter in 1967, though this didn’t stop him writing to The Times in support of Israel, a freedom of expression that he and other BBC presenters do not have today.

Arlott, Swanton and the Soul of English Cricket

In the same package as this year’s Wisden , there arrived Arlott, Swanton and the Soul of English Cricket , co-authored by Stephen Fay ...