Close of play

23 September 2017

9:00 AM

23 September 2017

9:00 AM

This retiring is a hectic business. When I said in June that it was going to be my last year with Test Match Special, it never occurred to me that I would have to do much more than float quietly into the sunset. Yet I suddenly became a much greater object of interest than I had managed to be in my previous 46 years behind the microphone. In no time at all, I found myself sitting on Andrew Marr’s sofa, before shifting to Piers Morgan’s boudoir for Good Morning Britain. And on it went. I flitted from studio to studio and on the journeys in between I was bombarded with calls from local radio stations as far apart as Radio Cornwall and Radio Norfolk.

On one such journey, a remarkable coincidence occurred. The evening before, my wife Valeria and I had talked for a long time about TMS and all the adventures I have had. I remarked that one sadness was never establishing any contact with Howard Marshall, who pioneered cricket commentary before the war. In a wonderful voice, his commentary on Len Hutton making 364 at the Oval against Australia in 1938 was highly recognisable as the start of what we do in the commentary box today. Marshall himself was dead and I never made contact even with someone who knew him. My agent Ralph Brünjes and I were snarled up in traffic on the Embankment by Chelsea Old Church when he received a message from his office. Apparently a lady who was a relation of Marshall’s wanted to speak to me. We arranged to meet. She said that when Marshall died she had inherited a number of his things, including a picture he had painted of the tavern side of Lord’s from the top deck of the pavilion. She wanted to give it to me.

She and her husband brought it round to our house. It is charming, with that tall black chimney still in place far back on the other side of St John’s Wood Road. Seeing that chimney always reminds me of when the Australians were playing a Test match at Lord’s in the 1950s, and the mildly irascible former Australian opening batsman Jack Fingleton was working for BBC television. Alongside him was the formidable Jim Swanton of the Daily Telegraph, a figure who would have made Bismarck look to his laurels. When this huge chimney suddenly started to belch smoke, Fingleton said immediately, ‘I see Jim Swanton’s been elected pope.’

During the Lord’s Test against South Africa I was asked to ring the five-minute bell before the start on the Saturday. This privilege is normally reserved for former Test players so I was greatly honoured. Michael Vaughan appointed himself my main advisor. He assured me that, when holding the bell, the two-handed interlocking grip was the way forward. He also suggested, somewhat mischievously, that as it was the five-minute bell, I should clang away for the full five minutes. The MCC secretary Derek Brewer, who actually supervised my performance, told me that Dickie Bird had also intended to do this and had to be restrained. The members gathered in force below the balcony of the Bowlers’ Bar where the bell hangs. When the moment arrived, I gave it six deafening clangs. What fun it was.

I was also selected to commentate on the second Test against South Africa at Trent Bridge, a special joy for me as it is my favourite Test ground. I played there in a first-class match in 1959 when that great Australian all-rounder Keith Miller turned out for Nottinghamshire against Cambridge University in one of his last games, and made a hundred. My main thrill this time came on the first day. I was taken during the lunch interval to a bus stop in the neighbouring Loughborough Road where I launched a new gleaming green Number 6 bus with ‘Henry Blofeld OBE’ painted on the front of the bonnet. Nottingham City Council was thanking me for all my years of spotting its buses at Trent Bridge. I wonder what Robin Hood would have made of it.

And so to my final Test at Lord’s, where for three days the full-house crowds were so encouraging it felt more than faintly surreal. On the third and final day my last spell of commentary passed off smoothly enough. When I finally handed over to Ed Smith, there was only a mild skirmish when my headphones became inextricably entangled with my binoculars. At the end, I walked all the way round the ground between the boundary rope and the stands and the full house crowd stood and cheered me to the echo. It was wonderful, but I have to say I found it slightly embarrassing. It was all so staggeringly unbelievable. Then Joe Root, the England captain, asked me up to the dressing room for a glass or two of champagne and presented me with a shirt signed by the England players. I also spotted Alastair Cook holding his one-year-old daughter with scarcely a fumble and much more certainty than he had held any recent catch at first slip. She is a brave young lady. What a day.

Listen to Henry Blofeld on the Spectator Podcast.

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