Edinburgh Fringe 2013
Blofeld and Baxter
Neil O'Brien Entertainment Ltd
Venue: Pleasance Courtyard
Festival: Edinburgh Fringe
Two of the titans of UK cricket with a side-splitting show full of memories from within the Test Match Special commentary boxes from all over the world. The fun spills out from the most famous grounds to taxis, buses, beaches, deserts and hotels. Anecdotes never before heard of legendary players, in every sense of the word, from the last forty years are finally aired. A sporting institution, Peter Baxter was the brains behind BBC’s Test Match Special for 34 years and Henry Blofeld, OBE is one of Britain’s most loved broadcasters.
From out of the Test Match Special commentary box come two of the most familiar voices in cricket – or anywhere for that matter. There are quite a few Yorkshiremen waiting in line to enter the venue. On one level this might seem surprising. What use could the dour lads and lasses of James Herriot country have for this kind of St. James’ clubland merriment? Only a few minutes are required to recall that amid all the Blofeld and Baxter brand tonic is a wit as dry as dry stone walling.
We enter to find a set decked out like the terrace of a private member’s club bathed in a West Indian sunset. Two very comfortable looking club chairs nestle amid potted house palms. A well-thumbed copy of Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack stands proud on a coffee table sitting on a colourful rug. For such a minimalist set, the lighting is hugely effective. The sun is well over the yardarm. It’s gone gin o’clock. The chaps themselves are stylishly decked out. Dapper in a can-you-speak-up-I-can’t-hear-you-over-that-loud-cravat kind of way.
The stories come fast and slick. Commentary mishaps. Travels far and wide. Gossip about the great personalities of today as well as yesteryear. The anecdotes are like well polished auld chestnuts familiar in tone and content to anyone who cherishes a yarn spun well. The boys are naughty but always nice.
What bowls me for 6 is the uncanny knack they have developed of letting the other one finish their story before beginning to speak themselves. If music hall telepathy ever comes in for a revival they will top the bill. There are several radio DJ’s appearing at EdFringe ‘13. After a while, like almost everyone else brought up on Radio 4, I find the bright young things of the music stations rather grating. The false enthusiasm. The turgid banter. What makes the cultivated TMS sound so unique is the long standing bromances shared by the leading commentators. There is no rutting and no competitive challenges passing between them.
Their masculine bonhomie is like the more effective periods of kingship in Sparta. They are dual monarchs of the glen whom Landseer would have been proud to paint. Like all good couples they are fun to be around.
For all that this production is a showcase of two masterly performances, a schooling in the raconteur’s art, this is not an hour those unfamiliar with cricket may choose to spend. The cricket widows of Yorkshire in attendance look wistfully down the programme of other events they will be missing on the drive back south along the A19 – no sense in spending brass on B&B for one show lass.
Even so, Blofeld and Baxter is unmissable for anyone with a love of all that these two titans of the spoken word have brought into our homes in the decades of their discourse.