Edinburgh Fringe 2014
Messrs Blofeld and Baxter, two doyens of Test Match Special, share an hour of amusing anecdotes from a century’s experience of watching cricket.
Test Match Special, or TMS as it is known the world over, is an institution. It’s been a part of the BBC since I was a very young boy, and that’s quite a long time – nearly sixty years in fact. And Peter Baxter (or Backers to his friends) and Henry Blofeld (or Blowers to his) have been associated with the programme for most of that time. Backers was the show’s producer from 1973 until his retirement in 2007. And Blowers, sporting a magnificent pair of bright red trousers, has been remarking on the progress of buses down the Vauxhall Road and the state of health of the pigeon population since 1974. He’s still going strong having commentated in at least one of this season’s Test matches.
So, taking into account the other cricketing experiences of these two septuagenarians, there’s well over a century’s worth of anecdotes that they can draw on to grace their hour in the Pleasance Dome. A comforting pair of armchairs is set beneath some waving palms with cricket books (including the inevitable Wisden) scattered generously over a coffee table as Baxter plays the role of gentle interviewer and Blofeld that of charming raconteur in this never less than amusing canter through some of the highlights of their TMS days.
Cricket is a game ripe with potential humour, given that it’s played with balls and seems to be populated by commentators with a love of innuendo and a proclivity for Spoonerisms. And as each day of TMS involves around seven and a half hours of unscripted commentary, it’s inevitable that the odd glitch is going to occur.
Famous ones have included the unforgettable “leg over” incident in 1991, recalled affectionately here by our duo with the added bonus of a snatch of the original commentary which went viral, even in those pre-internet days and can still be found on many websites, including that of the dear old Beeb. Another was that almost certainly apocryphal remark from the mid 1970’s, attributed to the late Brian Johnston, of “The bowler’s Holding, the batsman’s Willey.” I won’t steal their thunder by mentioning more but each brought a smile to the face of the packed audience.
Johnners was indeed the source of quite a few stories, but others made their impression. The much missed Christopher Martin-Jenkins’ timekeeping was a constant source of amusement to those in the TMS box and John Arlott, that doyen of radio broadcasters, was apparently much more lyrical after a lunch that incorporated a goodly infusion of quality claret. And we couldn’t get through a talk about TMS without a few stories about the many cakes they receive. They’ve even received one from Her Majesty. Mind you, it was a fruit cake so one wonders whether Ma’am was in fact expressing a view on the sanity of those who inhabit the TMS box.
If this hour was in any way scripted, then it didn’t show. It was more like a conversation between two individuals with a wealth of material, an innate sense of comic timing and the ability to hold an audience gently in the palm of their hand. Whilst the focus was on cricket and those who follow the game, there’s was also enough that wasn’t bat and ball related to keep anyone with an enjoyment of a shaggy-dog story amused.
As far as this cricket-lover is concerned, they could still be talking. Thoroughly recommended for anyone with an interest in the game of cricket.