Edinburgh Fringe 2015
Messrs Blofeld and Baxter, two doyens of Test Match Special, share an hour of amusing travel themed anecdotes from a century’s experience of travelling the world, 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 cerise 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 Ashes 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 Spiegeltent in the Assembly’s George Square Gardens. A world map is pinned behind a couple of chairs, with a table containing the inevitable decanter and a Wisden 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 but this year’s show unearthed a few more from the treasure trove, including one from the charmingly naïve (and sadly missed) Christopher Martin-Jenkins whose fishing analogy involving Daniel Vettori and his rod just got him into deeper and deeper water as he forgot that golden rule of commentating – when in a hole, put the shovel down. I won’t steal their thunder by mentioning more but each brought a smile to the face of the packed audience.
This travel-themed hour allowed the pair to recount various tales of woe, many of which were centred on India and the damage spicy food can do to the untutored western digestive system. Indeed, this frailty nearly led to dear old Blowers appearing in a test match for England until that stalwart of the game Micky Stewart discharged himself from hospital to fill the breach, so to speak. And a veritable legion of the great and the good featured in a series of amusing stories (Brearley, Cowdrey, Gower and Greig to name but a few), each delivered with warmth, droll humour and a twinkle in the eye.
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. Time has been called on this game at the Fringe, but they will no doubt resurface, perhaps at a cricket club near you. Thoroughly recommended for anyone with an interest in the game of cricket.