Tuesday, 25 September 2012

My Dear Old Thing blows in

CRICKET has always been one of the passions of my life so it was especially enjoyable to be asked to compere an unforgettable sporting evening at Axminster Guildhall on Sunday.

Like all cricketing fans, I’m a huge admirer of BBC Radio’s Test Match Special and if I could choose my dream job (other than editing Pulman’s View, of course), I would like to be a member of that commentary team.

A key and legendary member of the TMS team is Henry Blofeld, a wonderfully eccentric English toff who has a worldwide following and who is in much demand on the speaking circuit.

Henry - or Blowers as he is known to his fellow commentators - was booked to appear at Axminster on Sunday in a fundraising event for the locally-based ARC charity which offers counselling and psychotherapy, helping more than 200 local people every year.

It says much for the universal appeal of Henry Blofeld, whose catchphrase is “My Dear Old Thing”, and the admiration for the work of ARC, that 240 people bought a ticket for £15 at a time when it’s very difficult to fill a hall for any event.

The evening was superbly organised by the ARC committee, led by Catherine Davies and helped by Tom O’Donnell, a professional events organiser in London whose family run the Volunteer Inn in Lyme Regis.

I arrived early to meet Henry before the show started and he told me he was feeling a little “fuzzy” because he had been celebrating his birthday the night before.

“It turned out to be a seven bottle job, dear boy,” he told me in those distinctly rich and plummy tones. Henry, of course, is renowned for his love of wine and even has his own label which he sells at his speaking engagements.

He kindly gave me a bottle of a very acceptable white Burgundy.

Test match commentaries from Henry and his colleagues are about much more than just cricket. As regular listeners will know, the delivery of various cakes to the commentary box at Test matches is the subject of much discussion and enjoyment; even the Queen gave them one on a visit to the Lord’s Cricket Ground. 

Henry tells a lovely story of how fellow commentator Jonathan “Aggers” Agnew asked the Queen, much to the embarrassment of his colleagues, whether she made it herself. To which Her Maj replied: “No, but it was prepared under close personal supervision.”

Henry could have been a professional cricketer himself, having played for Eton and scoring a century at Lord’s for the Public Schools XI,  a feat only equalled by cricketing greats Peter May and Colin Cowdrey, had he not been involved in a serious accident when he was knocked off his bicycle at a young age, putting him in a coma for a month.

He dabbled with banking after being sent down from Cambridge but loathed life as a city gent. Cricket was always going to be his future, as it was the only thing he was good at, and after writing on the sport for various national newspapers he finally got his big chance to join the Test Match Special commentary team. He readily admitted that you can’t really call it a job as they had so much fun.

Henry has undoubtedly had a colourful life, to say the least, chronicled with great humour and pathos in his biography A Thirst For Life, copies of which, along with his other books, he sold after appearing at the Guildhall on Sunday.

Whilst there were a number of familiar faces from cricketing circles in this area (Les Haynes is pictured chatting with Blowers after the show), including several from Cloakham Lawn and former Chardstock stalwart Frank Huddy, the audience also numbered many of the fairer sex for whom Henry clearly had great respect. 

He spoke for more than two hours and recalled a number of non-cricketing episodes in his life including staying with Ian Fleming on his honeymoon and some hilarious tales when he dined with Noel Coward and Sir Lawrence Olivier, which the ladies clearly loved. They did not seem to be too offended by his fruity vocabulary either. 

He also had some wonderful stories about his much lamented former colleague Brian Johnson - “Jonners”.

Knowing Henry’s predilection for the finer things in life, the ARC committee presented him with a cake before the show and I got the audience to sing “Happy Birthday, Blowers,” which pleased him no end.

At the end of a marvellously entertaining evening, Henry spent a good half hour signing his books and selling his bottles of wine.

He was then off to stay the night at a B&B in Dalwood and then on to Truro for his two-man show with TMS producer Peter Baxter.

At the age of 73 he shows no sign of slowing down and does about 100 speaking engagements a year. 

A night to remember, my dear old things! 


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