…their television sets…
For the Coronation service itself, an estimated 20.5 million people watched on 5 million sets (Midwinter, Class Peace, p.119).
‘glittering, glamorous, effulgent’ …‘This was the England I fell in love with…’
Both quotations are taken from the Prologue to Strong’s Coronation (2005), p. xxxvi.
Strong later became High Bailliff and Searcher of the Sanctuary at Westminster Abbey. In 1953, he was lucky enough to be selected for the forward procession and so returned in time to watch most of the coronation on the television, whose recent arrival ‘in the sitting room of the north London terraced house where I grew up was another major event’ (p. xxxv). The fleeting glimpses of the Queen in situ and on screen were ‘certainly images enough to haunt a stage-struck and historically inclined youth for the rest of his life’. Strong treasured the gold-embossed box all boys at his school were given for the Coronation: ‘In it we were to keep our shirt studs, a fact which immediately dates the object to a now vanished sartorial era.’
…the monochrome grey…
This is such a literary cliché in the period, but to stack up a few of the descriptions of post-war London: ‘unpainted, stained, cracked, dull…ruins, cellars, dark fogs’ (Doris Lessing); ‘a sky permanently dull and lowering, like a mewl dish-cover’ (Cyril Connolly); a ‘grimy, smoggy, dark, drab and depressing city’ (Gladstone Mills).
‘swell of popular sentiment’
Hutton, Fifty Years of Cricket, p.87.
Neville Cardus…told him to ‘go and win’ …
As Hutton recalled in a television interview with Donald Trelford: see A Tribute to Leonard Hutton, at about 46:45.
‘the Elizabethan spirit’
The Times, 11 June 1954, p.4. I am assuming Green was the ‘Cricket Correspondent’, unnamed according to the newspaper’s prevailing convention, as he was the journalist assigned to the series.
A Tribute to Len Hutton, at about 47 minutes in. Hutton talks of ‘quite a momentous year for English cricket and England in general’, referring specifically to 1953 being the year of Richards, Matthews and Everest.
a promise to his late father
Tossell, Great English Final, p.185.
‘the magic screen of television’
Times, 4 May 1954, p.3.
‘Here in the presence of the Queen…’
Times, 4 May 1954, p.3.
Blackpool came back from 1-3 down with 17 minutes remaining. The mythology of the ‘Matthews Final’, as Matthews himself always took pains to point out, tended to write its other main protagonists out of the script: Stan Mortensen, who was credited with a hat-trick (even if one of his goals would not survive inspection by a modern dubious goals panel), Bill Perry (who scored the winning goal and was one of the first ‘coloured’ footballers to make his way in the English game), Ernie Taylor (who was arguably the most influential Blackpool player on the day). There is a nice 1981 BBC documentary in the Great Games series, letting many of the players speak for themselves, that nearly does justice to all this in 25 minutes.
In his autobiography, Matthews, the model gentleman-professional, seemed happy to subscribe to the idea that the royal presence was a motivating factor: ‘I remember thinking as we left the outskirts of Blackpool behind, if ever there was a year for us to win the Cup, this was it. It was coronation year and the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh would be in attendance, her first major engagement as our new monarch. It was a great year to be British…’ (see The Way it Was, chapter 18). The prevailing structure of deference is also suggested by the panicked attempts of the Blackpool captain, Harry Johnstone, to find his dentures before he collected the cup from Her Majesty. Seven months after the final, Matthews and Johnstone would make another appearance at the Empire Stadium in England’s 6-3 defeat by Hungary. For Johnstone, who had even more trouble with the false nine Hidegkuti than with his false teeth, it was to be his last. The two Wembley fixtures, symbolising English virtue and English failure, resonate powerfully in football mythology to this day.
‘the nation’s feast of mystical renewal’
The Times had used this phrase of the Coronation in an editorial of 6 April 1953, entitled ‘Dawn of the Year’ (p.7).
Strictly speaking, Morris’s efforts meant that The Times was able to bring news of the conquest of Everest in its evening editions on 2 June, but I think it is fair to assume most people learnt about it on the morning of the Coronation itself. Lady Moira, one of the Queen’s maids of honour at Westminster Abbey, remembered she was ‘rushing her make-up’ for the Coronation ceremony when she heard the news of Everest.
‘an equal partnership of nations and races’
The Queen used this phrase in her 1953 Christmas Broadcast, made on tour in New Zealand.
The Queen also spoke in her Coronation broadcast of ‘the living strength and majesty of the Commonwealth and Empire, of societies old and new, of lands and races different in history and origins but all, by God’s will, united in spirit and in aim’ (Times, 3 June 1953, p.12).
The two mountaineers who reached the summit, Hilary and Tensing, were a beekeeper from New Zealand and an Indo-Nepalese ‘sherpa’.
a ‘British victory’
Jonathan Rice points out that, in their congratulatory telegrams, the Queen referred to ‘the British expedition’ and Prime Minister Churchill to ‘this memorable British achievement’ (1953, pp.69-70). Compare Conefrey, pp.11-12 and Mazzolini, pp.64-66. There is also a useful 1998 review article by Murray Sayle: ‘Toiling up mountains for sport is, beyond any doubt, a British invention’.
In its leader on the conquest (3 June 1953, p.7), The Times began by comparing Hunt to Drake, ‘laying a tribute of glory at his Queen’s feet’, and then reflected on the previous sacrifices of British ‘fellow-adventurers’ (it did then go on to register the different nationalities on the expedition and hail it as a ‘victory for the human spirit’). The News Chronicle, far from the most tub-thumping of British newspapers, celebrated how Everest had been ‘conquered by men of British blood and breed’ (3 June 1954, p.3).
For an article which collects – and deconstructs – more of these patriotic readings of Everest, see Gordon Stewart, British Reaction. There are several other academic treatments in this vein (for example Webster 2005, pp.94-98), but perhaps a more balanced introduction to the expedition for the general reader is Mick Conefrey’s Everest 1953.
The club had organised nine previous British expeditions…
I hope I will be forgiven for cutting a few corners here, in my attempt to draw out a few points in a sentence rather than an essay. The Alpine Club, the oldest mountaineering club in the world, has some parallels with MCC which is why I have emphasised its role. But, while the club was a driving force in Himalayan expedition, it usually combined with the Royal Geographical Society on joint committees for attempts on Everest. The number of previous British expeditions depends on whether one counts reconnaissance missions, so some would put the total at seven not nine. Brigadier General Bruce, an Everest veteran, was the original leader of the 1924 expedition but had to leave it due to ill-health and Colonel E.F. Norton assumed command.
‘no better omen for the beginning of a new Elizabethan age’
Country Life, 11 June 1953, p.1874.
Richards noted the added ‘piquancy’…
My Story, p.234.
Richards’s bad luck in the Derby had become proverbial. He had won his first Classic as early as 1930 but had endured 27 failures in the most important race of all. Richards admitted that he was ‘even more tensed up than usual’ in 1953 given that he knew his mount Pinza had a good chance and that his career was coming towards its end. His triumph was a sentimental story in any event but it provided occasions for patriotism (especially since French-trained and French-bred horses had been plundering many of the English Classics after the war) and sentimentality (his 90-year-old Newmarket landlady, Mrs Seamans, and his great supporter Fred Darling, who bred Pinza, both died within a few days of his Derby win). It would turn out to be Richards’ last ride in the race as he was forced to retire in 1954 after a paddock injury. The 1954 renewal, won by an 18-year-old Lester Piggott, marked a changing of the guard.
Tea was taken off rationing in October 1952. A more important milestone for children was February 1953, when sweets became unrationed.
Gubby Allen … returned home convinced…
It was at an MCC Selection and Planning Sub Committee, on 5 July 1948, chaired by Pelham Warner, that Allen observed it was ‘very objectionable’ for MCC to tour overseas three years running and suggested Australia’s visit to England be put back to 1953 (MCC Archive, MCC/CRI/1/2, p.103). See also Wilde, England, pp.142-43.
‘interest in England in a coming series…’
Fingleton, Ashes Crown the Year, p.26.
Fingleton actually made this remark in Marseilles on the basis of what English pressmen – including Charles Bray, Crawford White and Alex Bannister – told him when they boarded the Australian ship. But he quickly came to the same conclusion himself, saying that he had ‘never known’ such Test-match fever before (p.166). Bradman, enticed to report on the series by Bannister, did not arrive in England until 4 June.
7-page typed essay in the MCC Archive (HUTTON/TEMP 19), p.2 – ‘comfortably the most formidable combination I have faced’.
‘tremendous upsurge’ of support
Bedser’s article on ‘Cricket and Television’ was syndicated across the Thomson regional newspaper network, and made even the Fife Free Press (24 October 1954, p.9):
What caused this revival of interest in the game? I have little hesitation in giving first prize to BBC television. Before the great olive green pantechnicons of their outside broadcast department moved into the county grounds, there was a serious falling-off of interest in cricket…
Well, TV is starting to change that situation, I am glad to say. It is also bringing back people who have not watched cricket for years … The BBC has done a magnificent job in bringing the game right into the home and we players have made quite a bit of use of it, too.
If Bedser’s ghost writer may be responsible for the word ‘pantechnicon’, it seems to have been his genuine view that any threat to attendances at county matches would be outweighed by television’s capacity to ‘spread the popularity of the game’.
According to the Annual Register, ‘never before had test matches proved so enthralling; never before, certainly, had they been televised’ (p.45). This was not quite true – there had been limited TV coverage of Tests since 1950 – but 1953 does seem to mark the moment when the public strained to see live coverage, whether they owned a television or not.
In a 1955 episode of Hancock’s Half Hour, the eponymous hero visits the ‘radio shop in the high street’ staffed by a snooty Kenneth Williams:
Hancock: I’d like to have a look at your television sets.
Williams: Yes, they all do on Test match days.
as ‘spectators, listeners, viewers or daily readers’
Arlott, Test Match Diary, p. xi.
After the third Test, Fingleton talked of critics ‘thick in the crowd, thick over TV, thick over the air, and densest of all in our Press Box’ (Ashes Crown The Year, p.186).
In his editor’s notes to the 1954 Wisden, Norman Preston made a similar point about the ‘tremendous public interest’ aroused by the Coronation Ashes: ‘Modern publicity in the shape of television, sound radio and the Press, which brought even Sir Donald Bradman across the high seas again, gave the game a new impetus by introducing it into the homes of countless thousands of strangers’ (pp.80-81). As we shall see in Chapter 11, by the time Preston wrote these notes he was worried MCC’s negativity in the West Indies was ruining all this good work.
It did not rain much in the film but it rained on the Coronation…
The Final Test does begin with the comedy of the American senator, played by Stanley Maxted, trying to understand why a huge crowd is pleased that there is no play going on.
In the real world, rain interfered with the first and third Tests especially (only 13 hours 50 minutes playing time was possible at Old Trafford). And on Coronation Day it not only rained hard but was, for a June day, exceptionally cold – according to the Annual Register, not only was the temperature very nearly the lowest recorded in June so far that the century but the official reading was ‘distinctly flattering’ compared with those of ‘good London thermometers’.
Jonathan Rice’s mother had a ticket to watch the Coronation procession. He was unable to spot her on the television ‘acquired by father especially’ for the occasion, and was assured she had been in Piccadilly only when ‘Mummy returned wet through’ (1953, p. ix).
a ‘war to the knife’ … a ‘magnificent, somersaulting, unpredictable Test series’
Fay and Kynaston (in Arlott and Swanton, pp.105-106) juxtapose these two quotations, which were specifically in relation to the Lord’s Test.
For the original sources, see Swanton, Test Matches of 1953, p.58; Arlott, Test Match Diary, p.58.
Nearby, Swanton marvels at the ‘twists and turns of fortune’ (p.57) and Arlott uses the analogy of a ‘bullfight’ (p.59), so we should remember the series provoked both responses from both men.
‘some left the ground merely to queue up again’
Fingleton, Ashes Crown the Year, p.138.
the stands being less full
In their history, Lord’s 1945-1970, Diana Rait-Kerr and Ian Peebles point out that, although interest throughout the country was ‘intense’ on the last day, ‘the general assessment of England’s chances was reflected in an actual gate of no more than 14,000 people’ (p.91). Hutton remembered a ‘crowd of small proportions’ on Day 5, when he and Bedser ‘could hardly bear to watch or move in case a wicket fell’ (17-page typescript on 1953 series held in MCC Archive, HUTTON/TEMP 12).
‘the intense strain’ of the match-saving partnership
See Cardus in the Covers (pp.184-87) for a reproduction of Cardus’s report on a ‘panic gibbered’ afternoon of ‘intense strain’ – ‘what a see-saw of a game, denying augury’.
Rex Alston described the last day at Lord’s as his ‘tensest day in cricket’ (quoted in Rayvern Allen, Cricket on the Air, p.183).
Sir Robert Mark, who became Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, once wrote that ‘the two most memorable scenes’ he could recall from his forty years living in Manchester ‘were the sinking of the Bismark and in 1953 the almost all-day partnership of Watson and Bailey which denied the Aussies what seemed a certain victory and ultimately led to our regaining the Ashes’ (Martin-Jenkins and Seabrook [eds.], Quick Singles, p.73).
This undubbed BBC feature on the 1953 series contains some footage of the final day at Lord’s.
According to some reports, 2,000 people…
Fingleton seems to reflect the general view that 2,000 queued outside (Ashes Crown The Year, p.245). Bill Ferguson remembered an ‘unbelievable’ queue, which he numbered at 7,000 (Mr Cricket, p.108).
Brian Luckhurst…took the last train from Sittingbourne…
The Wisden essay on Luckhurst when it made him a 1971 Cricketer of the Year, partly for his efforts in Australia on Illingworth’s tour, begins with this anecdote.
The historian David Kynaston has collected…
Family Britain, pp.319-21.
Thatcher … proved impossible to contact for several hours …
John Campbell’s biography of the Prime Minister tells the story in more detail, and is rather sceptical about any suggestion Denis did not have permission from Margaret to go to the cricket – she was booked in for a Caesarean section.
Michael Parkinson watched the game on a miniscule television…
As he remembers in his introduction to the Pavilion Library reprint of Ashes Crown the Year, p. vi.
Harold Pinter, alone in a kitchen in county Galway…
Pinter, Various Voices, p.30.
John Major retired to the wireless more reluctantly…
As he remembered in a 2005 Times article. I have taken the liberty of assuming Major was already living in Brixton.
He was not the only youngster who had become wrapped up in the series. A sixteen year-old David Frith spent ‘all day in a cinema watching repeat showings’ of the newsreel of victory; an eight year-old Tim Rice became ‘hooked’ on cricket after following the gyrations of the Oval test.
higher audience appreciation ratings
BBC Written Archives, WC R9/6/13-24.
‘I can hardly believe that we shall ever endure again…’
May, A Game Enjoyed, p.45.
‘I do not remember anything like the tenseness…’
West, Fight for the Ashes, p.279.
‘certainly in Australia’s favour’
Page 14 of a 17-page typescript by Hutton on the 1953 series, held in the MCC Archive (HUTTON/TEMP 12).
Bailey acquired one of his nicknames – Barnacle…
It is commonly assumed this soubriquet stuck because Cardus ended his second-day report with this sentence on Bailey: ‘He is not only an anchor for England; he barnacles the good ship to the floor of the ocean (reproduced on p.242 of Cardus in the Covers). But it should be noted Crawford White was already calling Bailey ‘the barnacle’ earlier in the summer (News Chronicle, 18 May 1953).
Thomson, Cricket My Happiness, p.17.
‘a long tug of war’
West, Fight for the Ashes, p.279.
MCC had ‘regretfully refused’…
As reported by the News Chronicle, 19 August 1953, p.1.
The Times was one of the newspapers to report a statement by MCC Secretary Ronnie Aird, made after close of play on Day 3, that MCC had ‘decided to allow’ BBC to run television and radio coverage from 11.25am to the end of the match (19 August, 1953, p.6).
The coverage of the last overs, the pitch invasion and the balcony speeches are preserved here.
‘the crowd let themselves go as though a reproach…’
Swanton, Test Matches of 1953, p.160.
Describing the scenes at The Oval later in life, Kilburn called to mind the ‘surging thousands who made a lifetime’s memory from the outcome of a game’ (Thanks to Cricket, p.97).
For those old enough, there was also an analogy with 1902: another Coronation year (Edward VII’s crowning had been delayed due to illness) and another pitch invasion at The Oval after a famous finish with two Yorkshiremen at the crease (although Australia had already secured the Ashes).
‘There were no rations in an innings by Compton’
A canonical phrase, where there is a variant reading of ‘rationing’.
I must confess to not having been able to find the original Manchester Guardian article of 1947, but Frank Keating, a Guardian man, always quotes the line with ‘rations’. Cardus, writing a retirement tribute to Compton in Wisden in 1958, worked variations on the theme: ‘He lifted cricket into an atmosphere of freedom of expression’ in an age ‘increasingly standardised’.
Ten years earlier, reviewing the golden summer of 1947, R.C. Robertson-Glasgow called Compton and Edrich ‘champions in the fight against dullness and the commercial standard’ (1948 Wisden, p.45). Compare Ian Peebles (1971, p.52) on Compton as a symbol of ‘the spirit of man, released from bondage and danger’. The singer Ian Wallace felt that the ‘booster’ of watching Compton and Edrich against South Africa in 1947 ‘has stayed in my bloodstream ever since’ (Martin-Jenkins, Quick Singles, p.117).
The irony of all this was that Compton is reputed to have been the first British cricketer to engage an agent.
‘something I will never forget’
A Tribute to Len Hutton, at about 47 minutes in.
‘a workmanlike cricket figure’
Times, 20 August 1953, p.3. A report which also referred to his ‘modest Yorkshire accents’.
‘watching him it felt as if he was the victor of the whole world…’
Oborne, Wounded Tiger, p. xxvi. Fazal added: ‘Even I was shouting, “Hip hip hurrah!” I was also overwhelmed by the persona of Hutton and looked towards him with awe.’
‘Here on the balcony stands Len Hutton…’
A.A. Thomson, ‘O Captain! My Captain!’, News Chronicle, 20 August 1953, p.4.
It may be truer to say that Thomson was moonlighting as a civil servant, as his output as a drama critic, contributor to the Radio Times and novelist/historian was prodigious in the 1950s.
‘Pray God that no professional shall ever captain England!’
Another canonical phrase, which I have quoted in its usual form, although there are other versions and Geoffrey Moorhouse seems to assert that Hawke said ‘Pray Heaven’ not ‘Pray God’ (Lord’s, p.45).
I have seen it both ways in contemporary reports of Hawke’s speech, made to the Yorkshire CCC annual general meeting at the Queen’s Hotel, Leeds, 20 January 1925. Compare, for example, Westminster Gazette, 21 January, p.1 (‘God’) with Sheffield Daily Telegraph, 21 January, p.9 (‘heaven’).
It is important to remember that Hawke’s speech was, generally speaking, badly received at the time: see Wilde, England, pp.158-59.
…the world had ‘moved on a bit’
Hutton, in The Final Test – in dialogue with the old professional Sam Palmer (Jack Warner), the hero of the film who is destined, like Bradman, to score a duck in his final Test Innings. Hutton is trying to persuade Palmer to take a coaching job at Eton despite the old pro’s misgivings about the embarrassment he might cause should his bookish son win a scholarship to Oxford and mix with public-school types.
If Rattigan’s script risks being over-sentimental about the dignity of the professional cricketer’s labour, it does allude to the indignity of his wages. Palmer can afford a television and a small car but has to pretend it is the ‘maid’s night off’ when he entertains the bohemian literary figure his son has befriended.
‘the hard school’ … ‘neat as a new pin…’
A.A. Thomson, ‘O Captain! My Captain!’, News Chronicle, 20 August 1953.
‘great nationwide communion’ …. ‘through radio, television and press, and in festivities…’
Shils and Young, Meaning of the Coronation, pp.70-71.
‘Something like this kind of spirit has been manifested before…’
Shils and Young, Meaning of the Coronation, p.74.
MCC was cited by the sociologists as one of the examples of the type of ‘corporate’ body which, through its ‘connection with the sacred properties, the charisma, of the Crown thereby has infused into it a reminder of the moral obligations which extend beyond its corporate boundaries’ (p.79).
The sociologists were contributing to a debate…
This is a vast subject. Angus Calder is perhaps the most prominent ‘revisionist’ commentator on what he called the ‘The Myth of the Blitz’: ‘The effect of the war was not to sweep society onto a new course, but to hasten its progress along the old grooves’.
‘the curious power of Test cricket to unify…’
News Chronicle, 20 August 1953.
In its leader article, The Times ‘rejoiced’ at the way the game had survived ‘the hothouse atmosphere of daily and, indeed, hourly publicity’ and the players ‘ordeal by stop-press, loudspeaker and television camera’: ‘Test cricket, like other traditional institutions, reflects social change’ – and this series had reflected the ‘spirit of the clubs and villages from north of the Trent to south of Sydney on which the health – and the fun – of the game depends’ (20 August 1953, p.7).
…pointing to the enthusiasm of the crowds for the colonial contingents…
Shils and Young, Meaning of the Coronation, p.73.
‘who has done so much for the game, not only in Australia…’
Hutton, quoted by The Times, 20 August 1953, p.3.
‘the pinpricking criticisms of my supposed caution…’
Fifty Years in Cricket, p.90.
Although England escaped in the second Test, Peter West records that Hutton ‘found himself in dire trouble with the critics, professional and otherwise’ who were infuriated by his ‘defensive’ attitude in the field. The home side’s ‘craven and anaemic’ blocking in the fourth Test, when over the course of the match they scored 442 runs in 972 minutes compared with the visitors’ 413 runs in 407 minutes, were also strongly censured: Green thought Australia’s attempt to go for the runs represented ‘a revival of faith after the grim struggle and negation that preceded it’ (Times, 29 July 1953, p.9).
‘considering Lockie threw us out’
In conversation with Walter Robins after he stepped off the balcony, as reported by Swanton, Sort of a Cricket Person, p.177.
When England had fought to save the fourth Test at Headingley, Hassett had ‘plainly showed his contempt’ when Bailey wasted time (by appealing against the light on one of the few occasions in the game when the sun was out). The next day Hassett was privately ‘livid’ about the negative leg-theory used to leave Australia 30 runs short of the Ashes. We shall see in Chapter 6 that some Lord’s mandarins sympathised with him.
‘how easy and natural it was to get a touch carried away in 1953’
Hennessy, Having It So Good, p.235.
‘how powerful a grip cricket exerted…’
Hennessy, Having It So Good, p.88.
Eric Midwinter feels it is arguable the immediate post-war period ‘marked the game’s finest but final years but as a broadly based and deeply embedded sport, nationally acknowledged and appreciated’ (Class Peace, p.109).
…the first Test…The last game…
James was definitely at The Oval in 1938, as he was reporting on the game for the Glasgow Herald, but that appears to have been his last report on cricket before he left for America in November 1938. He returned to England in the middle of the 1953 summer, saying that he watched ‘much of the Leeds Test on television, the Oval Test in the flesh, and a number of county matches’ (Cricket, p.71; my italics).
This marathon effort restored national prestige…
There are probably more than 364 anecdotes about Hutton’s 364 but here are two quick ones to give a flavour:
A letter to The Times provided immediate evidence that English street urchins were shouting ‘I’m not Bradman, I’m ‘Utton!’
Peter O’Toole, in conversation with Brian Johnston on Test Match Special, remembered being taken to the cinema at the age of six to watch endless re-runs of the newsreels of Hutton breaking the record and vividly remembered the cinema audience cheering when he ‘popped it in’.
Even allowing for press exaggeration … it captured the imagination…
As a Movietone newsreel had it: ‘The Empire holds its breath.’ On the morning of the record attempt, the Daily Express claimed that ‘the thoughts of millions throughout the empire centre on Hutton’. Cardus exercised his imagination on how cricket followers all across the far-flung empire ‘from Candy to the Cocos Islands’ would hear news of Hutton’s achievement. The Leeds Mercury, anticipating the New Elizabethan rhetoric of 1953, cried: ‘The spirit of Drake lives among us’.
…it ‘became the year before the war’
In a poem with that title, anthologised in Martin-Jenkins, Quick Singles, pp.105-8.
In Cricket Country, perhaps the closest thing to an English Beyond a Boundary, Edmund Blunden confirmed that, even as ‘the world was at moral and nervous war’, ‘that match at the Oval was the dominant English subject of that period, and debated with all serious minuteness’ (p.82). As Blunden was writing in 1944, this of course suited his argument that ‘for the average Englishman this cricket and football and all the games and sports are the finest preparation for such military life as he may suddenly be required to lead’.
‘Vivat Regina and the linseed willow-sound…’
Danny Abse, ‘Winged Back’ (see Collected Poems, pp.290-91). In the second of three stanzas, a dance tune of the period takes the poet back
to an England where sweet-rationing ended,
where nature tamely resumed its capture
behind park railings. Few thorns. Fewer thistles;
to Vivat Regina and the linseed willow-sound
of Compton and Edrich winning the Ashes.
The last stanza alludes more equivocally to the fag-ends of empire:
Elsewhere, Troy always burning. Newspaper stuff.
The recurring decimal of calamity.
Famine. Murder. Pollinating fires.
When they stubbed one out another one flared.
Statesmen lit their cigars from the embers.
‘stopped work to witness the consummation’
Beyond a Boundary, p.192.
James may have had lodged in his mind the allusion to Hamlet in Cardus’s final-day report: ‘And a dozen runs more would bring the consummation devoutly to be wished by thousands’ (Cardus in the Covers, p.252).
‘a part of the national activity…’ … ‘highly developed media…’
James, ‘Return of a Wanderer’, in Cricket, p.73.
strong feelings of relief and reclamation
Donald Trelford, in his introduction to Len Hutton Remembered (p.17), reflected on the resonance of Hutton at The Oval in 1938, and then again in 1953:
The innings seemed to symbolise the tenacious spirit of the underdog, the boy on the burning deck, the bulldog breed incarnate. He became a household name, part of the national myth like Sir Francis Drake. The words ‘Len Hutton’ became synonymous with cricket in the minds of British servicemen during the six years of war. His name was as much a part of my war-time childhood as spam and ration-books. Yorkshiremen of his time, and many other Englishmen besides, could tell you exactly where they were when Hutton beat Bradman’s record, just as a later generation knew where they were when President Kennedy was shot. Later, as England’s first professional captain, he touched the nation’s hearts again by recovering the Ashes for the Queen in Coronation Year – a feat that linked him to other great sporting heroes of 1953, Stanley Matthews and Gordon Richards, both also knighted, and to the men who planted the Union Jack on Everest.
Swanton’s italics seem right somehow when he recollected the events of 1953:
There was the Coronation, and the British conquest of Everest, and finally at The Oval the regaining of the Ashes, and however incongruous it may seem to link the three events they were linked, and the Kennington rejoicings echoed over England to ‘crown the year’ in Jack Fingleton’s happy phrase.
(Sort of a Cricket Person, p.177)
And perhaps we should finish the footnotes to this chapter with a passage from The Ashes Crown The Year itself, as Fingleton contemplates the ‘solid mass of people’ at Oval tube station on the first day:
This appears to be a very serious day for England – the last time I saw looks like this on the gentry in London was when we were in the midst of the 1938 Munich crisis. And what a gathering of the clans a Test match brings together in London! I find it most interesting in the tube recognising all the ties – I identify the Purchasers with its gin and bitters colours; the red and yellow of a Scottish cricket club and in a corner are three young Irishmen, talking earnestly, wearing the green and dark blue tie of Ireland with the shamrocks. I feel rather proud of my own Southern Cross tie. Those who deride the ties of Britain have surely not known the warmth and the friendliness of them, and the comradeship. They are ties in every sense.
(Ashes Crown The Year, pp. 243-44)
Fingleton was in some ways a sentimental colonial but equally he was no fan of the ‘Old School Tie’. Later in the book, I will be taking a more sceptical attitude to ‘comradeship’ – yet it is important to recognise that many people felt it in 1953.