This could not be described as a set phrase for Worrell, Walcott and Weekes – in his 1953 autobiography, Les Ames referred to them as ‘the West Indies “W Plan”’ (p.135); in the 1958 Wisden, editor Norman Preston dubbed them ‘the W triumvirate’ – but in the 1950s it was the most common way of referring to them collectively, perhaps with a nod to the still prevalent WM formation in soccer. See, for example, Jack Mercer’s preview of the 1953/54 series for The Gleaner (21 September 1953, p.10), Bailey’s review of it in Playing to Win, where he referred to ‘the much-publicized W-formation’ (p.195) and Hayter’s Trinidad report (Times, 20 March 1954, p.4). Similarly, the Guyanese Daily Argosy often referred to the ‘famous W-formation’ (e.g. 9 February 1954, p.6), a phrase used by the Trinidad Guardian as late as 1960 (5 January, p.6).
I have seen a reference to the ‘Three Ws’ only once in coverage of the 1953/54 series, in a Port of Spain Gazette headline (19 March 1954).
could still be considered now for all-time XIs
In a recent exercise to pick a best all-time England side, members of the Cricket Society included Hutton, Laker and Trueman in their First XI, May and Compton in their Second XI (Bulletin 604 [May 2020], pp.10-12).
When, in 1998, Michael Manley set himself the task of choosing a ‘West Indies All-Time’ squad of 16, he made Worrell captain, Headley vice-captain, and included Sobers, Weekes and Valentine. He admitted his omission of Ramadhin was ‘painful’, and there may be some Jamaican bias in his preference for Dujon and Hendriks over Walcott (A History of West Indies Cricket, p.404).
the unofficial ‘world championship of cricket’
What Hutton called a ‘nuisance’ of a ‘tag’ is discussed at more length in Chapter 8.
Because (until now) there has never been an official Test championship, the tag could in fairness be applied unscientifically to any series involving sides with good recent records: the South Africa v Australia series of 1935/36 was promoted in this way (Lazenby 2017, p.50), as was the 1951/52 Australia v West Indies series (Dale 1952, pp.158, 162; Ferguson 1957, p.168; Landsberg 1955, p.17; Ross 1958, p.117). But, as in boxing, there was some sense of a ‘lineal’ title and so, even though West Indies had lost to Australia, the 1953/54 series was routinely billed as the ‘world championship’ because Hutton’s men had in turn beaten Australia in 1953.
‘this tour was, in impact…’
John Arlott, ‘Cricket Books, 1954’, in 1955 Wisden, p.992: ‘Its effect has spread far beyond the province of cricket, so that personal, social, even national and racial considerations became deeply involved. To tell the full story as any observer saw it would probably involve libel.’
‘a tragedy of misunderstanding and muddle…’
Swanton, West Indian Adventure, p.14.
‘almost from first to last a wave of prejudice…’
Bannister, Cricket Cauldron, p.178.
[I have silently conformed ‘1932-33’ to ‘1932/33’ and have done so for consistency throughout the book.]
‘the second most controversial tour in history’
The Times, ‘Caribbean Reflections’ (almost certainly by Reg Hayter), 13 April 1954, p.4.
‘might go down as the most unpleasant … of all time’
Graveney, Cricket Through the Covers (1958), p.110.
a greater ‘storm’ than Bodyline
Walcott, Island Cricketers (1958), p.78.
In his review of Test cricket since the war, the journalist Gordon Ross felt sure that 1953/54 was ‘the most turbulent series of all time’ (Testing Years, p.151).
‘the finest book’ about the game
‘Cricket Books, 1963’, in 1964 Wisden, p.993: ‘There may be a better book about any sport than Beyond a Boundary: if so, the present reviewer has not seen it.’
sighted on T-shirts at a quiet day’s county cricket
Duncan Hamilton, reporting on a Pro40 game between Kent and Northamptonshire at Canterbury: ‘The father is portly and middle-aged with short, greying sideburns. He is dressed in a white T-shirt with C.L.R. James’s most famous quotation printed across it: “WHAT DO THEY KNOW OF CRICKET WHO ONLY CRICKET KNOW?”’ (A Last English Summer, p.284).
cited in articles shelved in the quieter nooks…
To cite but two examples, Kalpana Kannabrian adapted James’s dictum for the title of a review article on a book about Indian politics for Economic and Political Weekly, 43.22 (2008), pp. 23-24, while Kenneth Surin quoted it in a discussion of the neo-Derridan writings of Grant Fared (Cultural Critique, 93 [Spring 2016], pp.199-211).
It comes in the penultimate chapter…
Beyond a Boundary, p.243.
James did also pose the question in his very short Preface (p.), and Who Only Cricket Know was the working title of the manuscript he submitted to Hutchinson in the spring of 1961, but the point holds that the context of the question in the body of the book is the discussion of recent MCC tours of the West Indies.
It is also conceivable that Arlott’s comment about ‘so much more than a matter of batting, bowling and fielding’ sparked off an earlier passage in Beyond a Boundary where James asserts that ‘Wilton St. Hill and Learie Constantine were more than the makers of runs and takers of wickets to the people of Trinidad and Tobago’ (p.180).
‘nationalist passions and gains’
Beyond a Boundary, p.228.
‘in the full tide of the transition…’
Beyond a Boundary, p.232.
‘To a man the MCC team recognised…’
1955 Wisden, pp.762-63.
‘actively disliked’ … ‘unsportsmanlike behaviour’
Beyond a Boundary, p.227.
‘controversy and uneasiness…’
1955 Wisden, p.762.
Hutton’s team ‘had given the impression that it was not merely playing cricket…’
Beyond a Boundary, p.227.
‘in those days Test series stood out so wonderfully’
David Frith, e-mail to the author, 31 July 2018.
Frith also describes how he stood ‘transfixed by the teleprinter’, as an office boy for the Daily Mirror in Sydney watching the scores from the Caribbean come through, in Chapter 5 of his memoir, Paddington Boy.
he had exceeded his Reuters word limit
Alec Bannister tells this story in the (unpaginated) Introduction he wrote for the 1989 Pavilion Library re-issue of Cricket Cauldron.
According to Michael Down (1985, p.77), paper was in such short supply immediately after the war that The Cricketer published only university scores in full.
‘the principles of sportsmanship’
1955 Wisden, p.763.
Compare Gordon Ross, reviewing Trevor Bailey’s Playing to Win, which included an account of the tour: ‘In many ways one has come to regret the atmosphere of present day Tests, which have become stern contests of vast moment, controlled almost, one suspects, by the Foreign or Colonial Office’ (Playfair Cricket Annual 1954, p.142).
‘One sunny afternoon…’
Hobson made this aside in a review article, entitled ‘The Screw Turns Again’, of Pinter’s play The Birthday Party (Sunday Times, 25 May 1958, p.11).
Despite the rather contemptuous reference to dozers in the Long Room, Hobson was, I think, not denigrating sport but making the point that even this important component of modern British life could be vapourised without warning by nuclear cataclysm. Hobson’s memoirs show that he was an ardent Sheffield Wednesday fan and equally ‘devoted’ to cricket (Indirect Journey, p.207), the heroes of Hambledon provide the running thread of his only novel, The Devil of Woodford Wells, the luxury he chose on Desert Island Discs (1 July 1957) was a cricket bat, and he himself spent many ‘long summer afternoons at Lord’s’, responding with equal enthusiasm to ‘the grace and suavity of Cowdrey, and Boycott’s invincible defence’ (Indirect Journey, p.264).
1954 has often been described as the year of the H-Bomb…
Matthew Grant, Civil Defence, p.77: ‘It was the 1954 tests which sparked off a global panic about the destructive power of the bomb.’
Peter Hennessy, Having It So Good, pp.321-2: ‘For Britain, 1954 was H-bomb year … Paradoxically, it was not the first American thermonuclear test [in 1952], which … touched the nerve of the world, but the second set of tests, the “Castle” series at Bikini Atoll in the Marshall Islands in March 1954, designed to explode the first weaponized H-bombs, that were metaphorically heard round the world.’ 1954 has also been described as ‘the year of the H-bomb’ by Kevin Ruane in Churchill and the Bomb in War and Cold War (2016) and by Roger Ruston in A Say in the End of the World (1989).
The first hydrogen bomb was exploded by the Americans on 1 November 1952 – and by 1953 it became clear the Russians had developed a similar weapon – but it was the Bikini Test of 1954 which, according to Churchill, ‘transformed what had been . . . a vague scientific nightmare into something which dominates the whole world’. First, the bomb exploded there was reportedly a thousand times more powerful than the atom bomb dropped over Hiroshima. Second, Japanese fishermen operating outside the ‘danger zone’ were badly affected by radiation sickness. So residents of any large British city now knew that, in the unlikely event they survived the blast of an H-bomb, its fall-out would probably do for them.
Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders
Initially, when the British Governor announced the suspension of the constitution on 8 October 1953, it was the 1st Battalion, the Royal Welch Fusiliers who were brought in temporarily from Jamaica and British Honduras (the band of the Royal Welch are pictured in the illustration in the book). But it was the 1st Battalion, the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, who were assigned the role of regular garrison to ‘give the civil population confidence in law and order and at the same time provide a strong reserve to assist the Police and Volunteer Force in cases of emergency’. The Argylls relieved the Welch Fusiliers on 24 October 1953, staying in the colony until the next autumn, when they were in turn relieved by the Black Watch. For more details, see Chapter 12.
‘a vat of unrest’
Graveney, Cricket Through the Covers, p.113. He is talking specifically here about the atmosphere of Sabina Park but he uses similar language of the political situation more generally.
an ‘impossible vortex’
Hutton, Fifty Years in Cricket, p.93: ‘The MCC players were sucked into an impossible vortex and being cricketers and not trained diplomats, they reacted in different ways.’
‘A race has been freed…’
Lord Harris, letter to Earl Grey, 19 June 1848 (Parliamentary Papers 1847-1848, XLVI, p.323).
took practical effect in 1838
The British slave trade was abolished in 1807 but the 750,000 remaining slaves in the British West Indies had to wait until 1 August 1834 for their ‘emancipation’. Even then, they were bound by an apprenticeship system which required them to work for their ex-masters for a set period of time. This unpopular system was abolished, and ex-slaves granted full freedom, on 1 August 1838.
a ‘malarial enervation’
Derek Walcott, What the Twilight Says (1998), p.4.
By 1960, the Barbadian novelist George Lamming was writing of ‘the sad and dying kingdom of sugar’ (Pleasures of Exile).
In the 1930s a ton of sugar sometimes sold for less than a cricket ball
A point made by Clem Seecharan in Sweetening Bitter Sugar, p.46.
The complete findings of the Moyne Commission…
Malcolm Macdonald, Secretary of State for the Colonies, explained in a memorandum to the War Cabinet, dated 13 February 1940, that Moyne’s report would not be released in full because ‘it was feared’ its criticisms of conditions in the West Indies ‘would make good material for German propaganda’ (National Archive, CO 318/443/9).
Cricket arguably played a more central role…
No doubt a case could be made for football in Brazil, or rugby union in New Zealand, or long-distance running in Kenya, but in the British West Indies cricket was the main sport of the ruling elite, of the educated middle-class, of what used to be called the ‘masses’ and of almost all minority groups. Women and girls also took a keen interest in cricket, both on the street and when they attended, and catered for, weekend village matches. As in Britain, the organised women’s game was slow to develop but, while MCC were in the Caribbean in 1954, there was a tour of Trinidad by a Grenada Ladies team which was given serious coverage in the local press.
Madeleine Kerr was admittedly looking at Jamaican society from the outside when she observed in 1952: ‘In most districts the Cricket Club is a most important activity. A match is an occasion for feasting and dancing…If possible the woman supporters of the home team will make ice cream…’ (p.16). She observed that in black villages ‘the men will drink in the rum shops, but the women will not come out, except to such functions as cricket matches’ (p.21).
‘nothing that ever came out of England…’
This is the first sentence (p.1) of one of Hutton’s favourite cricket books, Monty Noble’s The Game’s The Thing, to which Harris wrote the Foreword.
Harris made many similar pronouncements. In 1880, toasting an Australian touring side, he asserted that ‘the game of cricket has done more to draw the Mother Country and the Colonies together than years of beneficial legislation could have done’ (quoted in Holt 1989, p.227). He also believed that ‘the common sense and the sympathy of a club committee and the inherent loyalty of cricketers have resulted in the MCC being perhaps the most venerated institution in the British Empire’.
This newsreel gives a little flavour of Harris just before his death. Like Lord Peter Wimsey, he drops his ‘g’s – an affectation of aristocratic speech in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries less remarked upon than the dropped ‘h’ of the working classes.
‘connecting together every part of the British Empire’
A Few Short Runs, p.244: ‘unquestionably interchange of visits between the Old Country and the Dominions, Dependencies and Colonies is eminently desirable, and good conduct and good temper are productive of sympathy, and the tightening up of the ties which hold us together.’
The first two men to be knighted for services to cricket were Sir Fredrick Lacey, secretary of MCC in the era when imperial ties were still being fostered, and Sir Fredrick Toone, the Yorkshire secretary, who managed three Australian tours and was honoured for promoting good relations between ‘the Commonwealth and the Mother Country’ (Wilde, England, p.65).
‘the whole population’
Cricket in Many Climes, p.42.
In his 1951 autobiography, Warner remembered being present for the speech by Lord Curzon in 1898 which famously proclaimed: ‘The British Empire, under Providence, is the greatest instrument for good the world has ever seen’ (Long Innings, p.151). As late as 1942, Warner could write: ‘A Test match today is an imperial event. Almost every ball is broadcast to the utmost ends of the earth’ (Cricket Between Two Wars, p.35).
‘they are no better than we’
Beyond a Boundary, p.116.
‘is the one West Indian endeavour…’
Tony Cozier, Fifty Years of Test Cricket, p. xiii.
This is observation is made so often that it has become a cliché. For some examples, see Ashton and Killingray 1999, p. lxxxi; Ayearst 1960, p.154; Beckles (in Bateman 2011), pp.160-62; Benaud (in Weekes 2007), p.206; Brearley 2018, p.171; Hinds, 1966, p.16; Howat 1989, p.116; Lewis, gen ed., Oxford History, vol. V, p.140; McDevitt 2004, p.119; Nicole 1957, p.11; Searle 2001, pp.130-31; Seecharan 2006, p.230-31; Stollmeyer 1983, p.200.
Often an honourable mention is given to The University of the West Indies as the only other pan-Caribbean institution in the English-speaking islands to demonstrate what June Soomer has called an ‘investment in unity’, although she also pointed out that it caters to a ‘minority’ whereas cricket ‘caters to 5.5 million people’ (Beckles [ed.], Area of Conflict, p.103).
‘Unity is not the strongest feature…’
Jimmy Cozier, Caribbean Newspaperman, p.85.
The historian Michael Craton (1997, p.442) has described the Caribbean more generally as ‘the most fragmented, mixed and complex (as well as richest and dynamically creative) region in the world’.
‘the issue became one of white man versus the coloured man…’
Laker, Spinning Round the World, p.124.
‘Great Britain has lost an empire…’
Acheson made this famous observation in a speech at the West Point Naval Academy in December 1962 (see Brinkley 1990). It provoked an immediate wave of outrage in the British right-wing press and much comment from historians and political commentators since.
These figures are given by Jeffrey Richards in an article in the End of Empire collection edited by Stephen Ward (p.130). Another article in that collection, by John Mackenzie, usefully outlines three main phases of post-war decolonisation:
1947-48: India, Pakistan, Ceylon (renamed Sri Lanka), Burma, Palestine (parts of which renamed Israel)
1956-57: Sudan, Ghana, Malaya, Singapore
1960-66: almost all other colonies in Africa, the four main colonies in the British West Indies, Cyprus and Malta.
These Guardian maps provide more detailed representations of the process of decolonisation.
‘The liberation of our Colonies…’
You Only Live Twice (1964), Chapter 8. I have used the Penguin 007 edition of 2008, p.101.
Raymond Durgnat once sarcastically described Bond as ‘the last man in of the British Empire Superman’s XI’ (quoted in Richards 1997, p.163). But to emphasise the importance of sport I have slightly naughtily chopped Bond off, as he argues with Tiger Tanaka about whether Britain is still a great power, because he adds ‘…and win Nobel Prizes’.
David Cannadine wrote an article in 1979 about how Fleming’s Bond novels, which appeared between 1953 and 1966, interacted with the ‘decline’ of Britain, noting that the Coronation ‘was a retrospectively unconvincing reaffirmation of Britain’s great-power status’, a status perhaps finally buried with Churchill in the mid-1960s (p.46). Cannadine juxtaposes Fleming’s ‘omnipresent tone of patriotism’ (p.47) and evocation of ‘the England of Harold Macmillan’ (p.48) with his more permissive attitudes to extra-marital sex and gambling. He concludes that Fleming, although equivocal, tries to reinstate naval and public-school values and to ‘perpetuate the comfortable illusion … that nothing has really altered’ (p.54), taking refuge in ‘an international fantasy world’ (p.55). The MCC mandarins were arguably trying to do the same thing in the post-war period by taking refuge in international cricket.
We should note that the ‘declinist’ view of Britain was present even in earlier eras when the empire was supposed to be a going concern, especially after the Boer War. For one example, see an article in The Sketch (26 March 1909):
It is one of the symptoms of this age of nerves and hysteria that we magnify everything, that our boasts are frantic and our scares pitiable, that we call a man who plays well in a football match a hero, and that all our successes are triumphs … but … when we are all feeling a little downhearted at seeing our supremacy in sport and in more serious matters slipping away from us, it is a moral tonic to find that in exploration we are still the kings of the world.
Two winters later Amundsen would beat Scott to the South Pole.
what the Queen had called her ‘Imperial family’
When she was still Princess Elizabeth, in the speech she made on her 21st birthday on a tour of South Africa (24 April 1947): ‘I declare before you all that my whole life whether it be long or short shall be devoted to your service and the service of our great imperial family to which we all belong.’ She addressed this speech to ‘all the peoples of the British Commonwealth and Empire.’
statues went up in London to General Gordon and David Livingstone
The Gordon statue had been erected in Trafalgar Square in 1888. It had been moved for its own safety (from German bombers not anti-imperial protestors) in 1943. Churchill had wanted it put back there, but it was re-sited on Victoria Embankment instead, in November 1953 (there is a photograph of it, still in scaffolding, in The Sphere, 21 November 1953, p.33).
The Livingstone statue was a new commission by the Royal Geographical Society and was unveiled on the north side of the Society’s Hall, on Kensington Gore, by Secretary of State for the Colonies, Hubert Wilson, on 23 October 1953. Among those present was Colonel John Hunt, who had recently led the expedition which conquered Everest (the various speeches are recorded in The Geographical Journal [March 1954], pp.15-20, whose photograph of the unveiling is reproduced below).
The statue is still there: because it stands near one of Shackleton, some cab drivers call the intersection of Kensington Gore and Exhibition Street ‘hot and cold corner’.
Imperial Memorial Gallery
The Duke opened the Gallery on 27 April 1953. A Coronation Garden was also opened in the north-west corner of Lord’s on 16 October 1953. See Usha Iyer’s 2013 Ph.D. thesis, pp.60-64.
‘a moral challenge’
Quoted from Benn’s personal archive in Stephen Howe’s Anticolonialism in British Politics (p.234).
‘faith in Britain’s imperial mission and destiny’
End of Empire, p.80, quoting Julian Amery.
Amery, in his account of the Group’s formation given to a 1956 symposium, says ‘Enoch Powell and I acted more or less as secretaries’ in its earlier phases (p.111), although Powell ‘fell away’ after the July 1954 Treaty with Egypt. Amery portrays the Suez Group as sincerely committed to preserving Britain’s naval base as a ‘hub of military power’ (p.113). Depending on the political sympathies of the historian, the Group can either be portrayed as a ‘hot-potch collection’ of embittered and extreme backbenchers (Nutting 1967, p.22) or a movement which tapped into the popular feeling that Suez should not become a ‘Munich on the Nile’, and whose influence on Eden’s decisions in 1956 ‘cannot be overstated’ (Thornhill 2006, p.122).
‘every day on the tour we were being invited to social functions’
Miller, Charles Palmer: More than a Gentleman, p.85.
‘We wanted to win, but not for them’
Charles Palmer, p.85.
‘the end of Test cricket…’ … ‘thought it was a humiliation …’
Charles Palmer, pp.85-86. Both these observations were made by Alex Bannister in his interview with Douglas Miller for that book.