John Arlott: “Trying to take it in through the eyes and get it out through the lips”

Action this Day.

The above link will self-destruct at 9:02 PM Sat, 14 Jan 2012.  It is available on BBC I-Player and was broadcast on the 7th January. 

The Squire considers that there are only two types of person in this world: plumbers and poets.  In these days of punditry, those who are paid to comment on (TM almost wrote ‘to describe’ but quickly saw his error) the game of cricket are all plumbers, and proud of that. 

Arlott was a poet, a campaigner, a liberal and a stranger to pride.

At a reception given by the BBC to mark the beginning of JA’s last season, he told a story against himself and his relationship to cricket and cricketers, by referring to Oscar Wilde’s short story Lord Arthur Saville’s Crime, in which Lady Windermere’s pet cheiromantist, Mr Podgers, reading Lady Fermor’s palm, told her “right out before every one, that she did not care a bit for music, but was extremely fond of musicians.”

This joke was his modest and oblique way of expresssing his fondness for and admiration of professional cricketers which was the basis of his special relationship with those who, when they eventually began to think of forming a body to represent them, reciprocated by asking him to be the first president of the Professional Cricketers’ Association.

In his poem: To John Berry Hobbs on His Seventieth Birthday he wrote:

There was a wisdom so informed your bat
To understanding of the bowler’s trade
That each resource of strength or skill he used
Seemed but the context of the stroke you played.


“Can it be true?” TM asks. 

John Arlott once confided to the Squire, in the hearing of Third Man, that he had taken the field in an early season match at New Road, Worcesterand as a former policeman was not unnaturally sent down to patrol the third man boundary.  The ball was hit wide to him and he set off in an effort to apprehend the ball before it reached the rope.

Everyone knows that New Road is prone to flooding.  They may not know that because of this in those far off days the part of the ground that Arlott was sent to guard featured a luxurious growth of duck weed of the most slimy and slippery kind.

Arlott described himself frantically trying to keep his feet before, like a cartoon figure upended on ice, coming to rest in a heap as the ball sped past him for four.

Much rain has fallen on New Road since the telling of this story and the memory is dim and indistinct.  Could he have been called on as 12th man?  Has anyone else heard of this story?

UPDATE: On some reflection, it seems to Third Man that this is but a retelling of the Lady Fermor story; mocking his own aptitude and thus, implicitly but fondly, contrasting it with the skills of the professional cricketer.

For those who came too late for the link here is a turgid consolation prize: John Arlott in a 1955 Liberal Party PPB unscripted and unrehearsed (and wrongly labelled “Liberal Democrat”). Special thanks to Simon Titley for both links.

Good listening and viewing



Filed under Light roller

5 responses to “John Arlott: “Trying to take it in through the eyes and get it out through the lips”

  1. backwatersman

    There is a version of this story in David Rayvern Allen’s biography of J.A. – mostly a direct quotation from an interview he gave to Mike Brearley in 1986. Apparently, he was trying to field a stroke by the Nawab of Pataudi, managed to cut it off just before the boundary but slipped on the weed, turned a somersault and found that he was facing the wrong way and about to throw the ball into the pavilion. He claims they only ran three.

    It also says that one paper reported that a P.C. Harlot had fielded for Hampshire.

  2. Thank you BWM: a much better version than TM’s hazy outline. He told it to some boys who were playing in a Hants v India Schools match in around 1967. So, as he watched a young Armanath that day, perhaps his mind was taken back to that experience of fielding to Pataudi (senior) who played for Worcester between ’32 and ’38.

    The Squire’s Librarian, Wiki. P. E. Dia suggests:
    “(Arlott) played cricket at club level but would spend most of his free summer time following the Hampshire team both home and away. As a result of his regular support he became known to the team and this led to his one and only brief playing exposure to the first class game. He was watching Hampshire play Kent at Canterbury in August 1938 when they discovered they would be short of a twelth man for the following game. Being both willing and available young Arlott was co-opted and he travelled with the team to Worcester. In fact Hampshire had had to use three substitute fielders when two of their XI were injured and Cecil Paris, their captain, suffered a puncture on his way to the ground. The following day, the match report in the Western Daily Press named one of the substitutes as “Harlott”, a local policeman and a Hampshire member. It was a memorable day in the field, with the Nawab of Pataudi scoring an undefeated century for Worcester in one of his very rare appearances on the county circuit. The match ultimately fizzled out in a tame draw – Hampshire 313 and 91 – 2, Worcester 413 – 3 declared. It was his one and only appearance in a first class cricket fixture and it proved to be the pinnacle of his playing career.”

    JA would have been 24.

    This was not unusual down in Hampshire. Once in similar circumstances the club doctor was enlisted in a first class match. He no doubt had the advantage over Arlott of being able to cause the vacancy that he was then fortuitiously able to fill.

  3. MoonrakerXI

    Thanks for the heads-up on the Archive on 4 programme … just got there with a few hours to spare … memorable and entirely accurate Any Questions rant against party politicians in local government(!), and even stronger on apartheid.

    I disagree with the narrator who described JA as a sentimentalist; he was a romantic according to the best definition I know – “a sentimental person thinks things will last, a romantic person hopes against hope that they won’t.” (F.Scott Fitzgerald)

    • Thanks for dropping in, MoonrakerXI, and especially for contributing the Scott Fitzfgerald quotation.

      In the PPB, Arlott was also eloquent on war – as starting in the minds of men – and romantic in the F. SF sense.


  4. Reblogged this on Down At Third Man and commented:

    John Arlott loved cricketers – and he loved liberty: everything stemmed from those two loves.

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