Tag Archives: George Brown

Strange but True … They Say

If there are countless stories about Compton, there are a good few about George Brown, Denis’ dresser in Felixstowe.

Georgian stories have a capacity to develop a life of their own, but they bring an endearing character to life 35 years after his death.

An early legend had him leaving his home at Cowley aged 18 with a tin trunk, a bat, a pair of plimsolls and enough money to buy a single ticket to Southampton. 

By 2005 this had mutated in the imaginations of all who had heard and passed it on until it had taken the form of a young George walking 60 miles from his Oxfordshire home for a trial, hauling a tin trunk containing all his worldly belongings’ with the prospect of the return journey as the only incentive he needed to succeed.

As Diogenes reminds us in a recent comment, it was believed that George Brown had kept wicket in motorcycling gauntlets. Then that this had been in a Test match and finally that he was keeping to Larwood at the time.

This photograph is suggestive that the story is true though not conclusive. 

A Pair of Brown Gauntlets?

In the dining room in the old County Ground was a scorecard of the famous Hampshire v Warwickshire match recording the County’s lowest score of 15. Following on,  Hants had lost six second innings wickets and were still 31 runs behind the Bears when Brown began a famous counterattack, scoring 172 in a total of 521, and allowing Kennedy and Newman to bowl out the opposition for158, 155 runs behind.

Brown’s career spanned the period 1909 to 1933.  He was a true all-rounder. His top score was 232.  He made two other ‘doubles’ and shared in three huge partnerships; of 321 for the second wicket with E. I. M. Barrett against Gloucestershire at Southampton in 1920; 344 for the third with C. P. Mead v. Yorkshire at Portsmouth in 1927, and 325 for the seventh with C. H. Abercrombie v. Essex at Leyton in 1913.   In 1926 he scored over 2,000 runs.

For the county he held 485 catches and made 50 stumpings.  As a bowler he took 629 wickets with notable spells of six for 24 runs against Somerset at Bath and six for 48 against Yorkshire at Portsmouth, both in 1911.

Arlott told us that he was able to tear a deck of playing cards in his huge hands.  This strength came in handy when, in another match against Warwickshire, Brown going in at No 10  took with him a ‘strange ruin of a bat’ which soon split from top to bottom.  Undeterred, the batsman ripped the two parts asunder and, giving one half to the umpire, continued his innings with the other.

Compton should have been thankful that it was not this blade that George took with him to Felixstowe.

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The Stuff of Nightmares

It is every cricketer’s nightmare.  You are on a train travelling to an away match.  Your team are all about you their excited voices and banter filling the air.  Everyone is relaxed and enjoying the adventure … except you. 

There is a nagging undefined fear growing in your mind and preventing you joining in.  Something is wrong, but you just can’t put your finger on the cause.

It had begun the day before.  A chance to show people what you could really do.  You’d made the team you’d longed to be selected for and hurried home impatient to share the news.

“Very good dear,” your Mother had said.  “Just make sure your kit is clean and you are looking neat and tidy.”

“I’ll clean his pads and boots for him. Do you need new studs, boy? Ma, darn that hole for him.”

“Don’t fuss both of you.”

“Make sure you pack everything.  You know what you’re like.”

“We’ll pack his bag with him.  He’ll be fine.”

In the morning you’d picked up your bag from the hall and taken the bus to the meeting point.  

Now, on the train nearing the terminus, everyone is getting up, stretching and reaching for their cricket bags.

That’s it!  Where’s your bag?  A searing realisation burns the brain. 

“I’ve left it behind!”

That is exactly what happened to the 17 year old Denis Compton  in his third year on the MCC ground staff.  Coach, Archie Fowler, had told him he had been selected as one of three professionals for the MCC against Suffolk at Felixstowe. 

Denis with a 2lb 3oz bat that he has 'looked through the back of'. 'Seethru bats' are explained here: https://downatthirdman.wordpress.com/2010/05/15/seethru-bats-is-third-man-losing-his-grip/

Now, as he was about to play in a match that meant more to him than anything else, his bag was where he’d left it – in the grounds-boys’ room.

He wired Lord’s asking them to forward his bag.  Back came a reply, “Bag on way.  You’ll leave your head behind one day.”  They already knew him well.

“Ma le disgrazie non giungono mai sole”, as the Italians say.  MCC wickets were falling quickly with no sign of the missing bag.

Compton paced the dressing room, a boy among men; a boy without a bat, shirt, trousers, or boots.

One of the other professionals was George Brown.   Nearing his fiftieth birthday but still an imposing 6ft 3ins giant of a man who, because of his deep tan, high cheek bones and imperious nose, resembled a red Indian chief, George was one of the great characters of the game.

Utterly fearless, he had once got into a ‘set too’ with the Kent fast bowler Arthur Fielder.   Facing a fierce short delivery he dropped his bat to his side, stood up, took the ball full in the chest, and roared, “He’s not fast ” and then went on to score 71.

You will believe, then, that George seemed as broad as he was tall and supported his great frame in size 11 boots.

“Wear my kit, Denis,” suggested the veteran to the diminutive 5ft 8ins Compton.

“But George, it’d be like Oliver Hardy offering his suit to Stan Laurel.”

“Put them on Denis.  Make a go of it until your own kit comes.”

Denis clambered into the shirt as if it were a circus tent.  Then he climbed into the trousers which he turned up by about a foot.  He and George packed the boots with newspaper and strapped on the pads that, according to Compton, ‘appeared a little tight under the arms’.  

Next he endeavoured to pick up the Chief’s bat.  Denis even in his prime used a 2lb 3 oz blade.  He could barely lift George’s plank of a bat.

And out he struggled, a comic figure, in this the most important match of his life.

And back he marched, bowled first ball, the immovable bat unmoved.  “Better luck next time, lad,” said George. “You’ll do better when your kit arrives.”

If you thought that the first photograph was an exception this one should confirm Compton's head position 'cocked to one side'.

Brown was right.  In the second innings Compton redeemed himself with a score of 110.  There are six million Compton stories.  This has been one of them.

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