Richie Benaud R.I.P.


The first time I recall watching cricket was the First Ashes Test in 1968: long hours indoors glued to a black-and-white 405-line television set. The game captured me at once, and I’ve been under its spell ever since.

Only a few years earlier, Richie Benaud had been captain of Australia, a bold, attacking leg spinner  in an era when leggies were dying out. When his playing career ended, Benaud headed straight for the commentary box where, for the next five decades, he created and upheld a reputation as an insightful, thoughtful analyst who never once overwhelmed the viewer by telling him what he was seeing for himself.

It’s only two days since I woke up to learn that Stan Freberg had passed on, and only a month since we lost Terry Pratchett. This is becoming a seriously shitty year.

I have no actual memory of Benaud commentating upon the 1968 series. But the memory of Benaud that I do have is that he was always there. Every summer, as long as the BBC held the rights to Test cricket, no matter who the visitors, Benaud’s warm, smooth voice would be part of the summer months, when I would be watching all humanly possible hours. I simply can’t remember a time before him.

It’s not that I remember any particular phrases from him. He wasn’t that sort of commentator, drawing attention from the game to himself, though that didn’t mean he couldn’t summon up a very effective line when the moment deserved it. He was simply a presence. It was like sitting with an Uncle who knew everything you could want to know about what you were watching, and who would share the experience with you.

Benaud didn’t follow English Test cricket to Sky, holding to his belief that the game should not be kept from public gaze. Later, old age and issues with his throat prevented him from adding to the hundreds of games upon which he spoke. Now the voice is gone, and we are again deprived. I wish I’d been old enough to see him play. I’m glad I had so many decades to listen to him.

Travelling with Tinniswood: The Brigadier Down Under


“Who is this?”
The barman smiled smugly.
“Stone the crows, you must be a stranger,” he said.
“Of course I’m a stranger,” I said. “It’s the only way to cope with living in this godforsaken country. Now who the devil is this creature?”
At this the barman spoke two words, which were to engrave themselves indelibly on my heart and change the whole course of my stay Down Under.
“Kingsley Kunzel,” he said.
Kingsley Kunzel!
In the annals of Wisden his name reigns supreme.
I quote:
“Most centuries scored whilst drunk…  Kingsley Kunzel… 17.”
“Most inebriated batsman to have been given out ‘seen the ball twice’…  Kingsley Kunzel.”
Kingsley Kunzel!
How well I recalled the Australian tour of ’21, when, after the luncheon adjournment in the match against Derbyshire at Chesterfield, he was given out “sick hit wicket…33.”
With what pleasure I conjured up memories of the opening match against Worcestershire, when, despite suffering most grievously from the effects of Ansell’s Tummy, he was able with the aid of three runners and an auxiliary stretcher bearer to score an undefeated double century before opening time.
And, joy of joys, there he was lying at my feet blithely sipping a quadruple gin and lung tonic.
The third Brigadier book was again written both as a series of monologues and for publication, which followed fairly rapidly. What distinguishes The Brigadier Down Under from its predecessors is that it follows a constant theme, wrapped up in contemporary events, namely the England tour of Australia in the winter season of 1982/3 (won 2-1 by Australia).
It’s all because of the blasted lady wife and her confounded Bedlington terriers, and her decision to go to Australia and search out her long lost brother, Naunton. Which coincides with the Ashes Tour, led by Colonel ‘Mad’ Bob Willis.
The Brigadier is not mollified. The lady wife fails entirely to understand that one doesn’t watch cricket in Australia, one listens to it. At a cold, grey dawn, in the depths of an English winter, on the talking wireless. Nevertheless, the lady wife is insistent. Australia is a long way away. It is a foreign country, a ‘land of ravaged desert, shark-infested ocean and thirst-racked outback.’
Most of all, though, it is full of Australians. And especially Richie Benaud. The Brigadier is not a prejudiced man, but…
Well, actually he is, as we are very aware by now. And forthright of opinion to boot, especially when it comes to the subject of Australians, who he treats with his usual disregard.
The England team also come in for some rough treatment, though there’s a distinct degree of affection in the military titles the Brigadier vests in this motley party. As well as Colonel ‘Mad’ Bob, there’s burly Sarn’t Major Botham, Lt. the Hon David Gower of the 4th Leicestershire Lancers, Bombardier Fowler, dear old ragged Sapper Randall and more, names to arouse memories of a cricketing past.
Not to mention the sacerdotal calling on Monsignor Tavare, he of the quiet demeanour and portable confirmation kit, though my favourite line in the book, and possibly the entire Brigadier series is when Vic Marks is described as having the ‘familiar expression of someone who has just been told he is to spend the rest of his life as a junior lecturer in soap technology.’
It’s more of the same, focussed upon a different atmosphere: still full of inexhaustible jokes, puns, misunderstandings and malignments. It becomes increasingly clear why Richie Benaud never found the Brigadier to be funny, whilst Michael Parkinson would definitely have neded a sense of humour and a degree of humility (which no-one has ever described him as possessing) to accept his portrayal.
And it is no doubt due to Clive James’ unAustralian complete lack of interest in cricket that he did not take offence at his inclusion in these pages.
Tinniswood’s range of invention in this admittedly-limited sphere reaches either a peak nor a nadir on page 60 of the paperback edition when he lines up six prominent cricket writers/editors/broadcasters into one horrendous pun on a once-famous Sixties pop band.
As the sleeve photo to the hardback volume demonstrated, The Brigadier Down Under was written in close collaboration with the England touring team, Tinniswood having toured Australia to ‘research’ the book, though his account is distinctly different from any of the others I have read about that tour.
It’s more of the same, only different, and the same advantages and drawbacks to the previous books apply in equal measure. But it was very popular then.