BOOK REVIEW / First steps on the road to divinity: John Arlott: A Memoir by Timothy Arlott, Deutsch pounds 14.99

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The Independent Culture
TIMOTHY ARLOTT inscribes this book: 'To my father in gratitude for his unfailing love and humour', and then goes on to show that neither was anything of the kind. Take the occasion when Arlott, in the rare absence of his first wife, had to get his two sons off to school one morning: '. . . he called us half an hour early, inspected us to see if we were dressed correctly, opened the fridge door, gave us a cold sausage each from the plate inside and told us to leave immediately for school or we would be late. It was practically the only time either of us were ever early.' Then there were the games of Monopoly he would walk out of, and, in later life, the sullen ingratitude with which he might treat his admirers.

In the catalogue of human failings, none of Arlott's ranks very high; indeed, they seem typical of a man wrapped up in work for which a degree of egotism is probably necessary. But Arlott remains a revered figure: his position as the Voice of Cricket unaffected by the fact that Brian Johnston was also the Voice of Cricket. Or was he the Voice of Summer? Either way, the careers of both men suggest that to become a cricket commentator is the first step on the road to divinity.

Certainly there was something oracular about the way Arlott drew friends to his dinner table in Alderney, where the worldliness was served as copiously as the wine. And his son, a journalist based in Paris, seems to have traded on his reputation in producing this memoir. Treading an uncomfortable path between trying to preserve his father's public standing and showing us the troubled, tragic figure he knew in private, it makes for an unsatisfactory read.

Arlott junior might done better to adopt a more detached approach, and to gather some recollections of his father from others. You can see why a writer in his position wouldn't want to do that, but the result is a book which does more for our knowledge of Arlott than our understanding. Then there is the problem of the writing - either dull, or clumsy, or both - and the misjudgements of tone. Sentences like this one are not untypical: 'We would swim every day; Ma, perhaps the French au pair (a near middle-aged one with mental problems, my Ma being one for helping lame ducks) or Jim's lady clarinet teacher, Jim and I with Jim's red setter dog, which he was immensely fond of, trampling on everybody in the back.' Even a period as evocative as Arlott's BBC days in the 1940s, downing pints with Dylan Thomas, remains unevoked.

No marks, either, for the captioning of the photographs. It is just not good enough to put 'Dinner with cricketing friends' under a picture of Arlott in the company of Bob Willis, David Gower, Ted Dexter and Jim Laker, well known though they may be. The identity of the two other people at the table - the photographer Patrick Eagar and journalist David Frith - would elude many readers. Arlott fans won't want to miss this book, and probably shouldn't. But after the disappointment of Basingstoke Boy, the memoirs Arlott published in 1990, a thorough biography seems long overdue.

(Photograph omitted)

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