Obituary: Michael Melford

Click to follow
IT WAS characteristic of Michael Melford that, when asked to write a book on cricket since 1945, he told the publisher "with more truth than modesty that I was not of the stuff of which historians are made". The publisher persisted and "we settled for a contemporary view of events in the last 45 years".

Melford then balked at the publishers' proposed title: "Melford on Cricket" and would settle for nothing more vainglorious than After the Interval. The book was published in 1990 and remains an unsung minor classic, a scrupulously fair account, written with wit and insight, of what we can now see was the Indian summer of English cricket, the last years before the making of profit became more important than playing the game.

Michael Melford was born in St John's Wood, north London, in 1916, the son of Austin Melford, whose name can be seen among the credits of several British films of the 1930s, who helped revive the sea- side pierrot shows at the Apollo Theatre in the 1920s and who was a leading member of the Co-optimists. Michael, in contrast to a man of the theatre, preferred not to be centre-stage, if anything, rather off-stage.

He was a leading middle-distance runner at Charterhouse and Christ Church, Oxford, and a member of the Oxbridge athletics team that toured North America in 1937; he won a Blue the following year and took a degree in Law.

He wrote memories of that American tour in I Was There, a series of reminiscences by Daily and Sunday Telegraph sportswriters published in 1966. Oxford and Cambridge, reported Melford, had defeated Harvard, Yale, Princeton and Cornell:

Our victories, however, had been achieved only by the odd event - and they had been won by the brilliance of the few, including Ali Irfan, the massive Turk, who was allergic to training and lay on his bed all day to avoid what he called staleness but rose in time to win the Weight.

Melford joined the Royal Artillery in 1939 and with three two-pounder anti-tank guns was ordered to defend a stretch of the Scottish coast, the Royal and Ancient at St Andrews. "All those heroes of those and other days," he wrote, "if they wanted the Old Course to survive, had to rely on a perfectly ghastly player with a slice which ranked high among the horrors of war or peace."

He served in Egypt, Tunisia and Italy, was demobilised from the Balkans, in the rank of major, and was appointed athletics correspondent of The Observer in 1946, later occupying the same post with the Daily Telegraph, covering the Olympic Games in Melbourne 1956 and Rome 1960.

He became deputy to E.W. Swanton on the cricket pages and the first cricket correspondent of the newly founded Sunday Telegraph. He served the two newspapers with distinction for 32 years and after his retirement continued to write obituaries and contribute to The Telegraph Cricket Yearbook. He was a close friend of Peter May and helped May with his memoirs A Game Enjoyed (1985). He was also associate editor of the first edition of the encylopaedic World of Cricket (1966).

Despite his self-disparagement he was both a useful cricketer, playing for Hampstead and Nondescripts, and a golfer respectable enough to be asked to write a history of the Denham club. He offered a shy but warming welcome to newcomers to the England press box during his own tenure there where his dignity and demeanour made him never less than an elder statesman.

On his last tour, in the West Indies, in 1981 the England party was dogged by an enthusiastic follower, a retired manufacturer from Yorkshire. Albert was affable but could not refrain from talking about his business, his ups and downs, his deals and takeovers. On the penultimate night of the tour, Melford, at a loose end, seeing Albert alone by the bar, invited him to dine. Melford listened stoically to him for almost two hours.

The following morning, he told us: "Strange chap, Albert. At the end of the meal he stood up, thanked me and then asked `Who are you?' "

Michael Austin Melford, cricket writer: born London 9 November 1916; married Lorna Powell (two daughters); died Gerrards Cross, Buckinghamshire 19 April 1999.