Christopher Martin-Jenkins: Cricket journalist who worked on Test Match Special for 39 years


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The Independent Online

If cricket writing was a profession, Christopher Martin-Jenkins was the head of it. He became the deputy editor of the monthly "Cricketer" magazine only five weeks before graduating from Cambridge in 1967, and went on to become the Cricket Correspondent of "The Daily Telegraph" and "The Times", But he was best known as a broadcaster on Test Match Special, BBC radio's continuous commentary of Test matches. The fluency and authority of his clipped speech - he was known as "The Major" in the press box - summoned up reassuring memories of less turbulent times before Kerry Packer, television and one-day cricket. Asked where the fluency came from, he replied that he thought it must be God-given. A dedicated admirer says that, for TMS, losing Martin-Jenkins is like the Amadeus String Quartet losing its first violin.

His newspaper journalism lacked the resonance of his broadcasting. Perhaps because of the hours spent on the air, the match reporting could appear hurried as he struggled to meet deadlines. He was always in a rush and often late, but when publishers wanted an anthology of cricket writing or a list of the 100 greatest cricketers, Martin-Jenkins was the name they turned to. He wrote a shelf-full of books, many about England tours overseas. The book advances conveniently covered the cost of his wife Judy's passage, and the freelance work paid the school fees. But the voice is likely to remain longer in the memory than his literary output.

Martin-Jenkins fitted snugly into the cricket establishment at the start and in the middle period of his career. His eminence and his loyalty to the game led eventually to the Presidency of MCC in 2010, a rare achievement for a journalist. A confident speaker with a gift for timing, he was a popular figure. When he was honoured, he was becoming disenchanted with the heavy commercial emphasis of cricket's management and its client relationship with television. He had been regarded for many years as the natural heir to E.W.Swanton, the panjandrum of cricket writing on "The Daily Telegraph", but towards the end of his life he claimed he had become more of a follower of "The Guardian's" John Arlott, another fine broadcaster, who was the icon of cricket's anti-establishment.

Christopher Dennis Alexander Martin-Jenkins was born at his maternal grandmother's home in Peterborough and spent his first two years in Glasgow where his father, a Lieutenant-Colonel, was stationed. The father, who was in the shipping industry, returned to his job with the Ellerman Line, where he eventually became chairman and managing director. He was anxious that his three sons follow him into shipping, but Martin-Jenkins was not tempted. As an adolescent, he was already helplessly addicted to cricket. Early in his teens, he wrote a book about cricket's imaginary heroes, bound it, and ghosted a foreword by Brigitte Bardot. At Marlborough School, he became captain of cricket, and scored 99 against Rugby at Lord's (having run out two colleagues before losing his wicket). He also acted at school, and was an unlikely lead in John Osborne's "Luther".

When he went to Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge he was on the fringes of the Footlights, but cricket remained the priority. He had already had lunch at Broadcasting House with Brian Johnston, the BBC's leading cricket commentator, to find out how he might be able to emulate him, and he played competently enough to be chosen for two games with Surrey's second eleven. He remained devoted the club cricket. His "Who's Who" entry named nine cricket clubs of which he was a member.

His apprenticeship was served at "The Cricketer" under Swanton, who decreed that no staff member should ever write about football, which meant that Martin-Jenkins's freelance contribution to the "Telegraph" were by-lined "By Christopher Martin". He joined the BBC as a sports journalist in 1970, and spent three years learning the trade before his appointment as the BBC's Cricket Correspondent in 1973. Aged 28, he was still green behind the ears, the quintessential public schoolboy, capable of making schoolmasterly corrections of idle errors of cricketing fact. Apart from an interlude back at "The Cricketer", Martin-Jenkins held the BBC job until 1991, when he became a newspaperman on "The Daily Telegraph". He soon became the regular winner of the "Wisden Cricket Monthly's" annual poll for the best cricket writer and continued to do so after he transferred to "The Times" in 1999.

Cricket had changed radically when he was still at the BBC. Kerry Packer had bought his way into cricket with a new form of the game for television, played in one day, often under lights, and in coloured clothing. Martin-Jenkins believed he had invented the term "pyjama cricket". As the years went by, he became fretful about the future of five-day Tests, especially after the introduction of even shorter Twenty:20 games. He never ceased to enjoy the rhythm of county cricket. He lived near Horsham in Sussex and supported the county team, especially after his son Robin gained a regular place as a reliable all-rounder. He looked more at home in a deck chair at Hove than in front of a computer in the press box. Martin-Jenkins never fully comprehended modern electronics. During a Test in Adelaide, he once took to the Oval the television remote control from his hotel room, thinking it was his mobile phone.

In 2009, the President of MCC was John Barclay, a former captain of Sussex who had known Martin-Jenkins well at Hove and Arundel and as his successor as chairman of the Cricket Society. The President chooses his successor and, when Barclay named Martin-Jenkins there was muttering but Martin-Jenkins overcame all objections, with his charm, a gift for mimicry, and a clear appreciation of the views of his electorate. When chosen to give the annual Cowdrey Lecture at Lord's in 2007 he enumerated his dislikes in modern cricket. He thought it was contemptible for a batsman not give himself out when he knew he had edged a catch (Australians never do.). He disliked overseas players infiltrating county cricket by means of EU passports; he disapproved of heavy bats, bigger boundaries and slow over-rates. It was a list that would have tripped off the tongues of many an ageing MCC member sitting in the Pavillion.

His autobiography was published in 2012. Simply titled "CMJ" , it amounted to a long thank-you letter to everyone who had been involved in his rewarding cricketing life, especially his wife Judy, his two sons and a daughter, and including his God. By the time of its publication he was already suffering from lymphoma, which had been diagnosed late. Martin-Jenkins used Twitter to spread the news that his prognosis was terminal.

Christopher Martin Jenkins, cricket commentator: born Peterborough 20 January 1945; married 1971 Judith Hayman (two sons, one daughter); died 1 January 2013.