The harbinger of any new season for cricket lovers has always been the publication of a book. Alongside the more august Wisden, for many this meant the annual offering from Nico Craven, an endearingly dotty cricket nut who for 34 years was Gloucestershire's most prolific chronicler.
A son of the manse, Nico, whose pronunciation he always insisted rhymed with psycho, spent his formative years in Painswick, near Stroud, where his father was vicar. Taken to the 1935 Cheltenham Cricket Festival, there he first saw the Gloucestershire batsman Wally Hammond effortlessly take 170 off the might of the South African tourists. Instantly captivated, for more than 70 years he remained the county's most unwavering supporter.
Educated at Harrow, following National Service he enrolled on the first Home Office Course for Housemasters in Approved Schools. His first job took him to Pelham House, an elegant 18th century mansion at Seascale in West Cumbria affiliated to the Boys' Club movement. It provided accommodation for troubled youngsters who had fallen foul of the courts or been deemed to be out of parental control.
Throughout his years there, presiding over his charges like a rather indulgent paterfamilias, he proved an inspirational guide for many generations of young people. Amid what was then a most Spartan environment, in addition to academic tuition the school enthusiastically embraced its rugged rural ambience. For many, this proved as character-building as the curriculum in the classroom.
When responsibility for Pelham House was devolved from the Home Office to the local authority in 1969, Craven moved across to become Organising Secretary for the Cumberland and Westmorland Association of Boys' Clubs. An assiduous worker for many and varied other local causes, prominent among which was The Howgill Family Centre based in Whitehaven. Closely involved since its inception, he later served as its President.
His writing career began in earnest in 1969. Thereafter, with cuckoo-like precision he produced a book a year up to 2003. Privately printed and richly illustrated, each labour of love was generally prefaced by one of the leading cricket writers of the day, everyone from Matthew Engel to John Woodcock.
While his many volumes range widely over all aspects of the game, Gloucestershire cricket clearly remained his primary love. Always quick to seize on the game's humour and eccentricity, no matter wherever his travels took him, he somehow managed to find interesting conversation, idyllic surroundings and sumptuous hospitality. For Nico Craven, cricket was always far more than just bat on ball.
A genuine all-rounder in the finest sense of the word, he bestrode the often narrow confines of his art with consummate ease. Here, as in everything, the keystone of his life and work was the warmth of his abiding friendliness – surely a most fitting epitaph.
Hiram Nicholas Craven, writer and community worker: born Amersham, Buckinghamshire 25 October 1925; MBE 1980; died Newcastle upon Tyne 16 April 2010.Reuse content