Obituary: Denis Compton

Although I used to watch Denis Compton play cricket bewitchingly at Lord's in the early Fifties, I didn't meet him until 40 years later when I was commissioned to write his biography, writes Tim Heald. I can see him now, at the Savoy after lunch with the Saints and Sinners, heaving himself off the sofa (that game knee, those tiresome hips), holding out a hand and saying almost bashfully, "Hello. Denis Compton." This from possibly the most famous Englishman of his generation.

We spent a lot of time together over the next months, often over lunch. He was wonderful company, indefatigable, modest and touchingly brave. That kneecap of his which so blighted his career is preserved in a biscuit tin at Lord's, like a saint's relic - which in a sense it is - though Denis blanched at the mere mention of so gruesome a souvenir. Shortly after one of his gritty comeback innings a specialist was shown an X-ray of the Compton knee. "That man," he said, "will never walk again."

Wherever I went with him he was recognised to the point of adulation. I remember walking out of lunch at the Travellers' Club and a whole centre table of ex-ambassadors rising as a man as a mark of respect. Denis, though gratified, was incredulous. And I recall the naughty-boy grin when, at Brian Johnston's wake, he was asked if he'd like a drink ad replied, "It's all right, old boy. The Prime Minister's getting me one." Cue for John Major with a glass of red wine. Denis loved to give pleasure but I am not sure he ever understood quite how much he gave.

David Sheppard, best of all cricketer clerics, told me that as a schoolboy in Denis's miraculous summer of 1947 he batted and batted in the nets, hoping that, by constant practice, he might one day bat like Hutton, but knowing that, no matter what, "I could never bat like Compton".

At the end of every conversation Denis always signed off in exactly the same cheery way. "All right old boy? God bless!" It was typical of the man that he sounded as if he meant it.

The 1997 Championship season began yesterday with a minute's silence before the start of play on every first class ground, a token of the love and affection all cricket held for Compton, writes Derek Hodgson. His death, days before the arrival of the latest Australian team, is especially poignant for it was his performances against Australia, particularly against Bradman's 1948 Invincibles, that endeared him so much to an English audience still suffering a wartime hangover.

Four years ago, during the Texaco match against Australia at Lord's, the band of the Coldstream Guards on the field at the interval to play "Happy Birthday": the crowd rose and Denis, celebrating his 75th birthday on the balcony, raised his glass and beamed in reply - a rare distinction.

I once interviewed him about his wonderful 1947 summer. Every day, I suggested, it seemed to followers that there would be a Compton century - was it as easy as shelling peas?

The easy affability vanished. He came as near to bridling as perhaps was possible in such a good-natured man: "It may have seemed like that, reading the score cards. But it still had to be done: every 10 runs, every 25, every 50, and onwards. I did get very tired at times."

Denis Charles Scott Compton, cricketer: born Hendon, Middlesex 23 May 1918; Editor, Denis Compton's Annual 1950-57; cricket correspondent, Sunday Express 1950-97; cricket commentator, BBC Television 1958-97; CBE 1958; author of Playing for England 1948, Testing Time for England 1948, In Sun and Shadow 1952, End of an Innings 1958, Denis Compton's Test Diary 1964, Cricket and All That 1978; married 1941 (one son; marriage dissolved 1950), 1951 Valerie Platt (two sons; marriage dissolved 1968), 1975 Christine Tobias (two daughters); died Windsor, Berkshire 23 April 1997.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment
booksPhotographer Richard Young has been snapping celebrities at play for 40 years - but he says it wasn’t all fun and games...
News
i100
Sport
Aguero - who single-handedly has kept City's Champions League dreams alive - celebrates his dramatic late winner
footballManchester City 3 Bayern Munich 2: Argentine's late hat-rick sees home side snatch vital victory
News
Muhammad Ali pictured in better health in 2006
peopleBut he has enjoyed publicity from his alleged near-death experience
Arts and Entertainment
Tony breaks into Ian Garrett's yacht and makes a shocking discovery
TVReview: Revelations continue to make this drama a tough watch
News
news
News
peopleSinger tells The Independent what life is like in rehab in an exclusive video interview
News
The assumption that women are not as competent in leadership positions as men are leads to increased stress in the workplace
science... and it's down to gender stereotypes
Arts and Entertainment
Inner sanctum: Tove Jansson and friends in her studio in 1992
booksWhat was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Singer songwriter Bob Dylan performs on stage
films
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Austen Lloyd: Commercial Property Lawyer - Cheshire

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: CHESHIRE MARKET TOWN - An exciting and rare o...

Austen Lloyd: Residential Property Solicitor - Hampshire

Excellent Salary : Austen Lloyd: NORTH HAMPSHIRE - SENIOR POSITION - An exciti...

Recruitment Genius: Gas Installation Engineer

£29000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Gas Installation Engineer is required ...

Recruitment Genius: Domestic Gas Technical Surveyor

£28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Domestic Gas Technical Surveyor is req...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Drifting and forgotten - turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Our partner charities help veterans on the brink – and get them back on their feet
Putin’s far-right ambition: Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU

Putin’s far-right ambition

Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU
Tove Jansson's Moominland: What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?

Escape to Moominland

What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?
Nightclubbing with Richard Young: The story behind his latest book of celebrity photographs

24-Hour party person

Photographer Richard Young has been snapping celebrities at play for 40 years. As his latest book is released, he reveals that it wasn’t all fun and games
Michelle Obama's school dinners: America’s children have a message for the First Lady

A taste for rebellion

US children have started an online protest against Michelle Obama’s drive for healthy school meals by posting photos of their lunches
Colouring books for adults: How the French are going crazy for Crayolas

Colouring books for adults

How the French are going crazy for Crayolas
Jack Thorne's play 'Hope': What would you do as a local politician faced with an impossible choice of cuts?

What would you do as a local politician faced with an impossible choice of cuts?

Playwright Jack Thorne's latest work 'Hope' poses the question to audiences
Ed Harcourt on Romeo Beckham and life as a court composer at Burberry

Call me Ed Mozart

Paloma Faith, Lana del Ray... Romeo Beckham. Ed Harcourt has proved that he can write for them all. But it took a personal crisis to turn him from indie star to writer-for-hire
10 best stocking fillers for foodies

Festive treats: 10 best stocking fillers for foodies

From boozy milk to wasabi, give the food-lover in your life some extra-special, unusual treats to wake up to on Christmas morning
Phil Hughes head injury: He had one weakness – it has come back to haunt him

Phil Hughes had one weakness – it has come back to haunt him

Prolific opener had world at his feet until Harmison and Flintoff bounced him
'I have an age of attraction that starts as low as four': How do you deal with a paedophile who has never committed a crime?

'I am a paedophile'

Is our approach to sex offenders helping to create more victims?
How bad do you have to be to lose a Home Office contract?

How bad do you have to be to lose a Home Office contract?

Serco given Yarl’s Wood immigration contract despite ‘vast failings’
Green Party on the march in Bristol: From a lost deposit to victory

From a lost deposit to victory

Green Party on the march in Bristol
Putting the grot right into Santa's grotto

Winter blunderlands

Putting the grot into grotto
'It just came to us, why not do it naked?' London's first nude free runner captured in breathtaking images across capital

'It just came to us, why not do it naked?'

London's first nude free runner captured in breathtaking images across capital