Obituary: Alan Gibson

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The Independent Online
Alan Gibson will be best remembered as a fluent, erudite and witty broadcaster who reached his peak nationally in the 1960s when he was an integral member of the Test Match Special team, joining E.W. Swanton, John Arlott and Brian Johnston to form an inimitable small orchestra that turned cricket into music for many listeners.

But Gibson was more than a knowledgeable and welcome voice. He was a diarist, an essayist, a belletrist who would have been at home with Byron, Grace, Thomas Lord and Lady Caroline Lamb. While radio brought him fame it is his writing that will be personally remembered, especially his day- by-day reporting of county cricket in the Guardian, the Sunday Times, the Sunday Telegraph, and most of all, in the Times.

His idiosyncratic style attracted a large following. Many of us had never heard of Didcot, never mind the railway junction, until we read of Gibson's almost daily difficulties in traversing it. Through Gibson we learned of the pleasurable company and attractive barmaids to be found on the ground at Bristol, Taunton and Cheltenham. There would be felicitous descriptions of parts of the day's play, of the crowd, of the weather and the summer blooms. Often, to the fury of the sub-editors, he would totally ignore some sensation in the day's scores.

Almost always there was a touch of humour. One introduction began something like: "I knew my day at the Oval would not be straightforward when I spotted the Cricket Correspondent sitting in a corner of the press box (an in- house newspaper joke; the Times had assigned two correspondents to report the same match).

He awarded DJ "Dickie" Rutnagur of the Daily Telegraph an eternal sobriquet by referring after an hotel stay to the "oriental prankster" who had spirited away his pyjamas. Although Gibson was regarded as a man of the west he was in fact a Yorkshire man, born in Sheffield, the son of a Durham miner who became a Baptist minister. His liberal radical routes were put down at Taunton School, from where he reached Oxford by winning an exhibition. There he took a First in History without, it was said, attending a single lecture, and became president of the Union.

After a short but stormy army career he lectured briefly at Exeter University, then stood as a Liberal candidate at Falmouth in the 1959 General Election, having been for some time adopted by BBC West Region where he produced and presented several programmes including a breakfast show that would have been unlikely to appeal to listeners to Chris Evans.

By 1962 he had joined the Test Match team and was featured by the BBC on both cricket and rugby, his connection with the latter sport being interrupted by his standing down from the Springbok visit of 1969/70, a rejection of apartheid. His last Test Match broadcast came in 1975 when it became clear that his liking for refreshment brought a noticeable change in the style and content of his delivery later in the day. His greatest moment at the microphone came during the West Indies Test Match of 1963 at Lords' when, with one over left, all four results were possible.

Gibson wrote several books including an autobiography, A Mingled Yarn (1976), and a minor classic in The Cricket Captains' of England (1979) that was updated and republished a decade later. He was shy with those he did not know well, though there were younger members of the press box who would have felt privileged to have been invited into his company.

His later days were clouded by illness and his last few years were spent in a nursing home. He was perhaps the most learned of all those who have learned a living from writing about county cricket, his work illustrating again that the charm and strength of the genre can never be assessed, like that of a great musical performance, by simply measuring the number of spectators.

One of the greatest tributes to Gibson's talents was paid by his contemporary E.W. Swanton who wrote of him: "If Crusoe (R.C. Robertson Glasgow's nickname) can be said to have a successor it is Alan Gibson, whose reports gladden my summer."

The Cricket Writers' Club, his peers, gave their assessment of the respect and affection in which he was held by electing him their first president in 1982.

Norman Alan Stewart Gibson, writer and broadcaster, born Sheffield 28 May 1923; married 1948 Olwen Thomas (two sons; marriage dissolved), 1968 Rosemary King (one son, one daughter; marriage dissolved); died Taunton 10 April 1997.