Obituary: Brian Johnston

Brian Alexander Johnston, broadcaster and writer: born Little Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire 24 June 1912; MC 1945; OBE 1983, CBE 1991; books include Let's Go Somewhere 1952, Armchair Cricket 1957, Stumped for a Tale 1965, The Wit of Cricket 1968, All About Cricket 1972, It's Been a Lot of Fun 1974, It's a Funny Game . . . 1978, Rain Stops Play 1979, Chatterboxes 1983, Now Here's a Funny Thing 1984, Guide to Cricket 1986, It's Been a Piece of Cake 1989, Down Your Way 1990, The Tale of Billy Bouncer 1990, Views from the Boundary 1990, Forty-Five Summers 1991, Someone Who Was 1992; married 1948 Pauline Tozer (three sons, two daughters); died London 5 January 1994.

WHEN I first heard of Brian Johnston's death I was dazed and for a minute or two unable to believe it. I have little doubt that millions of others, most of whom will never even have met him, will have felt the same way, sure that they had lost a friend. 'Johnners' was an ageless figure. At 81, his humour, his enthusiasm and his irrepressible sense of fun were as strong and infectious as ever they had been.

At that first moment a kaleidoscope of thoughts and recollections flashed through my mind. Many of them were details which those of us lucky enough to have shared a commentary box with him had taken for granted.

Johnners was always one of the first to arrive before the start of a day's cricket. The jaunty stride up the steps, the cheerful grin, the joyful greeting, the carefully polished brown-and-white leather shoes he always wore during a Test match, and, almost inevitably, the first pun of the day. There was always a larger pile of letters for Johnners than anyone else and it was typical of the man that most of them - the sensible ones at any rate - received a handwritten reply. He had a great respect for his listeners.

Throughout the day, people would pop in and out of the box and each would receive an inimitable greeting. Outside at lunchtime or when he was not on the air people loved to come up and talk to him and, however boring he may have found it, he was inevitably courteous and charming. Brian Johnston brought to cricket commentary and the commentary box an all-pervading sense of fun. He described Test Match Special as the outpourings of a group of friends who had come along to watch the cricket and enjoy themselves.

He was as quick to spot anything funny off the field as he was on it. No one was immune from his leg- pulling and yet it was always done with high good humour and never with cruelty. I am sure he will be remembered by some as much for the never-ending stream of chocolate cakes that followed him around during an English summer as for his descriptions of play. The sender of each cake received copious thanks, the cake itself was described in detail and of course each one he received was the 'best'.

The flow of humour in the TMS box emanated from 'BJ' as he was known on the commentator's roster. It was at The Oval in 1976 when England batsmen were struggling against the West Indian fast bowlers that he told the listening cricket world: 'The bowler's Holding, the batsman's Willey.' Initially, it must have made rather surprising listening, but, sure enough, Michael Holding was running in to bowl to Peter Willey.

He had the knack of being able to chide newcomers in a way that taught lessons and never caused ill- feelings. In one of my first Test matches as a commentator there was a hold-up for rain soon after lunch. After a while Johnston brought me into a general conversation. I am afraid I seized the opportunity and banged on for about four or five minutes without letting anyone else get a word in. Eventually, I came to the end and looked round to my left for some support.

To my horror I saw that the box was completely empty and there was a large sheet of paper by the next microphone which said on it, 'Keep going until 6.30 and then hand back to the studio.' Of course, with that all my thoughts disappeared and after I had struggled on for a moment or two the others, led by Johnston, came bursting back into the box in fits of giggles and I was saved. But I had been taught not to ignore my colleagues.

It seems extraordinary that such a man could have any enemies, but there were a few who were irritated by his schoolboy jokes and his chocolate cakes and who felt that he did not treat the cricket seriously enough. I believe, though, that the great thing Johnners did was to teach all of us not to take the cricket or ourselves too seriously: after all, it was only a game.

Brian Johnston may not have been able to paint the verbal pictures of John Arlott but in his different and no less inimitable way he also won innumerable friends for cricket. His seat in the commentary box will be filled, but in my view it will never be quite the same again.

(Photograph omitted)

PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
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 People

HR Advisor - North London / North West London

£30000 - £35000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Advisor - North London...

Finance Manager - Recruitment Business (Media & Entertainment)

£28000 - £32000 per annum + negotiable: Sauce Recruitment: We have an exciting...

HR Advisor - North London / North West London

£30000 - £35000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Advisor - North London...

HR Advisor - North London / North West London

£30000 - £35000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Advisor - North London...

Day In a Page

Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals

'You need me, I don’t need you'

Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals
How to Get Away with Murder: Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama

How to Get Away with Murder

Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama
A cup of tea is every worker's right

Hard to swallow

Three hospitals in Leicester have banned their staff from drinking tea and coffee in public areas. Christopher Hirst explains why he thinks that a cuppa is every worker's right
Which animals are nearly extinct?

Which animals are nearly extinct?

Conservationists in Kenya are in mourning after the death of a white northern rhino, which has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink
12 best children's shoes

Perfect for leaf-kicking: 12 best children's shoes

Find footwear perfect to keep kids' feet protected this autumn
Anderlecht vs Arsenal: Gunners' ray of light Aaron Ramsey shines again

Arsenal’s ray of light ready to shine again

Aaron Ramsey’s injury record has prompted a club investigation. For now, the midfielder is just happy to be fit to face Anderlecht in the Champions League
Comment: David Moyes' show of sensitivity thrown back in his face by former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson

Moyes’ show of sensitivity thrown back in his face... by Ferguson

Manchester United legend tramples on successor who resisted criticising his inheritance
Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2015

UK city beats Vienna, Paris and New York to be ranked seventh in world’s best tourist destinations - but it's not London