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)

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 Analyst - Banking - Bristol - £350-£400

£350 - £400 per day: Orgtel: HR Analyst - Banking - Bristol - £350 - £400 per ...

HR Manager - HR Generalist / Sole in HR

£30000 - £35000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Manager - HR Generalis...

Business Analyst - Banking - London - £350-£400

£350 - £400 per day: Orgtel: Business Analyst - Banking - People Change - Lond...

HR Manager - Milton Keynes - £50,000 + package

£48000 - £50000 per annum + car allowance + benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Shared...

Day In a Page

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

The President came the nearest he has come yet to rivalling George W Bush’s gormless reaction to 9/11 , says Robert Fisk
Ebola outbreak: Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on the virus

Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on Ebola

A Christian charity’s efforts to save missionaries trapped in Africa by the crisis have been justifiably praised. But doubts remain about its evangelical motives
Jeremy Clarkson 'does not see a problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC

Not even Jeremy Clarkson is bigger than the BBC, says TV boss

Corporation’s head of television confirms ‘Top Gear’ host was warned about racist language
Nick Clegg the movie: Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise

Nick Clegg the movie

Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise
Philip Larkin: Misogynist, racist, miserable? Or caring, playful man who lived for others?

Philip Larkin: What will survive of him?

Larkin's reputation has taken a knocking. But a new book by James Booth argues that the poet was affectionate, witty, entertaining and kind, as hitherto unseen letters, sketches and 'selfies' reveal
Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?

Waxing lyrical

Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?
Texas forensic astronomer finally pinpoints the exact birth of impressionism

Revealed (to the minute)

The precise time when impressionism was born
From slow-roasted to sugar-cured: how to make the most of the British tomato season

Make the most of British tomatoes

The British crop is at its tastiest and most abundant. Sudi Pigott shares her favourite recipes
10 best men's skincare products

Face it: 10 best men's skincare products

Oscar Quine cleanses, tones and moisturises to find skin-savers blokes will be proud to display on the bathroom shelf
Malky Mackay allegations: Malky Mackay, Iain Moody and another grim day for English football

Mackay, Moody and another grim day for English football

The latest shocking claims do nothing to dispel the image that some in the game on these shores exist in a time warp, laments Sam Wallace
La Liga analysis: Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Pete Jenson starts his preview of the Spanish season, which begins on Saturday, by explaining how Fifa’s transfer ban will affect the Catalans
Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape