Obituary: J. M. Kilburn
Tuesday 31 August 1993
IF LANCASHIRE had the young Neville Cardus then Yorkshire had JM Kilburn. The careers of the two writers overlapped sufficiently for them to be considered of an era although the two were totally dissmiliar in style, conviction and ambition. Cardus wrote about art, Kilburn wrote about cricket, both provided an invaluable reflection of English life before the last war.
Cardus was an unashamed romantic, given to rhapsodic flights whether praising Mahler or Makepeace and cheerfully confessing to a little embroidery of case or character. Kilburn, a former schoolmaster invited first to contribute on cricket by the Yorkshire Post, then appointed Cricket Correspondent, a position he held for 30 years, could never have condoned the slightest inaccuracy.
He first reported Yorkshire cricket at the start of one of that county's outstanding periods when the team, under Brian Sellers, won the Championship on seven occasions in the 1930s. Kilburn's especial favourites were Hedley Verity, Bill Bowes and the young Len Hutton and it is through his writings that these three in particular have become better known, the flesh and blood behind the figures.
The Yorkshire press box of his time was a forbidding place. Not only the Yorkshire Post but four other Yorkshire newspapers posted permanent correspondents to the team and a young reporter appearing for the first time was tolerated only on a 'speak when you are spoken to' basis. Hutton confirmed that a similar regime existed in Sellers' dressing-room.
Kilburn was a tall, spare figure, gruff-voiced, who proved to be, on better acquaintance, a shy man. He wrote long hand, drawing on his considerable experience of club cricket and an intuitive perception of the nuances of the game. His copy would be telephoned to Leeds by a young man hired for the occasion and Kilburn and company would then set off to catch the train.
On one occasion, late in his career, when Dr Beeching had so reduced the train services that it was impossible to make a connection after the end of play, he left before the end, his readers being informed of the reason when they read his dispatch.
One of his most memorable pieces recorded Yorkshire's last victory before the outbreak of war in 1939, a win at Hove that confirmed another Championship. With train and bus services disrupted and German bombers expected, the team slept overnight in a pub lounge in the Midlands and eventually struggled back into City Square, Leeds, where, Kilburn noted, for once letting emotion peep, a great team broke up never to meet again.
Jim Kilburn was also a founder member of the Cricket Writers Club, becoming a long-serving secretary, chairman and an Honorary Life Member. When Yorkshire opened their new Press Box at Headingley five years ago Kilburn performed the ceremony and on Sunday Headingley's flags flew at half-mast. He is the only journalist to be elected a Life Member by Yorkshire.
His essays, such as 'Overthrows' and 'In Search of Cricket' are part of the game's literature. All his work will be valued as an accurate insight into social attitudes in the first half of this century. Jim Kilburn intended always to write about cricket but in fact he told us all so much more.
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