Passed/Failed: An education in the life of Henry Blofeld, cricket commentator

'Cricket: the only degree I needed'
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The Independent Online

Henry "Blowers" Blofeld, 68, has been commentating for Test Match Special on Radio 4 since 1972. "An Evening with Henry Blofeld" is a CD, a new DVD and a tour which begins at The Stables in Milton Keynes next week. Details on

My father had a monocle, which was very frightening when you were summoned for discussion of your school report. There would be a ghastly twitch of muscle and the monocle would fall out. I was unashamedly born with a gold spoon in my mouth. It was a happy upbringing – and tough. I remember having my mouth washed out for telling a fib and I got the most frightful stick from my father if I didn't stand up when my mother came into the room.

I was taught by Mrs Hales, a governess, in the gun room on the estate in north Norfolk where the Blofeld had landed in about 1520. I rather enjoyed it. There were five or six of us: cousins and children of my parents' close friends. I was quite good at the Old Testament at an early age.

In the rather cruel way that they had then, I was sent away to school at seven and a half. In the lower dorm at Sunningdale School, Berkshire, I met one or two nasty bullies; one chap was named Baring, one of the banking lot. How desperately unfairly treated Nick Leeson was – to be sent to a Singapore jail for performing a public service! I played cricket for the Sunningdale 11 for four years and [political writer] Ferdinand Mount, reviewing my autobiography [A Thirst For Life] in The Spectator, said that he remembers me even then commentating on a match for my chums who were sitting next to me.

The only time I was in print was when, as captain of the Eton second football 11, I wrote a report for the Eton College Chronicle about our away match against Bradfield: "After what passed for a lunch, Team B climbed a steep hill and found what passed for a football field." Bradfield complained bitterly.

I enjoyed Eton hugely: the best five years of my life. I was a nasty little horror who was good at playing games. Being in "Pop" [the waistcoats worn by prefects] I had tin god status: power without responsibility. I thought the "beaks" [teachers] were splendid but I suppose there were a few echoes of the rather cruel school Eton had been 100 years earlier.

At 15 I was chosen to play cricket against Harrow at Lord's and the following year, playing for the Public Schools side against the Combined Services, I had a bit of luck and was 104 not out.

I passed eight O-levels, the last exams I ever passed. In my last "half" at Eton I was bicycling up to the nets and crashed straight into the front wheel of a bus going at 40mph. I cracked my skull nearly all the way round and had about 14 major brain operations. I didn't do any A-levels; my entrance exam to King's, Cambridge, fell by the wayside as I was unconscious for about a month. In a way the accident did me a good turn, because, as my family had been going to King's forever, the college gave me a wild card and let me in.

I played for Cambridge in 1958 and I got a Blue in 1959; it was a very bad Blue, as I was the worst opening batsman since the war – the Crimean War. In view of what I subsequently did, cricket was the only degree I needed. What did I read? I think it was history. I took a college exam in my first year and Part I in the following year. I failed both exams by an innings. King's said I could stay on for a third year – but there'd be no cricket! When I said no to that, John Raven, the senior tutor, wrote to me saying, "I think it is time for you to move on to the next stage" – without saying what the next stage was.