'A giant among commentators': Major leads tributes to voice of cricket

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The Independent Online
WITH THE passing of Brian Johnston, voice of radio cricket for generations, John Major, for once, spoke for the whole nation yesterday.

'Brian Johnston was a giant among commentators,' the Prime Minister said. 'Over recent years he became almost the personification of cricket. He was a man who enjoyed life hugely and shared that enjoyment with millions. Summers will not be the same again.'

He was 81, and had not missed a day's work through illness in 50 years at the BBC. He collapsed in November on his way to catch a train to a speaking engagement in Bristol, but had appeared to be making a recovery.

Like John Arlott, Johnston was a great amateur - neither a cricketer, nor a broadcaster by training - and as with Arlott, the unconventional background produced an original. While Arlott's talent was describing almost in poetry the events on the field, Johnston's was to convey the enjoyment of cricket. He was a constant reminder for listeners that for all the high financial stakes of recent years, it was still a game.

Not everybody at the BBC approved of his schoolboy puns, his obsession with chocolate cakes and his practical jokes on air. In 1970, he was dropped from the television commentary team in favour of a slate of former international players. But he had the last laugh, knowing many viewers preferred the old- world dignity of Radio 3 and watched the television with the sound turned off.

For all the accusations of unneccessary irreverence, Brian Johnston retained the respect of those who mattered most, the players. The England captain Mike Atherton said yesterday: 'He had a deep love of the sport that he was able to share with cricket fans in a unique way. There was no one else like him and I shall miss him very much.'

Atherton's predecessor Graham Gooch said: 'He will be sorely missed by everyone - he was simply an institution.' Another former captain, David Gower, added: 'The great thing about Brian was that he appeared to enjoy everything he did.'

Johnston failed to make the first XI at Eton, but captained the seconds. He went to Oxford, entered the family coffee business, then joined the Grenadier Guards at the outbreak of the Second World War. He was awarded the Military Cross.

Without formal broadcasting training, he began television cricket commentary for the BBC in 1946 and also covered major occasions such as King George's VI's funeral and the Coronation in 1953.

Although increasingly identified with cricket, he also hosted radio programmes like Twenty Questions, and presented Down Your Way from 1972 to 1987.

Obituary, page 16

Diary, page 19