Cricket: When prattle is better than play

Henry Blofeld on the rainy-day appeal of radio's Test Match Special

For years, it has been the habit of Test Match Special to go on talking about anything and everything when rain or bad light prevents any cricket, so much so that it has become one of the traditions of the programme.

For new and nervous commentators, the prospect of trying to fill in can prove daunting, especially when sitting behind you in the back of the box was that champion of all filler- inners, Brian Johnston.

He did it so easily, it was impossible not to feel that one was laboured and contrived in comparison.

Having said that, the programme's considerable post-bag contains a fair number of letters saying how much listeners love the idle chatter and some go so far as to say how much better it is than when the cricket is being played. Which may mean the cricket isn't done very well!

Like most things in the programme, the chatter during rainbreaks, far from being part of a grand design, was something which just happened. The commentary box then acquired a taste for it, which mercifully was picked up by many of the listeners.

For many years when rain stopped play, the commentators used to go through the details of the day so far before handing listeners back to the studio. They would not then be returned to the ground until play was just about to restart.

This sequence ended during the Lord's Test against the West Indies in 1976. Very light rain was falling which looked as if it would stop at any moment and there did not seem any point in going back to the studio for they were bound to hand listeners back again to Lord's in a matter of moments.

As it happened, the light rain obstinately refused to stop and those around the microphones kept prattling on to general enjoyment. This led, the next morning, to one of the great pieces of name-dropping in the history of even TMS. Johnston came into the box and cheerfully announced: "My friends at the Palace told me that the Duke of Edinburgh rather enjoyed himself listening to us during the rain." So one could almost say that the prattling continued by royal command.

One commentator who took a little bit of convincing of the virtue of carrying on during breaks for rain was John Arlott. When it rained, he was always quick to hand over the microphone to a colleague and go and sit in the back of the box.

Then, as the chatter progressed, a subject would come up which would interest him and it would not be long before he was itching to get back to the mike.

A great many of the things talked about were, to say the least, curious, but in general they have fitted in with the central idea that TMS is a group of friends who go to the cricket to enjoy themselves and the audience are simply eavesdropping.

There was one splendid occasion during rain when Johnston and Trevor Bailey were talking about mothers who had helped teach their sons to play cricket. They spoke about Penny Cowdrey, who had bowled to Chris and Graham. Johnners then wondered if Mrs Chappell had ever bowled to Ian Greg and said: "Alan McGilvray will know the answer to that."

He turned round and McGilvray was fast asleep in the back of the box. Brian covered this up by saying: "Oh, Alan has just slipped out of the box."

But McGilvray had heard his name mentioned and suddenly sat bolt upright and said in a very loud voice: "What, what? Did someone call me?" Which was followed by gales of general laughter.

Looking around Lord's over the last two days, I'm sure that the conversations different groups of spectators were having while there was no play will have been no more curious, mad, improbable or unlikely than many of the things which have been said on air when rain has stopped play.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Richard Blair is concerned the trenches are falling into disrepair
newsGeorge Orwell's son wants to save war site that inspired book
Life and Style
Audrey Hepburn with Hubert De Givenchy, whose well-cut black tuxedo is a 'timeless look'
fashionIt may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
Arts and Entertainment
The pair in their heyday in 1967
Life and Style
fashionFrom bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine