A talent for the great game

Stephen Fay finds the man behind Blofeld is finally revealed

Since he earns a living as a freelance journalist, Henry Blofeld has written a stream of books about cricket matches he has seen, but none is like the autobiography which has just been published.

Since he earns a living as a freelance journalist, Henry Blofeld has written a stream of books about cricket matches he has seen, but none is like the autobiography which has just been published.

Blofeld, a colleague on this newspaper and a broadcaster, was a wonderfully talented schoolboy cricketer. In his penultimate year at Eton he scored a hundred for the Public Schools against the Combined Services at Lord's, which was admired by Don Bradman. On his debut that summer for Norfolk, his native county, he scored 76 not out. Expectations were very high.

He was captain of Eton in 1957, his last year at school, and one of his privileges allowed him to ride his bicycle to net practice. Henry talked a lot even then, and when he saw a friend he kept on talking to him over his shoulder after he had passed him by, failing to notice a bus carrying French Womens' Institute members on a tour of Eton.

"I believe it was going faster than it might have been and I crashed straight into the front wheel and was thrown into the bus and then back on to the road by which time I was clearly going to be late for my net, and maybe for all others scheduled for me in the future... My skull had been broken much of the way round. A cheekbone had been squashed flat, my jaw was somewhat the worse for wear, a collarbone had taken quite a hammering... A good deal of sewing had gone on and I remained unconscious for quite a while," he writes.

His mother had been in Chartres Cathedral on the same afternoon, and on an impulse she stopped at a shrine and lit a candle, something she had never done before. "It was all very French," writes Henry, who is incapable of throwing away a line.

Whether it was divine intervention or a strong young body is undecided, but he recovered quickly and was able to return to Eton before the end of the summer term. He made his comeback in a house match.

"I could defend adequately, but when the ball was dropped short and I wanted to hook, which was one of my strokes, I was completely unable to tell my feet to move. I knew what I wanted to do but my feet stayed put... I was no longer half the cricketer I had once been." He still managed to score a first-class century at Lord's - 138 for Cambridge University against Middlesex - but his contemporaries had hoped for greater things.

So had he; you feel the disappointment can still rankle. He tried merchant banking, but was hopeless at it, and became an itinerant sports reporter, following Test cricket all over the world, and enjoying himself most when he was able to describe it on the radio.

He is an English "good old boy" who loves his cricket and his claret, just like John Arlott, whom he revered. The style is unmistakable and inimitable, inspired, perhaps by PG Wodehouse, his favourite author. It leaves him vulnerable to parody, which can come close to ridicule. But he knows cricket, and his analysis is more vivid and less inhibited than that of many former Test cricketers.

In 1999, he had a heart by-pass operation, during which his heart appears to have had an attack. "My blood pressure hereabouts had been lingering at 59 over 43, which in cricketing terms is a bit like finding you and your partner in the crease at the bowler's end and cover point's throw on the way to the wicket-keeper," he writes.

That remark perfectly captures his insouciance, but the experience persuaded him to write more freely. Without ever feeling terribly sorry for himself, Henry admits his imperfections as a family man and his insecurities as a journalist. The addition of a few warts reveals a rounder, clearer picture of a good colleague and a fine broadcaster. He has written a most endearing book.

Henry Blofeld: A Thirst For Life; Hodder and Stoughton, £18.99.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

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

Career Services

Day In a Page

Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

Why are we addicted to theme parks?

Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

Iran is opening up again to tourists

After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
10 best PS4 games

10 best PS4 games

Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent