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
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

Career Services

Day In a Page

The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

The saffron censorship that governs India

Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

How did fandom get so dark?

Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

Disney's mega money-making formula

'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

Lobster has gone mainstream

Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

14 best Easter decorations

Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

Paul Scholes column

Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

The future of GM

The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

Britain's mild winters could be numbered

Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

Cowslips vs honeysuckle

It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss