Ustinov's hidden love of cricket recalled

Click to follow
The Independent Online

I have received a flood of letters of appreciation for the late Peter Ustinov, and in his honour I am printing a few today.

From Sir George "Gubby" Trotter,

Sir, In all the tributes to the late, lovely Peter Ustinov, I have failed to see any mention of his abiding love of cricket.

I first met Peter in the early 1950s when we were members of a touring side called UNICEF (standing, he told me, for "Ustinov's Nice, Ineffectual Cricket Eleven & Friends") and it was there that I became aware of his extraordinary powers of mimicry.

He could imitate the sound of ball hitting bat better than the real thing, and often the opposing batsman would play forward and miss, only to hear the unmistakable noise which meant he had hit it. Peter would then appeal loudly for a catch. If he did not get the appeal, he was quite capable of doing an uncanny imitation of the umpire and shouting "Out!" It took a very strong-minded umpire to then say that he had not given the man out.

From Mr Jack Dawkins,

Sir, I can vouch for the foregoing, as he was still up to his mimicry when I played with him in a later version of UNICEF (which by then, I recall, stood for Ustinov's Nice Friends). The only time I remember Peter getting into trouble for his imitations was when he had secured five or six dismissals by this trick, and the umpire lost his temper. "Ustinov, off the field, for ungentlemanly behaviour!" we heard the cry, and off he went.

Later, I commiserated with him for being upbraided by the umpire.

"Oh, that wasn't the umpire sending me off," he said. "That was me. I felt tired from all my appealing and decided to send myself off for a while."

From Lady Violet Daggers,

Sir, I once asked Sir Peter how a Russian-born player like him could take to such a game as cricket.

"Every nationality has its own attitude to cricket," he told me. "The French don't like it because, with a six-ball over, it is not metric and offends their sense of order. The Germans don't like it, because it is inefficient."

"How do you mean?" I asked him.

"Well, in German eyes, out of 22 players there are always at least nine sitting in the pavilion doing nothing, which is unproductive. The Spanish do not like it, because nobody dies. The Italians do not like it, because white shirt and white trousers are out of fashion this year. And the Russians are not interested, because the Americans do not play it, and therefore they cannot beat them at it."

From Arthur Jaeger,

Sir, I once asked Peter Ustinov if his cricket and his acting ever intersected at any point.

"Oh, yes," he said. "All my portrayals of Hercule Poirot were based on a certain international cricket umpire. People have called my Poirot unemotional. They should have seen that umpire."

From Lord Dryswater,

Sir, Not many people realise that in later years he was a tireless worker for UNICEF (United Nations International Cricket Expeditionary Force), a rapid reaction unit sent into trouble spots to calm things down with a peace-spreading cricket match.

"There's something about the tempo of a cricket match, Bunty," he once said to me, "which makes insurgency or civil war near impossible. So what we do is swoop down on any trouble spot and take the inhabitants by surprise with a one-day cricket match. That halts them in their tracks, I can tell you."

"Ah, yes, Peter," I said, "but does it last? Can even cricket bring permanent peace?"

"Not always," he confessed. "I once went back to a part of Eritrea where we thought we'd brought peace, and they were back in a state of civil war. But - and I take courage from this - the two sides in the war had now been renamed by their members as The Lord's Tavern Thugs and The MCC Bandits. So there had been progress of a sort."