I have seen many tributes to my childhood friend, the late Jessica Mitford, but I have seen no mention of the one thing that struck immediately all who knew her at all well - her deep and passionate love of cricket. The one great sadness of her early life was that, however fertile her parents were, they had not produced enough children to form a whole cricket XI, so they often had to call upon servants and retainers from around the country estate to form a whole Redesdale XI.
This, of course, presented no difficulty to Jessica, who was tremendously egalitarian (before she became a Communist and therefore a bit more of a snob), and she had no objection to servants playing on the same side as aristocrats - indeed, as in the case of JM Barrie's The Admirable Crichton, she tended to think that servants made better cricket captains than her peers did.
Incidentally, she always used to accuse the English of hypocrisy over class, and when challenged to back it up she would say: "Only the English would have no difficulty in using the same word to mean 'absolutely equal' AND 'innately superior'." When challenged to say what this word was, she would say "The word 'peer'." And she had a point, by Jove!
From Lady Draynsham
What my husband set out to say in the above letter, and quite forgot to mention, was that Jessica's love of cricket may have been unwittingly responsible for the rise of Nazism. In the early 1930s, at those unforgettable country cricket weekends which Jessica used to organise, she used to encourage her sisters to bring friends along to help bolster the team. One weekend Unity brought along one of her dreary German political friends, a Herr Goebbels, who kept talking about what the Nazis were going to do when they were in power. "Get the right uniform, the right songs, the right march and the right leader, and nothing is impossible!" he would shout. Well, he was not much good at cricket as it turned out - he was always shouting at someone else to stop the ball - but he was fascinated by the role of the umpire, and especially by the gesture of giving a batsman out. "Have you noticed," he said to me, "how wonderful it is when the fielders appeal, all raising their arms, and then the umpire slowly raises his aloft too to show solidarity?! I must remember this...."
Six months later Hitler was doing exactly the same. Need I say more? Every time I saw Herr Hitler on the newsreel doing the Nazi salute, I would rise to my feet and shout "Out!", which caused some hilarity in our local cinema, I can tell you!
From Gennadi Ivanovich Orlov
In all the tributes to the late Jessica Mitford, I have seen no mention of her abiding love of cricket and her long-standing ambition to reshape it along Marxist-Leninist lines. She used to come to Moscow to have long talks with Stalin about this, and he showed every sign of agreeing with her, though we know now that he secretly did not consider a reform of cricket to be a high priority. Her theory was that cricket should be egalitarian to the extent of all the fielders being equidistant from the pitch. Stalin would chuckle and say: "Good idea, if they are all equally good and the batsmen always hit the ball the same distance!"
Many Communist sympathisers lost their faith when Stalin and Hitler signed the Nazi-Soviet pact, but Jessica never did. I happen to know that this was because she got a telegram from Stalin himself saying: "DON'T THINK OF THE NAZI-SOVIET PACT AS A BETRAYAL - THINK OF IT AS A SPORTING DECLARATION ! NOW LET US SEE WHAT HERR HITLER CAN DO ON A CRUMBLING WICKET IN THE FOURTH INNINGS !" This, to Jessica, excused everything.
From the Rt Hon William Gentry
I am surprised that none of the tributes to the late Jessica Mitford mentioned that cricket was the reason she moved to the USA. "Oh, Willikins!" she would occasionally whimper to me down the phone, "I know that the revolution will come one day, but I also know that it will sweep cricket away with it! What shall I do?"
"Go somewhere where they don't play cricket," I would advise her, "and forget all about it."
And so she did, and went to California.
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