At Shrewsbury School a couple of weeks ago, with nice ceremony, they opened a swish new indoor cricket centre alongside what Neville Cardus once called ‘the most beautiful playing fields in England’.
At Shrewsbury School a couple of weeks ago, with nice ceremony, they opened a swish new indoor cricket centre alongside what Neville Cardus once called ‘the most beautiful playing fields in England’. All I could think of was Private Eye — for this was where the magazine’s founders learnt their cricket. I wondered what they’d have thought of four floodlit indoor nets, bowling machines, and banks of television screens to examine the crookedness of your cover-drive. Not that the Salopian four, who together left the school in 1955, were luminous players of the game, but I know they loved it: in my time, I have been captained by Richard Ingrams; been run out (twice) by Willie Rushton; I once put on a stylish five for the first wicket with Paul Foot; and I’ve lolled in a deckchair at Taunton, watching Somerset lose, alongside Chris Booker.
M’Lord Gnome himself, Peter Cook, the Eye’s moneybags, who had been bullied at Radley by Ted ‘Lord Edward’ Dexter, future England cricket captain, so distinctly preferred football (Spurs), watching televised sumo wrestling (‘Why can’t the ring be bigger, with taut ropes around it? Then we’d have fun’) and pro-celebrity golf. Re the last, in his final years Peter would bombard the BBC with requests for pro-celeb boxing: ‘You could start perhaps with Jeffrey Archer vs Michael Tyson.’
It strikes me that the prolix pomposities of modern sport as played, written about and broadcast might by now have become insufferable had not a wittily baleful Eye been casting around these past four decades in the guise of ‘Colmanballs’, ‘Pseuds Corner’, and the imperishable cast of Neasden FC. If the latter showstopper carried Cook’s imprimatur, it was nursed by the mag’s renaissance-man artist and inestimable odd-job Barry Fantoni — and all hail to his magnificent seven: tight-lipped, ashen-faced supremo Ron Knee, 59; fearless one-legged custodian Baldy Pevsner, 39; no nonsense Tesco Road chairman Brigadier Buffy Cohen, 73; new Argentine-born signing from the Dollis Hill hairdressing salon, Hernandez de Pratwinkle, 46; sportscribe E.I. Addio, Your Man in the Pressbox with Yorkie Bar and Sporting Life; and, on the terraces ‘the heaving throng’ of Sid and Doris Bonkers. Ah, those we have loved.
Colmanballs has long outlived the broadcasting career of David, the microphone’s squawk it’s named after. In fact the column was inspired by a letter from a reader, W. Sadler. The first entry which tickled me was Peter West’s at 1979’s Wimbledon: ‘Miss Stove seems to be going off the boil.’ Fortnightly ever since there’s been an inevitable gem — right up to last week’s: ‘It’s a game that will ultimately be decided by the final outcome’ (Martin Tyler, Sky Sports). An unknown continuity announcer, handing ‘over to the ringside where Harry Commentator is your Carpenter,’ heads my all-time top three, followed by ITV’s Hugh Johns’s ‘and the crowd is urging the referee to blow his watch’; and swimming’s Alan Weeks with ‘and at the final turn it’s still Britain’s Brinkley in last place — he obviously remains content to let Mark Spitz set the pace’.
Pseuds Corner’s champ, undefeated since 1978, is still the Spec’s own true-great music critic Hans Keller: ‘At the end of “La ci darem la mano”, the Don Giovanni duettino, the speedy Siciliano rhythm virtually turns into its opposite, and unity is achieved by a complimentary contrast, not unlike the performance of wordless logic displayed by Trevor Brooking at Upton Park the previous Saturday.’