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A Little More On Irving Rosenwater

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I have written on the subject of Irving Rosenwater before, here. My main purpose in doing so then was to give a flavour of the man himself, and to then concentrate on the fascinating body of research that he left us with. That done Irving was not a subject I expected to revisit in the future.

It is strange how things sometimes turn out however. Irving never married and had no children so there are no descendants. He did however have a sister and she had children, one of whom happened upon my previous article a few months ago, and felt the urge to contact me.

We had a pleasant exchange of emails which concluded with Irving’s niece offering to send to me what little remains of his correspondence. His home was, by all accounts, full of paper in one form or another. In an autobiography, published shortly before his death in 2013, Christopher Martin-Jenkins had described Irving as living surrounded and eventually buried by paper, because he hoarded everything like a squirrel in autumn.

One of the questions the niece asked me, understandably, was in relation to the comment I made about Irving being barred from internal flights within Australia. The story I had heard was that Irving had been harassing young female members of the airline’s cabin crew. As a matter of law one cannot libel the dead, however my doubts about the veracity of the assertion and its lack of any real relevance to what I was concerned with were the reasons I chose not to go into any detail.

On reflection however this is probably not the sort of statement that should be left hanging in the air, therefore I have, with the assistance of the material I now have and the memories of a few who knew Irving looked into the question just a little further. In support of the ‘allegation’ an Australian contact has told me that at some point during Irving’s stay in Australia in the late 1970s ‘Irving made a pass at my mother’, although that is an expression which can, of course, have a myriad of meanings.

There is an interesting comment from CMJ on the question. He clearly shared the family view that Irving was not interested in women, but in commenting on his single minded devotion to cricket he made the observation I believe he thought of nothing else until years later when, as a television scorer, he was accused of groping a young secretary and lost his job with Channel Nine. I note the use of the word accused. CMJ has, sadly, now departed this mortal coil himself so cannot be asked but he had no need to be non-committal, so I suspect therefore that he was not convinced.

I suppose it might be that the heat of Australia affected Irving, especially given that those others who have written of Irving generally seem to feel it necessary to mention his being a lifelong bachelor. There is no evidence to suggest that Irving ever showed any interest in women in the UK. Certainly his niece was surprised at the suggestion, the family always considering him to be asexual.

The bulk of what I now is have is a chain of correspondence going back over a number of years between Irving and Gordon Phillips. I recognised the name as that of the co-author of the Wisden Book of Cricket Memorabilia, the jacket of which tells me that Phillips was from Rhodesia, and describes him as a researcher, librarian and archivist. Clearly Irving and Phillips were close friends and the correspondence is sadly not complete, but it does stretch over most of the 1990s, with a few earlier letters. Phillips died in 2003, so three years before Irving, but I have nothing after 1998.

The letters are undoubtedly entertaining. The pair have much in common, their love of cricket and passion for research being the two most important. It is also clear that they have a shared distrust of journalists and publishers. At times Phillips is almost fawning towards Irving (not that I blame him for that given that a regular purpose for their correspondence involved Irving sending Phillips gratis copies of his publications), and whilst the intense admiration is not reciprocated in the same way there is still genuine warmth in Irving’s letters to his friend.

One aspect of Irving on which a little light is shed by the letters is that family belief he was asexual. Not quite it would seem, is my response to that one. In their correspondence in 1995 the pair complain about the behaviour of some at Lord’s and, as an aside, Phillips makes the observation; but oh Irving, those privileged yobs have lovely sisters/girlfriends and the micro skirt is definitely in during this present heatwave. Made my aged, arid glands positively zing!

Irving’s reply is; you are a man after my own heart with your deft remarks about the lovely sisters/girlfriends of the privileged yobs at Lord’s. I remember choosing a front cover picture once for The Cricketer of an Eton v Harrow damsel. It was magnificent then and it remains magnificent today – my appreciation, like yours, has not diminished one iota. Why indeed should it? I think it is a fact of life that the older we get the more lovely the sisters/girlfriends look. But then what are others’ sisters and girlfriends for if not to be admired? For anyone who is curious the edition of The Cricketer to which Irving refers is that of 15 July 1966, and it is available free of charge to all with a subscription to Cricketarchive.

So, to return to the point in issue, did Irving depart from acceptable standards of behaviour in Australia? I have to say I rather doubt it. It seems likely to me that there was some sort of misunderstanding, but I am not convinced it went any further than that. Irving spent those two years in Australia working for, ultimately, Kerry Packer and, given what we know of Packer and of Irving, the idea that those two could have avoided a complete breakdown in their relationship for any longer than that seems highly improbable. My own view is that the simple truth is more likely to be that the immovable object could no longer tolerate the irresistible force with, I suspect, at the end each being equally happy to see the back of the other and plenty said that may not have been entirely accurate.

In fact, amongst the correspondence I have, are a couple of letters written by the publicity director of World Series Cricket, one Bill Macartney, to Irving. Sadly, for once, there are no file copies of Irving’s replies but an amusing comment is made in one of the letters in relation to a controversy that had arisen as to whether or not some scores had been sent to Irving, where Macartney states I imagine you do have them Irving, because had we not send them, I feel sure you would have jumped up and down loud enough for us to hear all these many many thousands of miles away in Australia. So no mention of anything salacious, but a clear indication that Macartney was finding Irving a challenge to deal with.

A noted writer who knew Irving well recently told me that he and Irving had been the best of friends in the 1960s and early ’70s, but a strange form of madness encompassed him and in the last years he was impossible to deal with. A good summary of him comes from CMJ, who described him as the most precise, punctilious cricketing scholar I ever met, far more stubborn than any mule who has ever dug his toes into the sliding grit of a mountain pass.

That there was another side to Irving however is clearly the case. His niece told me that as far as her family were concerned we just considered him to be a bit of a mad professor, obsessed with cricket. He was a lovely Uncle and, even when I was all grown up, he would always meet me at Lord’s or The Oval, if I was attending, with a bag of loose sweets for me, give me a peck on the cheek and then disappear into the stands.

Reading through the letters that Irving exchanged with Phillips I cannot help but wonder if he was not, in truth, misunderstood as much as anything else. He was clearly a man who took attention to detail to extremes, and was unbending in many of his views. His attitude towards the use of second class mail is the one thing that every person who knew him will remark on, but was his tongue slightly in his cheek? Here is an extract from one of his letters to Phillips, and indeed there is very little else in the letter:-

How is it that I have received this morning (November 22) your envelope postmarked November 21 – containing a letter from you dated OCTOBER 8, 1994? October 8!! October 8?? not even November 8!! October 8! Ah, well – here is Rosenwater with reply in the typewriter exactly three minutes after receipt of letter, but to all semblance 45 days after your own letter. Many would take offence, and indeed I suspect in not doing so Phillips is in a small minority.

Phillips dropped the ball again four years later and was roundly admonished for doing so. The cause was his receipt of another Irving freebie, this time of a study of Arthur Haygarth. This was only the second occasion on which Christopher Saunders published Irving and, doubtless trying to be complimentary, Phillips made a positive reference to the publisher (then trading as Orchard Books). The comment brought forth a withering diatribe from Irving:-

You describe the Haygarth item as “a nifty publication by Orchard Books” but I played my part too. I designed the cover, the title page; provided the text page border; as well as the motifs for the limitation page and the drop letter for page 5; provided the photographs; agreed to the paper; insisted on sewing(rather than stapling) and duly provided the binders; and so on and so forth. Oh, and I wrote text as well.

Clearly Phillips had, probably by accident but, given he clearly had rather more of a sense of humour than Irving possibly by design, ‘pressed the wrong button’, and as with the ‘October 8’ episode had unleashed a barrage that would have ended many a friendship. Unfortunately for me the correspondence trail between Phillips and Irving peters out soon after that, but what little else there is makes it clear that Irving’s tirade did not undermine the friendship that the two men had on either side. I suspect, to an extent at least, the pair were teasing each other.

The most interesting item in the package I received, in bibliographical terms, is what I like to think amounts to a new and previously undiscovered Rosenwater limited edition, on this occasion of just a single copy. Of course that comment is not strictly accurate, but that is what I like to tell myself I now have. What it is amounts to is Irving’s own “mock up” of an offprint from an article in the Cricket Society Journal about CI Thornton entitled “A Canterbury Tale”. With my very rough item is some correspondence with a printer about publication. What is sadly not present is any indication as to why Irving never finished the project.

To receive this correspondence was a cause of mixed emotions. There is delight at being faced with some fascinating material and insights into Irving’s personality, but frustration at the thought of the many boxes, bags and other containers of correspondence that I understand were simply disposed of. Christopher Saunders handled the vast collection of books, pamphlets and other memorabilia, but much more has been lost forever and in particular there is, sadly, no mention in anything I have of Irving’s bete noire, Major Rowland Bowen.

Also notable and worthy of mention is a lengthy exchange of correspondence with Chris Harte in relation to the 1991/92 purchase by Irving of a substantial collection of old Australian cricket annuals from him. In the end Irving paid Harte £2,750,  a very considerable sum in those days. Knowing what we now know about Mr Harte the reader is given cause to wonder but, I think, now is probably not the time to go into that one in any great detail.

Amongst other fragments of correspondence are a couple of examples of something else Irving was noted for, in that there are two separate exchanges with the Oxford University Press on the subject of the definitions in the Oxford English Dictionary of “eunuch” and “shawish”. There are other letters from and to other cricket people (I assume Irving retained a copy of everything he ever wrote) including the then Mr Justice Popplewell, who Irving was extremely polite to in reminding him of an occasion when he had turned down an opportunity to take part in an overseas tour that Irving managed.

In a recent post on CricketMASH on the subject of Irving Mayukh Ghosh commented that the man is largely forgotten, and he deserves a biography. I couldn’t agree more, subject to the caveat that even if the game has moved on from Irving he will never be forgotten by the game’s bibliophiles. A biography could no doubt shed greater light on him, and had I been able to access all of his papers I might even have put my hand up for that job, but the material is sadly gone. So all I can offer is this and my earlier piece and express the hope that they are of some assistance to those interested in a man who, if nothing else, was most certainly a character.

Comments

I found this article difficult to read, this is not a criticism of your good self, but the subject, the allegations, the defence, the family, CMJ, A-sexual etc. It was too much. It all seems so strange and odd. Anyhow, I want to tell you something that may, or may not, interest you. I own a letter written in the beautiful handwriting of SF Barnes to Irving Rosenwater. I don’t have Rosenwater’s reply. The letter was written in 1967.
Paul Mullarkey
Widnes.

Comment by Paul Mullarkey | 7:26pm BST 19 September 2019

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