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Arthur, Frank and Harold


There were three Gilligan brothers, the younger two of whom, Arthur and Harold, were England captains. Elder brother Frank was also a fine cricketer, who might also have played at the highest level had he not chosen a teaching career. As a brethren the three were fortunate in that the business run by their father was a successful one and a pressing need to earn a living was not something that ever distracted Arthur, an Ashes captain and undoubtedly the best remembered of the three. 

Soon after the outbreak of the Great War Arthur, born in 1894, gained a commission in the Lancashire Fusiliers. He spent two years in France and fought at the Battle of Messines Ridge in 1917 before being brought back to Aldershot as a PT instructor. The war over he went up to Cambridge and his county career began. Initially he played a handful of matches for Surrey but in 1920, after a remarkable personal performance against them for Cambridge the previous summer, begun his long association with Sussex. He did enough to gain an invitation to tour South Africa under Frank Mann in 1922/23 where, with the ball at least, he enjoyed some success in the two Tests for which he was selected.

In the early days of his First Class career Arthur bowled at a pace that allowed wicketkeepers to, at least some of the time, stand up to him, but he undoubtedly became faster as he matured and was as quick as anyone in the country when the England selectors started to look seriously at him. As a batsman he was an entertainer, rarely playing defensively and often hitting straight. He scored a dozen centuries over his career getting at least one from each slot in the batting order from six down including, in that match for Cambridge against Sussex in 1919, a rapid 101 after coming in last. As befits a former PT instructor Arthur was also a fine fielder. Mobile and with a fine throw and safe pair of hands he was a noted mid off.

In 1923 Arthur took 163 wickets at 17.50. Wisden was gushing in its praise for a man of whom it stated his enthusiasm was unbounded and his energy tireless. His bowling feats for that summer required no further elaboration, but the Almanack added that his batting demonstrated that if he had not been about the best fast bowler in England he would have been good enough as a batsman alone for most sides. Praised too was Arthur’s captaincy, now in its second season; (Gilligan) almost invariably played bright cricket in the most sporting spirit. And in case there were any doubt, and in order to underline Arthur’s all round credentials, Wisden stated also that he held pride of place in the country as a super mid-off.

Having completed the double for what would prove to be the only time in his career in 1923 (although he didn’t miss it by much the following summer) Arthur found himself invited to lead England against the 1924 South Africans. His playing credentials by then fully justified that selection, which would have been done no harm by the fact that he would be available to lead the MCC in Australia the following winter.

The first Test of the South African series was therefore Arthur’s first as England captain and there was a remarkable personal performance. First of all he won the toss, chose to bat, and watched his side score 438. The South Africans then asked for a heavy roller which seemed to find some moisture to bring to the surface.  Opening the bowling in the South African first innings with his county teammate Maurice Tate the pair took just 12.3 overs to dismiss the South Africans for 30. Arthur took 6-7 and Tate 4-12. Unsurprisingly the visitors were beaten by an innings, although they made a much better fist of their second effort lasting well into the final day before being all out for 390. This time of course Arthur and Tate did not bowl through, but they did still take all nine wickets that fell to the bowlers, with Arthur’s share being 5-83 for a match haul of 11-90.

England won the second Test by an innings as well, although not so spectacularly. Arthur’s contributions were 3-70 and 2-54 in what, sadly, proved to be his last Test when fully fit. After the match he was selected to play for the Gentlemen against the Players at the Oval, less prestigious than the Lord’s fixture but a major date in the cricket calendar nonetheless. In the Gentlemen’s first innings, replying to 288, they were dismissed for 113. Arthur’s 34 was the second best score of the innings and in the course of it he was struck a painful blow below the heart. The best part of a century on whether the delivery concerned came from the Warwickshire pace bowler Harry Howell or the Worcestershire off spinner Dick Pearson is not entirely clear.

In any event Arthur was out soon afterwards and was clearly shaken by the blow. With the Gentlemen in trouble it did not however prevent him batting in the second innings when, in trademark aggressive style, he scored 112 despite coming in at number ten. The effect of his second innings exertions, certainly in Arthur’s own opinion, was more severe than the original injury and he was never the same player again. How much of the problem was physical (Arthur lived a full and active life until his death at 81) as opposed to psychological must be something for conjecture, but it seems unlikely that his incapacity was entirely physical as he was still playing golf off a respectable handicap at 80.

After his injury Arthur played in the third Test, and for the Gentlemen at Lord’s, but after just a single wicket he decided to take some time out of the game in order to recuperate and missed the fourth Test. He was back for the fifth, but again went wicketless. The writing was perhaps on the wall, but there were hopes he would find his form again in Australia and he certainly still had enough credit with the selectors to be appointed to lead England in the 1924/25 Ashes campaign.

Australia won the first two Ashes Tests that winter easily enough, Arthur bowling plenty of overs and taking a few wickets albeit clearly down on pace. In the third Test England might have won and in the end fell just twelve runs short of a victory target of 375. Arthur took some of the blame himself after being ninth out for 31 after an uncharacteristically watchful innings that lasted the greater part of two hours. What he seldom mentioned was that his side was also hampered by his own groin injury which prevented him bowling more than eight overs in the match, and that ‘Tich’ Freeman, his partner in that ninth wicket partnership, was also struggling with an injury.

The importance of Australia’s victory in the third Test was put in context when, having a slice of luck with the weather, England comfortably won the fourth. Whether the fifth Test would have turned out differently if it had been a decider rather than a dead rubber must be doubtful but in the event it turned into a comprehensive Australian victory. Arthur contributed little to either the win in the fourth Test or the defeat in the last.

A return of 64 runs at 9.14 and ten wickets at 51.90 simply wasn’t the mark of a man worth his place in a Test side and Arthur’s career at the highest level was over. It is an odd decline, and while the injury clearly affected his bowling it does seem odd that his brilliance in the field seems to have been undimmed. In his account of the 24/25 tour the former Australian captain Monty Noble observed in every match in which I saw him play his work was almost faultless. His anticipation was so keen that he could always be counted on to cover a lateral range of at least twenty yards …… he picked up cleanly when running at full speed, using either hand freely, and his returns were quick, accurate and invariably right over the stumps.

As a captain, on the field, Arthur showed his inexperience but, to quote Noble again, his improvement during the tour was astonishing. It would seem that advice was something Arthur would listen to, and his judgment of which bowler to use in a given situation and what fields to set were two particular areas that Noble highlighted as being where the change occurred.

And what of politics? Anyone delving into the history of the 1924/25 tour will read about the British Secret Service tipping off their Australian counterparts about the Fascist leanings that Arthur had and his reputation today is somewhat tarnished by his political views, although probably unfairly so.

It is worth dwelling briefly on the political climate in Britain in the 1920s, and indeed that in Australia. There had been general elections in Britain in each of 1922, 1923 and 1924. In the first of those the Conservatives had won a substantial victory, but Prime Minister Andrew Bonar Law resigned due to ill health. Bonar Law died of throat cancer later in 1923 and his successor, Stanley Baldwin, whose timing was clearly on a par with Theresa May’s, called a general election with a view to getting a personal mandate. His party won the most seats, but couldn’t form a government and Ramsey MacDonald put together a minority Labour administration.

Inevitably the minority government struggled and a third election followed in 1924. There were huge fears about the spread of Bolshevism amongst the Establishment so much so that the Conservatives decided to cheat and the infamous ‘Zinoviev Letter’ was published in the Daily Mail in order to discredit the Labour Party. Another former England captain, Stanley Jackson, played a role in that but for the purposes of this story it is sufficient to record that this time Baldwin’s Tories romped home.

During this period of upheaval the British Fascists were formed in the wake of the rise of Benito Mussolini in Italy. The party was fiercely Nationalist, Royalist and against Socialism but in reality it was a rump of the Conservative Party rather than the almost paramilitary organisation that emerged in its wake, the British Union of Fascists, Oswald Moseley’s blackshirts. In time Moseley’s party became stridently anti-semitic and was a proscribed organisation during the Second World War and as a result Arthur’s reputation has been tarred with the same brush, more than one writer asserting he was a member of Moseley’s party. In reality however the British Fascists ran out of steam in the late 1920s and folded altogether in 1934. There is no evidence I have found to suggest that Arthur was ever a member of any other political organisation.

Back in 1924 Arthur was however definitely a member of the British Fascists. Likewise a member of the group was the manager of the team, Yorkshireman Sir Frederick Toone. It seems that Australian politics were in a similar turbulent state to that in the mother country and fears of a rising tide of communism were present there as well. So perhaps the interest of the Secret Services in the activities of a couple of political lightweights like Toone and Arthur is more understandable and it does seem that after the tour there were the beginnings of some fascist organisations in the major Australian cities, not that any of them ever amounted to anything.

The real key to Arthur’s character comes from other comments made by Noble on the subject of Arthur the off field captain; His natural qualifications socially, his tactful speeches, and the soundness of his administration won more adherents to the Empire’s cause than the winning of a hundred Test matches could have done, before adding later, I do not think we have ever had captain of an English side who proved himself so eminently fitted to discharge the responsibilities of the high office he so ably occupied. These are hardly the words that would be used to describe a man seeking converts to an extreme political cause, and none of Arthur’s teammates who went into print, or who have been the subject of biographies, seem to have suggested there was ever any attempt to influence their views.

Some writers have referred to an article that Arthur wrote after the tour for the British Fascist journal making the point that cricket tours should be run on fascist lines. There is however little of real significance in the article, the main purpose of which seems to be to stress the surely uncontroversial issue of the importance of a strong team ethic in a touring party.

As well as an interest in mainstream politics there were brushes with cricketing politics at around this time for Arthur as well, and perhaps two essentially unrelated incidents involving the Lancashire seam bowler Ciss Parkin have been conflated over the years in order to suggest that Arthur was a more controversial figure than he actually was.

The first incident came in that Edgbaston Test against South Africa. At the time Parkin was the leading bowler in the country and riding high in the averages. Given the way the first South African innings unfolded there was nothing surprising about Parkin not getting a bowl. In the 144 over rearguard action second time round he was asked to bowl just 16 overs, and went wicketless. It was the lightest workload of any of England’s frontline bowlers – Gilligan himself bowled 28 and Tate 54. Parkin’s great strength as a bowler was what he could do on a wet, drying or damaged wicket, which was essentially anything he chose. Hard and true surfaces like the Edgbaston pitch had become by the time the South African second innings developed and Parkin’s comparative lack of pace meant he was nothing like so effective so Arthur’s decision, in the context of Parkin not taking wickets in those overs he was given, appears sensible.

In an autobiography published a decade later Parkin acknowledged that he was not troubled either by the lack of overs or, as he described it, being third change (Cricketarchive suggests that in that his memory was mistaken and that he was actually first change). In any event in 1924 Parkin supplemented his cricketing income with a newspaper column and, running out of time to prepare and submit an article, he asked a journalist he knew to do so on his behalf. What appeared under Parkin’s name was a direct attack on Arthur for not bowling him enough coupled with a declaration that such was the humiliation he felt that he would not play for England again.

Parkin’s account that he was completely ignorant of the content of the piece is not entirely convincing, but what is undoubtedly correct is that he immediately wrote a fulsome letter of explanation and apology to Arthur, and a response received from Arthur made it clear that both apology and explanation were accepted. Despite that it still comes as no surprise to learn that Parkin never did play for England again.

The second part of the incident came a few months later, by which time Arthur’s tour of Australia had begun. In a column which, this time, Parkin never disputed writing he made the point, not in itself particularly controversial, that he believed that if no sufficiently able amateur were available there was no reason why a professional like Jack Hobbs or Herbert Sutcliffe should not lead England. This, no doubt at least in part because of the earlier article, was taken as a criticism of Arthur and the observation led directly to the famous comment of Lord Hawke at the Yorkshire AGM that he prayed no professional would ever captain England. Another storm ensued, the left leaning Daily Mirror being particularly scathing on the subject of his Lordship’s remark.

In 1925 Arthur had a poor season. He struggled to get past five hundred runs and took only eight wickets and rarely bowled. Still troubled by his injury from the previous summer at one point in mid season, on medical advice, he took six weeks away from the game. At least he was well enough to return to some semblance of form for 1926 when he scored just over a thousand runs, with four centuries, and took 75 wickets at a modest cost. He also joined the England selection committee and was present at the controversial meeting when, after four Tests of the 1926 Ashes his successor, Nottinghamshire skipper Arthur Carr, was sacked and replaced with, after much discussion, Percy Chapman.

Cricket occupied Arthur in the winter of 1926/27 when he led a strong MCC side to India and what was then Ceylon. The tourists had a good playing record although Arthur himself contributed little, his batting record being modest and he rarely chose to bowl. Repeating the experience of his tour to Australia the following county summer with Sussex his form suffered and Arthur was much less effective than in 1926 although, in a further repetition of his past experiences a winter off then meant that he performed considerably better, particularly with the ball, in 1928. It was however the summer that proved to be his last of full time cricket. Nominally at least however he remained Sussex skipper in 1929, a season in which injury and a complete loss of form restricted him to just a dozen matches.

After such a disappointing season Arthur made the decision to retire from the captaincy, a position that he handed over to younger brother Harold. Arthur continued to play the occasional First Class match for another three summers. There were no heroic deeds left, although at Lord’s in 1931 in a Championship fixture under Duleepsinhji he did roll back the years with a quickfire unbeaten 75, but he couldn’t save Sussex from defeat.

Alfred Herbert Harold Gilligan was two years younger than Arthur and was also an all-rounder. Like his older brother he also led England in a Test series, although there the similarities end. Harold only ever scored one century, although he did exceed a thousand runs three times. One of those seasons was 1923 when he set a record that will certainly never be broken, when his season comprised as many as 70 First Class innings. His run total however was a modest 1,186, at an average of 17.70.

As a bowler Harold was a part time leg spinner. In a career that coincided almost precisely with Arthur’s and comprised as many as 321 matches he took only 115 wickets in total, almost all of them in the early summers of his career. The price he paid for those wickets was a not unreasonable 33.66, so it is perhaps surprising that he gave up that aspect of his game.

Harold’s Test experience came in 1929/30 when MCC sent touring sides simultaneously to New Zealand and West Indies. Harold was charged with taking the side to New Zealand where, with just Frank Woolley and Duleep whose names are at all familiar today, his side won the first Test and drew the other three. After leading Sussex in 1930 Harold retired from cricket and reappeared in the First Class arena just once, to lead Sussex in 1931 against his friends from New Zealand. In time his daughter Victoria would marry another England captain, Peter May.

Older brother Frank was also a quality cricketer who won a blue at Oxford and, at the same time as his brothers, enjoyed a successful First Class career with Essex. A wicketkeeper batsman he was a career schoolmaster and so was available only in the holidays. In fact at 23.62 his was the highest batting average of the three brothers, although he never played for England. Frank did appear six times for the Gentlemen, but only ever at Scarborough, and never at Lord’s or the Oval. He taught at Uppingham until 1935 at which point he took a headship in Wanganui and emigrated to New Zealand.

His playing career over Arthur remained involved in the family company. He had married in 1921 but was divorced eleven years later. He remarried in 1934. Neither marriage was blessed with children. From retirement onwards Arthur’s involvement in the game continued, first as a selector and then as a respected writer and journalist who went on a number of overseas tours. He was also one of the earliest radio commentators, forming a popular and entertaining partnership with Vic Richardson, grandfather of the Chappell brothers.

Much later there was also another brush with politics, but this time rather more significant. By 1968 Arthur was President of the MCC. The club’s secretary was SC ‘Billy’ Griffith and the treasurer ‘Gubby’ Allen. As a result of their positions these three became aware that the South African government would not accept an MCC side for the tour that was scheduled for 1968/69 that included Basil D’Oliveira. If they had disclosed what they knew to the selection committee the tour would have to have been called off immediately, MCC having already made it clear that they would accept no interference in the choice of their party.

Present at the fateful selection meeting where Basil D’Oliveira was omitted were all of Arthur, Griffith and Allen, although it seems unlikely that, as has been suggested by some, Arthur influenced that particular decision. In truth the decision to omit D’Oliveira was not objectively unreasonable and, in any event, had a steer been given much greater weight would have been attached to the views of the industrious Griffith and respected Allen than those of Arthur who was primarily a figurehead. In any event when, later, after Tom Cartwright’s injury D’Oliveira was called up, as Arthur of course knew it would be, the tour was promptly cancelled by the South African government.

In later life Arthur remained in Sussex and lived in the village of Pulborough where he died in 1976 at the age of 81. One who met him more than once is David Frith, not generally a man to pull any punches and Frith tells of a charming man whose company he much enjoyed, and certainly not one whose political views were in any way controversial.

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