Arthur Carr: The Rise and Fall of Nottinghamshire’s Bodyline Captain

Published: 2017
Pages: 291
Author: Wynne-Thomas, Peter
Publisher: Chequered Flag Publishing
Rating: 4 stars

I wish Peter Wynne Thomas had decided to write this book half a century ago. If he had he could have spoken to Arthur Carr’s brother, and to his second wife, both of whom could have shed a great deal of light on the life of the man who, until now, was surely the most interesting England Test cricketer never to have been the subject of a biography. Not all was lost as Wynne-Thomas was able to speak to Carr’s niece, however there were no direct descendants to speak to Carr’s only child, Angus, having been killed in action in North Africa in the Second World War at the age of just 21.

The only member of his family to have excelled at cricket Carr came from a background of substantial wealth. His father amassed a fortune from stockbroking, so much so that he could indulge Carr’s passion and talent for sport and support him through his cricket career. In fact quite how Carr existed is a source of particular interest to this reviewer – it would be fascinating to see the bank statements covering his lifetime.

That Carr was always a maverick is clear. He was too much of one for the country’s most famous school, Eton, so after a brief stay was packed off to Sherborne in the West Country. It would seem that from school Carr went up to Oxford, but there is little to be discovered about a chapter of his life that seems to have been about as brief as that at Eton. It may be that Carr simply wasn’t very bright. He was clearly a gifted sportsman, but there is no indication of any significant academic achievement, and the fact there is so little evidence to the contrary strongly suggests that the written word was not Carr’s metier.

Carr’s relationship with his father is also an interesting one. Were they close? Did Carr Snr take great pride in his elder son’s sporting prowess? The answer to that latter question must surely be yes, but the evidence to confirm or otherwise the former is long gone. Unlike his younger brother Carr seems never to have played any part in the family business despite, one would have thought, England’s cricket captain having the potential for a significant ambassadorial role even if he didn’t know one end of a stock transfer form from the other.

And just what was the extent of the family’s financial support? Carr had a large house and his household employed several people. He enjoyed spending money as well, so much so that the word ‘spendthrift’ would seem to be applicable. When Carr’s father died he, not unreasonably, left the bulk of his estate to his widow. He didn’t forget his children, but it must say much about his opinions on Carr that, unlike his siblings who were trusted with their inheritances, his share was gifted jointly to his wife, and the gift was written in trust, so he only had access to the income anyway.

It is difficult therefore to imagine that Carr Snr bankrolled Carr to the extent necessary to maintain his lifestyle, and his expenses from Notts certainly wouldn’t have been enough to make any discernible difference. To make things more difficult for Carr when his marriage broke up his mother never forgave him. She refused to recognise his new partner and disinherited him. It may well be that the woman who eventually became the second Mrs Carr had her own money, but it is not clear. There is just one reference to Carr ever ‘having a job’, and that was as a taxi driver of all things. Finances must have been tough after the separation if that was true, but Wynne-Thomas has not been able to prove or disprove the suggestion.

Despite his, in many ways, cosseted existence Carr was certainly an egalitarian, and not a man who lacked any sort of courage. He saw action during the Great War, perhaps fittingly in a role from a bygone age. He was a cavalry officer and fought bravely. As with so many he was not one to talk very much about his wartime experience, but Wynne-Thomas’ researches uncover much detail.

Light is shed on Carr’s personality by his relationship with the professionals who played under him during his fifteen seasons as Notts captain. Many, and indeed perhaps most amateur skippers remained aloof from their players and, inevitably in those circumstances, did not always enjoy the admiration of their charges. Carr on the other hand was hugely popular with the Notts pros. Not for Carr was there a barrier between him and his players. He was happy to socialise with them and was fiercely protective of their positions in his dealings with the Club.

Many, this reviewer included, had hoped that Wynne-Thomas might find some new information in relation to Carr’s involvement, more than fleeting in light of his captaining Harold Larwood and Bill Voce at county level, in the Bodyline series. Given the way in which that subject has been mined so persistently over the years it is perhaps unsurprising that there are no revelations, but it is still useful to have Carr’s involvement in and position on a question that, ultimately, cost him the captaincy of his county, put in its proper context.

If there was one particular area of the events of 1932/33 where I had hoped we might learn something it was in relation to Carr’s trip to Egypt to meet Larwood as the temporarily derailed Notts Express made his way home early due to the foot injury he sustained in the final Test. It has always been known that the Daily Sketch covered all the expenses Carr incurred. But did he pick up a fee for his part in securing them their exclusive? Or were the lengths he went to motivated purely by his desire to look after the interests of his leading bowler? That the latter consideration was involved is a given, but it would be interesting to know whether there were other factors at work.

The aftermath of Bodyline was largely responsible for Carr becoming persona non grata at both Trent Bridge and amongst the cricketing establishment generally. His tendency to imbibe more than was good for him and his family life probably counted against him as well, but the extent to which the county and the game shunned him in later life is still remarkable. The first Mrs Carr refused her husband a divorce, so he had to live with his second wife out of wedlock until 1955 when, after the passing of his first wife, he was at last able to remarry. He was described in the marriage certificate as being of independent means. It is not entirely clear on what basis that might be, although I dare say that on the death of his wife he may finally, his son having predeceased him, have become absolutely entitled to the funds remaining in his father’s will trust.

One thing that can be stated with certainty is that, Wynne-Thomas having been the Nottinghamshire archivist and librarian for many years, this biography is as full as it possibly could be, and the purpose of my making the comments I have is certainly not by way of criticism, but simply to highlight how difficult it is to successfully chronicle the lives of people like Arthur Carr who, despite achieving considerable fame not so very many years ago have not, for whatever reason, left very much of themselves behind for future generations to discover.

Of Carr’s cricket career there is, of course, nothing missing. He was a fine attacking batsman and an excellent captain. His First Class record is clearly that of a decent player, particularly given he was a risk taker, but his Test record, an average of just under 20 in eleven Tests, suggests he wasn’t quite good enough at that level. Certainly that was always my assumption, but I am not so sure now – he clearly didn’t have much luck at the crease at Test level. Wynne-Thomas is not the sort of biographer who pushes an agenda, but by way of example reading this biography makes it very clear that one incident played a huge role in Carr’s demise as England captain. Had he held on to that chance from Charles Macartney in the first over of the Leeds Test in 1926 then it may well be that he would have kept his job into that famous final Test and beyond.

How does Carr the man emerge from this biography? He is an interesting character. To fall out with Jack Hobbs, universally accepted as one of the best liked men to have played the game, as well as his own mother suggests that Carr was not the most pleasant human being. But there is plenty in the credit column too. Carr was a great friend of Hobbs’ long time county captain, Percy Fender, and then there is his attitude towards his own professionals. Next is Sir Julien Cahn, the furniture magnate who bankrolled Nottinghamshire through most of the interwar period and who doubtless most at the county would tiptoe round and tug their forelocks to. Carr didn’t though, and indeed seems to have gone out of his way to avoid having any real contact with Cahn. If Carr was nothing else he was certainly his own man.

Arthur Carr: The Rise and Fall of Nottinghamshire’s Bodyline Captain is a book I enjoyed reading enormously. It isn’t perfect by any means, in the sense it raises almost as many questions as it answers but, unless we ever do get time travel, it is as good as any book about Carr is going to get. It is highly recommended.

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