Bernard Hedges: The Player From ‘Ponty’Martin Chandler |
Author: Hedges, Stephen
Publisher: St David's Press
Rating: 4 stars
Even in his early 1960s heyday the name of Bernard Hedges did not enjoy a high profile outside the valleys of South Wales. Nonetheless his biography, The Player from Ponty, is a fascinating look at the life of a man who, despite being widely admired amongst his contemporaries for his sporting talent was, as almost all sports stars were in those days, ultimately just another working man.
A multi-talented sportsman Hedges’ place in the annals of sport is primarily as a result of the seventeen seasons he spent at Glamorgan as an opening batsman. It would be fair to say that even during the single season in which he scored more than 2,000 runs he did not come close to gaining international selection, although the fact that he had to spend half his time batting on the notoriously unhelpful (to batsmen) Welsh wickets of the 1950s and 1960s means that he was a rather better batsman than his career average of 25.22 at first blush suggests.
The author of the book is Stephen Hedges, Bernard’s son. Is a child the best person to write a biography of their parent? I do not think it happens very often but whilst my instinct tells me it is not a good idea the three biographical books I have read that have been written by children about their parents, by Caroline Gupte, Anthony Gibson and Rajinder Amarnath, demonstrate that the intimate knowledge a child has of their parent should always outweigh the potential disadvantage of love being blind.
Having completed the book I can however confirm that at no point is Stephen Hedges’ objectivity compromised and the very full picture he is able to paint of his father’s life before and after his cricket career add immense value to what is the interesting story of a decent cricketer and, as importantly, of his life and times.
In addition to a biography of Bernard Hedges The Player From Ponty is also something of a social history of South Wales through the struggles of the years of the Great Depression and beyond. Born in 1927 and the eldest of eight children Bernard’s upbringing was not an easy one by any means, and it is interesting to see how that shaped the remainder of his life. An intelligent young man he passed the old eleven plus examination to win a place at the local grammar school and it was there, and later during his national service with the RAF, that his sporting abilities blossomed.
There is, of course, much of cricket and cricketers in The Player From Ponty, but Stephen Hedges does not make the mistake of taking his reader on a straight forward chronological journey through his father’s career. There are digressions along the way that deal with the most influential people in Bernard’s life, the first being his long time teammate, roommate and best friend Don Shepherd, who many will maintain to this day was the best bowler never to have won a Test cap. Also featured heavily are Bernard’s two long time opening partners, Gilbert Parkhouse and Alan Jones.
Inevitably for a man who was with Glamorgan over the period of Bernard’s career the name of Wilf Wooller is writ large. A huge personality Wooller dominated the county as player, captain and secretary and any book that deals with any county cricketer of the 1950s has a story or two about Wooller. There are many here, and a number of them are unfamiliar.
Bernard himself seems to have been a most personable man whose values came very much from the era in which he was brought up. Always scrupulously fair as a sportsman (something that couldn’t always be said for Wooller) I was not surprised to learn that Bernard would always walk when he believed he was out. More surprising was that there were also occasions on which he would walk even if he didn’t think he was out, if he considered that the bowling side’s appeal was with such confidence that they must be correct. I have only once heard a similar story, from Dennis Amiss, the common feature being the, to put it politely, astonishment of their teammates on their return to the pavilion.
Courting controversy was not something that Bernard made a habit of, his being one of those professionals who simply got on with his job. Ordinarily that might have militated against his story being a good one, but that is where the narrator being his son is again of great assistance as he provides a full explanation of Bernard’s motivations and what made him tick. There were nonetheless one or two ‘episodes’ along the way, and one in particular towards the end of Bernard’s caree, an incident Stephen describes as the ‘Incident at Llanelli’ which, ultimately, resulted in the end of Bernard’s association with Glamorgan. What exactly the rights and wrongs of the situation were it is impossible to know because, fifteen years loyal service notwithstanding, Bernard’s disciplinary process did not include even the most basic of nods towards the rules of natural justice.
After cricket Bernard worked for Barclaycard, starting as an area sales representative when credit cards were in their infancy. By the time he reached retirement age he was in a senior management position and living in Surrey. Despite what Barclaycard’s promotional material proclaimed about him he was no sort of a raconteur, although Stephen does attribute to his father a marvellous story about Fred Trueman. ‘Fiery Fred’ is one of the few people in the game that there are more stories about than there are concerning Wooller. Many have been repeated time after time, often by Trueman himself, but the one that Bernard managed to tell was not one that I recall hearing before. It is a gem, and so ridiculous that, frankly, were Bernard not the sort of man who was prepared to accept an opponent’s word for his having hit the ball I am not sure that I would believe it. Readers will find the story in chapter 8, but I do not propose to play spoiler here.
It must be accepted that The Player From Ponty is not going to be a bestseller, but it is still a hugely entertaining read. For those who take an interest in Glamorgan cricket, or the game as it developed in the immediate post war years it is an essential purchase. Evocatively written Stephen’s access to the family album is something else that elevates the book’s standing and he has every reason to be proud, both of his father and his first book. I sincerely hope there are more to come.