David Rayvern Allen: A Man of Many Parts

Published: 2022
Author: Down, Michael
Publisher: Boundary Books
Rating: 5 stars

The first cricket book I ever bought was Arlott on Cricket, a 1984 published anthology of the great man’s work. I read every one of the pieces of writing that the book contained, but did not read the editor’s introduction for many years. Had I done so I would have realised that David Rayvern Allen (DRA) was an exceptional writer himself. As it was over the next couple of decades, having acquired a number of other anthologies (many but not all Arlott related) DRA had put together, I assumed that an editor was all he was.

Eventually a time came when I became a collector of cricket books rather than just a reader of them, and it was only then, on acquiring the classic guide, Early Books on Cricket, that I realised DRA was a historian and bibliophile in addition to his other talents. His studies of the ancient chroniclers of the game like Britcher and Denison are superb, and if your interests are more contemporary, we have him to thank for award winning biographies of Arlott and of Jim Swanton.

In fact a full set of DRAs would stretch to more than forty titles, and that for a man who has an equally long and illustrious background in music and radio as a result of his work for the BBC. Some of the books, like a number of the many anthologies, are amongst the most widely read books on the game there are. Others, like the Britcher and the Denison, are for a much more specialised audience, and are remarkable pieces of research.

In this affectionate look back at the life of his old friend, Michael Down goes through the whole of the oeuvre as well as giving details of DRA’s achievements in all his other fields of endeavour, including his family life. It will come as no surprise to learn that a man who managed to maintain close friendships with both Arlott and Swanton (the pair had little time for each other*) was happily married for 48 years.

David Rayvern Allen: A Man of Many Parts is not exactly a biography, and would perhaps more fairly be described as an extended tribute, but it does contain some important insights into how a man I believe can fairly be described as a polymath, managed to juggle his many and varied interests.

There are five chapters in the book, the first of which is a short introduction, entitled Overture, followed by lengthier looks at Family Life and ‘The Beeb’, followed by Cricket Writer & Historian, MCC & The Cricket World and finally Cricket Collector. Cricket tragics will find each one a source of fascination, not least the non-cricketing one.

But there is rather more to the book than simply an account of the man, a bibliography and summary of his other achievements. There are some entertaining accounts of DRA’s relationships with some of the more interesting men whose paths he crossed in his cricketing endeavours. Men whose names will be recognised by all cricketing bibliophiles include Irving Rosenwater, Leslie Gutteridge, Ted Brown and John Goulstone.

There then follow as many as seven appendices. One contains the original proposal for the Arlott biography, in itself a remarkable document. The other six include a moving eulogy from another great friend of DRA, the musician and broadcaster Richard Stilgoe. There is also a list of DRA’s BBC projects, a goodly number of which involved Stilgoe.

Another appendix deals with the award of an honorary Doctorate by Leicester De Montford University in 2014, by which point in his life DRA was aware his time was limited. Reproduced are the citation that accompanied the award and DRA’s moving acceptance speech.

A (so far) unpublished DRA book is one that was finished before he passed away later in 2014 but which, despite still being marked as ‘coming soon’ on its publisher’s website, has yet to be seen. Living with London is a book that celebrates another of DRA’s great loves and, understandably fearing the book may never actually appear, Michael uses another appendix to examine it more closely and in doing so succeeds completely in demonstrating why Methuen really should now extract their corporate digit and get the book into print.

Of the two remaining appendices the first is by far the shortest, and in the book is little more than a reference to an interview with DRA that currently reposes in the MCC archive. Alongside it at Lord’s are many other interviews with the great and the good of the game, the majority of which DRA himself had conducted. When the tables were turned it was Michael Down himself who conducted the DRA interview, and whilst the relevant part of the book contains nothing of the content it does include links to the two part interview, something which demonstrates far more powerfully than anything I can write the chemistry that existed between interviewer and interviewee, something which in itself explains just why this book is such a good one. 

Which leaves just one final section comprising, appropriately, a selection of photographs from the DRA family album. They join numerous other photographs, images of the covers of DRAs book and many items of assorted memorabilia, all reproduced superbly in full colour on high quality paper. David Rayvern Allen: A Man of Many Parts is published in an edition of 125 copies. A hundred of those provide a sobering lesson in how traditional printing methods result in a finished product far superior to modern digital print on demand technology, even if that itself has improved in recent years. As to what the other twenty five will be like I wait with baited breath, as those are being specially bound by the Queen’s bookbinders, the company tasked with much restoration work following the fire at Windsor Castle in 1992.

David Rayvern Allen: A Man of Many Parts is not going to appeal greatly to those whose in interest in reading cricket books does not extend far beyond events on the field of play and the lives and careers of those who shape them, but for the rest of us it is a fascinating look at the life of an important figure and, produced to such a high standard, it has to be our first five star book of 2022. It can be purchased via Boundary Books website, more particularly e-Alert 500 

*Something delightfully illustrated by A Squib on Swanton, a short poem written by Arlott and the original of which, presented by Arlott to Rayvern Allen, is illustrated in the book.

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