Johnny Briggs: Poor Johnny

Published: 2007
Pages: 109
Author: Brodkin, Stuart
Publisher: Red Rose Books
Rating: 3 stars

Johnny Briggs: Poor Johnny

This is the biography of Johnny Briggs one of the most tragic figures in cricket history. On the evening of the first day of an Ashes Test in 1899 he suffered an epileptic fit and was admitted to Cheadle Royal Hospital (a mental health care hospital), three years later he was dead at the age of 39.

The picture of his two young twin boys sitting unsmiling on either side of their dad, always brings a melancholy reaction from this book reviewer.

From a poor family and with a tiny frame, Briggs, through hard work and commitment turned himself into a great cricketer, and was one of the most popular of all the great Lancashire and English players in the 1880s and 1890s. He started his career as a batsman that could bowl (with limited success), but developed in to an all time great bowler who could contribute with the bat, scoring 10 first class centuries and one Test century.

In 33 Test Matches he claimed 118 wickets at the fine average of 17.75 including a Test hat-trick against Australia: Giffen, Blackham and Syd Callaway (alhtough in the book this is given as Turner, Blackham and Callaway).

The author Stuart Brodkin certainly knows his cricket giving great insights into a number of cricketing standards such as the origin of the term hat-trick, but the biography of his subject was in the end a little short of information and full of errors (not factual but typographical), which was a little disconcerting.

This is the second biography released by The Association of Cricket Statisticians and Historians in their Lives in Cricket series, the first being Allan Watkins: A True All-Rounder by Douglas Miller. This new series seem to be more in the tradition of ‘pen portrait’ style biographies. Even taking this into account, I must admit to being a little disappointed in the way some of Briggs great achievements and classic Test matches were perfunctorily dealt with.

The description of what was considered standard treatment for epilepsy is quite frightening – consisting of possibly Zinc, arsenic, bromide salts and maybe even the application of threads under the skin – makes one wonder if this treatment hastened the death of poor Johnny Briggs.

The book has been released in two editions; one in a limited edition of 50 numbered and signed copies, the other a standard paperback edition. The LTD edition does not have a dust jacket but instead comes in a slip case.

Certainly well worth a read, and written by a knowledgeable cricket author, I will definitely be keeping an eye out for future efforts by Mr. Brodkin. The third book released in the series of Lives in Cricket is; George Duckworth: Warrington’s Ambassador at Large by Eric Midwinter. The ACS have also released the fourth and fifth installments which are biographies of Ernie Jones (No.4) and Rockley Wilson (No.5).

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