ReggieArchie Mac |
Author: Sissons, Ric
Rating: 3.5 stars
It wasn’t that long ago that the number one cricket writer Gideon Haigh lamented the lack of home grown biographies of Australian cricketers. Since that time writer and bookseller Ken Piesse, via his cricketbooks.com.au imprint, more specifically the Nostalgia Series has gone a long way to alleviate Mr Haigh’s fears. Reggie, the bio of Reg Duff, is the fourth in the series after; ‘Terror’ Turner, Herbie Collins and Ted McDonald.
This is Ric Sissons’ second book of the series after his excellent life of Charles Turner. Sissons doesn’t quite reach the heights of his Turner effort with Reggie. This certainly wasn’t from a lack of research, judging by the list of sources quoted, the problem is that there simply isn’t a lot of non cricketing material about the subject.
Reg Duff is probably best remembered for two things. One as the opening partner of legendary batsman Victor Trumper and two for his early fall from grace and subsequent death at age 33 due to the effects of alcohol.
One chapter in Reggie is titled ‘The Demon Drink’ however even in this chapter, and unfortunately, Sissons can only find snippets of new information. This is due to the reluctance of the contemporary press of the early 20th century to delve into a player’s private life. What we are left with are hints and innuendo which, if it wasn’t for the death certificate which states ‘cardiac failure. Alcohol poising’, would not equate to evidence.
There is not really much more Sissons could do to shed light on the untimely death of Duff. The cricketer was not married, had no children, did not write for the press and was not in a high profile job.
Sissons does provide a detailed picture of the cricket career of Duff and great insight into the personality of Duff in a cricket sense. Most would be surprised that the dour looking Duff that appears in photos was the life and soul of any party and had team-mates in stiches with his humour. Sissons does supply details of the Duff family, which includes a brother who player first class cricket too. It is a rather melancholy familial story with the brother ending up in an asylum as a relatively young man and the father dying an alcohol related death.
The book like all those in the Nostalgia Series, is beautifully produced on quality paper with numerous illustrations and hardly a typo in sight. The one surprise was that a couple of the names are wrongly recorded on the 1902 team picture, although most won’t notice that tiny oversight. The clear prose of author Sissons is up to his usual high standard and makes for an easy read, although more detail on some of the Test matches would have been appreciated. After all Duff was a main participant in one of the greatest of all Test series, the 1902 Ashes in England. Perhaps lack of space was the reason for the brief detail of some of the more famous Test matches of the Duff era.
The book is limited to 200 of which the first 100 are signed and numbered. A nice touch by the publishers was to include a list of the first 81 subscribers, quite a few will be known to the cricket book world. One I was glad to see was my mate Dennis Coon*.
Those who purchase Reggie will have the most up to date, especially with the use of digital research, information available and unless a long lost diary by Duff is discovered there will be no need for another account of his life.
Reggie, fills a gap in the literature of Australian cricket and deserves to be read by all cricket fans. Copies can be purchased from CWs good friend Ken Piesse via this link.
* Dennis was kind enough, a couple of years back, to show me his cricket book collection which included the mouth watering complete set of the short lived Australian edition Cricket The Weekly Record of The Game, which was edited by the one and only Charles Turner. This is the only complete set I know of.