The Business of Bradman

Published: 2019
Pages: 167
Author: Merchant, James
Publisher: Private
Rating: 4 stars

I could look up a definitive figure, but for present purposes will just rely on memory. I can immediately think of ‘Johnny’ Moyes, Irving Rosenwater, Michael Page, Charles Williams, Roland Perry and Margaret Geddes who have written biographies of Sir Donald Bradman. Beyond that are a huge number of books which, if not biographies per se, look long and hard at the career of the man who remains unchallenged as, by a distance, the most successful batsman in the history of the game.

The very name is box office. It is more than seventy years Bradman played a Test, and getting on for two decades since he died, yet this is the fourth book we have reviewed this year that features the great man’s name. Peter Kettle’s Rescuing Don Bradman From Splendid Isolation is devoted to the subject of Bradman’s statistical dominance. Kersi Meher-Homji’s From Bradman to Kohli and David Frith’s Touring With Bradman are, in the main, taken up with other business, but make the point very well that if you want potential buyers to take notice of your book, work the name Bradman into the title.

So why is James Merchant writing yet another book about Bradman, and why am I willing to spend a rather large slice of my hard earned on what is, if nothing else, as handsome a volume as anyone will buy this year?

I did, I will admit, receive a tip off that The Business of Bradman would be worth a read so, given the enjoyable experience I had a couple of years back with Merchant’s previous foray into the Bradman market I thought I would give it a chance. That previous book, Smiles From The Don, was a fairly lightweight book, but entertaining nonetheless and, more importantly given the proliferation of material on the subject of Bradman, not without some originality. It was still however with some relief that I read, on the first page of the narrative of the book; this is not the story of a great cricket player called Sir Donald Bradman …… there simply can’t be much more of that great story to tell.

Thus it is that, instead of cricket, and as his title suggests, Merchant looks long and hard at the phenomenon Bradman was in the world of business. Lest it be forgotten Bradman rose to fame as a sportsman and, nominally at least, an amateur one at that. Despite that his acumen was keen enough to allow him to put together a sufficiently extensive financial base to enable him, to all intents and purposes, to retire at the age of 45.

In all the reading I have done about Bradman the only thing I can ever really remember is that he was a stockbroker. Roles as a writer/journalist I have some familiarity with, and I was aware that what went into print under Bradman’s name was much more his own work than might be imagined. I now know that his 1930 and 1938 autobiographies were ghosted, the latter perhaps surprisingly by an Englishman, William Pollock, who wrote for the Daily Express under the pseudonym ‘Googly’.

There was, naturally, an income from cricket and that is examined as well the unfamiliar areas such as Bradman’s involvement in real estate, sports goods, acting and musicianship. I recall now seeing some footage of Bradman ‘tinkling the ivories’ at some point in the dim and distant past, although I had not realised that was a source of income for him.

As well as the various aspects of his ‘work’, all of which are explained by Merchant, Bradman also had an immensely valuable image and, in a time when sportsmen were only just beginning to realise the potential in that, Bradman showed the way. Of course many tried to cash in on that without cutting the man himself in on the deal, and the most interesting parts of the book are concerned with what I will describe as ‘merchandising’, both authorised and unauthorised.

The narrative content of The Business of Bradman is, as I have indicated, fascinating. What really makes this book what it is however is the number and quality of the illustrations. There are full size images on almost every page of this large format book and they are superbly reproduced, and all bar a handful were unfamiliar to me.

There is a particularly interesting illustration very early in the book under the heading Bradman’s Philosophy. It is a handwritten note, dating back to December of 1928 and written after Bradman’s Test debut (18 and 1 against Percy Chapman’s 4-1 Ashes winners) after which he was, for the only time in his career, dropped for the next Test. His note to, presumably himself, was; if it’s difficult I’ll do it now, if its impossible I’ll do it presently.

There can be no praise too high for what James Merchant has produced here and whilst the book may be expensive it is worth every penny/cent and I would urge anyone interested to contact sole distributor Roger Page at the earliest opportunity. Haste is needed as there are going to be a maximum of, as I understand it, 99 copies of this leather and acrilon bound, signed and numbered limited edition.

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