Tour de Farce

Published: 2020
Pages: 342
Author: Rowe, Mark
Publisher: ACS
Rating: 3.5 stars

It is a sobering thought that half a century has now passed since the Stop The Seventy Tour Campaign, the movement that sought to and eventually succeeded in forcing the cancellation of the visit of the South African cricket team to England in 1970.

I do not suppose it will assist readers of this review greatly if I begin by setting out a summary of such a well known controversy, so I will resist that temptation. It may be however that, with this being the first of three books to appear on the subject in the coming weeks, all of which we intend to review, if I add a little context.

The author of Tour de Farce, Mark Rowe, was around in 1970, but as a four year old would not have taken in what was going on around him. Wikipedia tells me that Arunabha Sengupta, whose Apartheid: A Point to Cover is due in May, was not born until 1973. On the other hand Colin Shindler, who is contributing Barbed Wire and Cucumber Sandwiches: The Controversial South African Tour of 1970 later this month came of age in 1970. This reviewer reached double figures as the seventies dawned. My love of cricket was already established. By the end of the decade I was also a political animal and an idealistic teenage socialist, but in 1970 the state of the world outside my home and family was of no importance to me and not something I had any real grasp of.

All of which meant that, covering as it did the sport that I loved so dearly, the first big news story I ever followed was the Stop The Seventy Tour Campaign, led by Peter Hain. I was largely baffled. I desperately wanted to see Barry Richards, the Pollock brothers and Mike Procter playing against England, and I couldn’t really understand why people wanted to prevent that happening. 

Naturally I was keen to try and understand what all the fuss was about, and as any ten year old would I turned to my father for an explanation, and then to confirm the answer I got from him I asked the men he played cricket with every Saturday. The explanations were consistent. I learnt that the campaigners did not like the way that coloured people in South Africa were treated, something of which the majority of those I questioned disapproved, but almost to a man they felt that was an issue for the South Africans themselves to sort out, and that other governments should not interfere.

Exactly what apartheid amounted to I was not to understand for a few years, but I still get a shiver down my spine today at the example that finally did bring it home to me, and is one which Rowe cites. The story first appeared in David Sheppard’s 1964 autobiography, Parson’s Pitch, and dated back to 1956/57 when his county teammate Alan Oakman was touring South Africa with Peter May’s MCC party. Whilst driving Oakman had the misfortune to collide with a black cyclist who was injured as a result of the collision. Oakman stopped straight away and was immediately surrounded by white onlookers – however none were interested in his pleas to find assistance for the injured man – they just wanted his autograph. The 1970s Britain that I grew up in was rife with racial prejudice, but there is no way a similar incident would have unfolded in such a shocking way.

The first 50 pages of Tour de Farce set the scene. As with every other aspect of the book Rowe has been to a myriad of contemporary sources and it is difficult to imagine that it could be possible to deal with this more thoroughly or, indeed, in a more absorbing way. The strength of the feelings of the likes of Sheppard, John Arlott, Mike Brearley and Rowland Bowen, with Jim Swanton not far behind come across loud and clear. On the other side of the coin the somewhat blinkered mentality of the cricketing establishment is set out, as are the clear agenda of the Labour government of the day, Prime Minister and Home Secretary Harold Wilson and James Callaghan in particular, as well as Dennis Howell, the Minister for Sport.

The unfolding events are then reported in much the same way, Rowe generally letting the story tell itself. There is much on the initial skirmishes during the Springbok Rugby Union tour of 1969/70, which was followed by the steadily increasing pressure the campaign exerted as the Cricket Council finally, as late as 22 May, finally faced up to the inevitable and called off the tour.

Tour de Farce is an excellent telling of a fascinating story and is certainly recommended. It is nicely produced and well illustrated and the hopelessly dated contemporary font that is used for the chapter headings is a clever and thoughtful touch that, as someone who remembers it well, I found most appealing in a perverse sort of way.

There is one frustration, and that is the lack of any reflection from any of those involved only the ‘Sage of Longparish’, former Times correspondent John Woodcock having spoken to Rowe. Hain, now a member of the House of Lords, is still with us and in public life. Also still around and active is former Labour Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who was heavily involved the campaign north of the border. A number of the players are still around as well, not least amongst them former Sussex, Somerset and England wicketkeeper/batsman Jim Parks, who does not come across very well in the couple of contemporary quotes that Rowe located. It will be interesting to see whether Sengupta or Shindler had any more success in pinning those individuals down – I can’t imagine that they did, but you never know. In the meantime Tour de Farce is certainly an excellent place to start for anyone who wants to better understand one of the pivotal moments in cricket history.


An excellent and analytical discourse of the events that lead, with the knowledge of historical retrospect was a turning point in sporting history. I was pleased that the author dwelt on the subtly of the actors, not all were dinosaurs and there was a breadth of opinion on both sides. Lazy stereotypes were avoided. With the worldwide civil rights movement and the Political Summer of 68 it seems almost ante-diluvium that South Africa could be invited to tour England. The writing was on the wall, apartheid would not be tolerated within a sporting context. The repercussions could have been examined but in many ways that is a separate story in itself. Certainly I can remember throughout the 70’s and early 80’s attempts by right wing ginger groups led by the Bedser’s and McWhirter’s arguing for restoration of links with sporting South Africa which now appears crass in the extreme. The kith and kin argument for sporting ties was a common sympathy amongst the general public; parochialism was rife which to modern eyes can be construed as racist but I suspect the Jim Parks’s of this world were blind to it..

Comment by Gerry Martin | 9:24pm BST 22 May 2020

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