Author: David Rayvern Allen
Publisher: Elm Tree Bks.
Rating: 3 stars
By Archie Mac
27 Nov 2006
Sir Aubrey is the biography of one of the most surreal characters in living memory.
If you tried to create a fictional character you would not dare base it on Sir C. Aubrey Smith; Cambridge Blue, cricket captain of England, FA Cup football star, famous stage actor, Hollywood movie star (both silent and talkies) and eventually knighted for his services to Anglo -American amity'.
The author David Rayvern Allen has done a fine job of bringing this complex character to life. By meticulous research, he has painted a picture of a man of great integrity with a naturally altruistic nature.
Born in 1863 into a well-to-do family, but a family without a lot of money (and a sardonic father), Aubrey relied on a wealthy uncle to pay for his education and time at Cambridge, where he seems to have spent a lot more time in amateur theatre and playing sports, rather than actually studying.
Smith was known throughout his life as 'Round the corner' Smith, because of his approach to the wicket in which he would start his run-up from mid-off, and then at the last moment would suddenly run behind the umpire and bowl around the wicket. The great hitter C.I. Thornton is credited with bestowing the nickname.
He was selected for the disastrous tour of Australia in 1887-88, the only time England sent two sides to the Antipodes at the same time, which resulted in financial disaster (both teams combined lost around 6000 pounds). Nevertheless Aubrey proved a capable and popular captain of his team. On his return home he captained Sussex in county cricket.
Aubrey's next cricket tour was the first by an English side to South Africa in 1888-89, the games at the time were not even considered first class, but two were eventually given Test status. The first played at Port Elizabeth and won by England by eight wickets, and in which Aubrey was captain, resulted in him being the only player to captain England in his only Test appearance.
After the tour Smith and England's youngest ever captain Monty Bowden decided to stay in South Africa and start a stock-broking firm. Unfortunately Aubrey became ill from typhoid (reading his own obituary) and the firm became bankrupt.
The firm left a lot of debts, and after reading Jonty Winch's great biography of the ill-fated Monty Bowden, you would be forgiven for thinking that Smith had left Bowden in the lurch by fleeing back to England (Bowden died soon after in SA), but after reading David Rayvern Allen's account I felt the blame was equal.
In fact, it was not until the age of 63 that Aubrey finally moved to Hollywood and helped to re-establish California Cricket, with such players as Boris Karloff, Nigel Bruce, Errol Flynn and David Niven often turning out for the Hollywood Cricket Club.
Although Smith is most famously known in the world as a Hollywood character actor, the author has given equal coverage to his cricketing exploits, which makes this an ideal biography for the cricket fan, and one which I can heartily recommend.