Over to Me
Author: Jim Laker
Publisher: Frederick Muller
Rating: 2.5 Stars
By Martin Chandler
10 May 2010
It is now exactly half a century since "Over To Me", Jim Laker's second volume of ghosted autobiography, hit the nation's bookstores. The season before its publication, 1959, had been Laker's last in a long and successful career for Surrey and England. During the previous winter, 1958/59, he had, for the first and only time, toured Australia with England and had played his final Test matches.
By the standards of the time the book was a sensation and its contents caused such a furore that Surrey severed their links with Laker and his honorary MCC Membership was withdrawn - it was to be 1967 before those priveliges were restored. What was controversial about the book was the criticism that Laker made of his Surrey and England Captain, Peter May and the manager of the 1958/59 tour, Freddie Brown.
Laker had been incensed early in the 1958 season when, to his mind, May accused him of not trying in a County Championship fixture. There then followed a difficult period for the Test selectors when, as a result of his skipper's slight, Laker withdrew his indication he would be available for the forthcoming Ashes Tour. Neither man ever really backed down although a compromise was eventually found that enabled Laker to tour. The initial part of the book clearly set out Laker's grievance on the subject.
England had been expected to do well in Australia having won the previous three series against their old rivals. In the event an aging English team was easily beaten by a much younger Australian side. This was the series of the great throwing controversy and that, coupled with the failing team spirit of the England side, contributed to the defeat. Laker did as well as could be expected in the series, taking 15 wickets at just 21 apiece, but he was angered by the tour management over their attitude towards his fitness and the greater part of the book sets out his thoughts on the tour and its management in rather more forthright terms than was considered appropriate at the time.
Back home in 1959 Surrey's remarkable run of seven consecutive county championship victories came to an end and Laker had further concerns about May's captaincy, on the relatively rare occasions when May was available, and his treatment by the club generally and "Over To Me" concludes with another dig at Laker's former employers regarding the season.
There can be little doubt that the contents of this book represent Laker's thoughts on the various subjects it deals with. He did, however, recognise that he had made mistakes and in an unusual step he, effectively, apologised for what he had written in the foreword to a book he subsequently published regarding the 1961 Ashes Series. Without seeking to lay the blame for the controversial passages elsewhere Laker did give the explanation that he had not spent sufficient time with the ghost writer who actually prepared the book. That said, as one would expect from a straight speaking Yorkshireman, Laker did not seek to disassociate himself with what was actually said in his name, merely the manner in which it was set out.
As to whether the book is worth reading half a century on rather depends on the extent to which its subject matter appeals. For anyone approaching the subject of Laker for the first time he has been the subject of three biographies published in 1989, 1998 and 2006 by Don Mosey, Alan Hill and Brian Scovell respectively, all of which give a much fuller picture of the man, his life and times than this snapshot. All of them deal with the 'Over To Me' controversy albeit not in the greatest of detail. If you choose to go beyond one or more of those three widely available books and search around for a copy of 'Over To Me' you will be faced by a book which, perhaps inevitably, is interesting more by virtue of the events that followed its publication than its contents which, to 21st century eyes, seem unremarkable . There are, there can be no doubt, interesting insights from time to time but there is certainly nothing in here that those interested in the history of the game, or in Laker himself, will not be able to learn elsewhere. My abiding thoughts on completing the book were to wonder what all the fuss was about coupled with the impression that Laker seemed not to have enjoyed his time in the game at all which surely, given the magnitude of his cricketing achievements, cannot have been the message he wanted to convey.