An Evening with Johnners - Centenary Edition
Author: Barry Johnston
Rating: 3 stars
By Martin Chandler
27 May 2012
If I am being totally honest I do remember Brian Johnston the commentator quite well, although I hasten to add only the radio version. I am a little too young to have been exposed to any of his television commentary. Did I enjoy listening to him? As I have started off by being honest I'll continue in that vein and say that, on balance, the answer is probably no. But I do need to qualify that a little. As a child I thought he overdid the jokes and banter, and felt he was trivialising our great game and its wonderful heritage rather too much. As I matured, and better understood what made him tick, I enjoyed him rather more and, I suspect, if I had had another five years of him my early prejudices would have disappeared completely.
I always knew Johnston had given his name to several books, most of which had unappealing and very similar titles, but they must have sold a lot of copies as the dust jackets and paper covers kept changing, so reprints and further editions were clearly needed on a regular basis. I don't actually own a copy of any of them, have never read one and have never felt the need to. I did once skim read a biography written by Tim Heald, and some misguided relative has given me a copy of Jonathan Agnew's recent book about him - clearly that aging aunt hadn't read my less than enthusiastic comment about the book in my July 2010 piece on new books. In fairness to the publishers of An Evening with Johnners - Centenary Edition
they had, and sent me a review copy anyway.
So although it isn't a book I would ever choose to pick up I felt, as it was doubtless hoped I would, obliged to read and review it. So what delights await the reader of An Evening with Johnners - Centenary Edition
? It begins with an explanation of why the book exists at all, which is a whirlwind tour of Johnston's somewhat unconventional life and career, and an explanation as to why, at the age of 80, he decided to take a one-man show on a tour of the nation's theatres. That out of the way the bulk of the book then contains much of the material from the show.
Some of the stories relate to cricket, and some don't, and then there are many examples of the sort of corny, but entertaining one-liners and other jokes that Johnstone loved so much. One story I particularly enjoyed, doubless apocryphal, was about an interview with the manager of a touring team from India. Johnston related how he enquired about the squad:-
"Have you any good batsmen?", the reply,
"Seven very good batsmen"
"What about the bowlers?"
"Six very good bowlers"
Johnston changed tack with
"What about you, are you a selector"
...and the punchline.........
"No, I'm a Christian"
It's so bad it made me cringe the moment I read it, but that was a fortnight ago, and I haven't stopped chuckling since.
So, appalling as many of the gags are, the engaging nature of the whole package comfortably saves this book from oblivion, although whether any of it would work if read by someone who doesn't remember Johnstone I rather doubt, but then I don't suppose for one moment that the publishers are expecting to find a new audience. So for anyone over 40 who has any recollection of Johnners, and who enjoyed his humour, then this is certainly worth 3 stars. For anyone else I would suggest you will be better off giving it a miss.