Test Match Special: 50 Not Out
Author: Peter Baxter (editor)
Publisher: BBC Books
Rating: 3 stars
By David Taylor
21 Sep 2013
Memories of listening to the BBC's cricket commentary show 'Test Match Special' go back to my early teens, when we would typically have it on in the car - to the disgruntlement of at least half the occupants - while travelling on a day trip or returning from a family holiday. The long hours spent on the M3 or whichever highway we were on, would be helped to pass by listening to the distinctive tones of Arlott, Johnston, Trueman, Bailey and the rest, and while all those have gone it's still a pleasure, whenever the sun's out, for me to listen in the garden and pop in to watch the highlights on TV (thanks to a ten second delay between sound and vision).
Although there had been ball-by-ball commentary before - there is a recording from the famous Lord's Test of 1934 in the archives - continuous coverage was launched in England in 1957, advertised in the Radio Times with the slogan 'don't miss a ball, we broadcast them all.' The first match covered, against the West Indies at Edgbaston, was presented by a team of Rex Alston, John Arlott, EW Swanton and a guest commentator from Trinidad, Ken Ablack. The use of a commentator or summariser from the visiting country is a custom that has survived to this day, and no doubt has often helped over the years with the identification of unfamiliar players. The programme was produced by Michael Tuke-Hastings.
The team had quite a match to start with - England, bowled out cheaply on the first day, conceded a huge lead and looked to be heading for an innings defeat until May and Cowdrey combined in a stand of 411 that blunted the threat of Ramadhin and saved the Test; indeed at the end it was the visitors, on 72 for 7, who were battling to survive.
Swanton, who did the end-of-day summaries, and Alston dropped out in the early sixties but John Arlott continued until 1980 and is fondly remembered by many listeners today; he was to be joined by Brian Johnston, Christopher Martin-Jenkins, Don Mosey, Trevor Bailey and Fred Trueman, among others. Today the airwaves are manned by the likes of Jonathan Agnew, Vic Marks and Mike Selvey.
The book starts with the earliest days of commentary - Howard Marshall in the 1930s describing Hutton's record score at the Oval - and takes us through to the present day. In addition there is a chapter by each of the current crew - and a few of the guests - entitled 'My First Test Match.' The highlight of the book, for me, is a wonderful piece by Martin-Jenkins on Arlott and Johnston, emphasising the differences between them while tactfully drawing a veil over the famously prickly relationship between the two men.
For any fan of the institution that is Test Match Special, this book is well worth seeking out. If it is a little self-congratulatory in places that is to be expected - it is a celebration of 50 years after all. The photographs are of a high standard throughout. Even Richie Benaud makes an unexpected appearance. With the disappearance of cricket from free-to-air TV in Britain I suspect that the programme has as many listeners as ever; this is an ideal companion.