Sir Neville Cardus, CBE, wrote about cricket and music (for what was then the Manchester Guardian) and did it so well that there was hardly an aspiring journalist of any talent over the last 25 years of his life who had not read him, envied him, or tried to emulate him. He was certainly an inspiration to John Arlott, a considerable writer and cricket commentator in his own right (more of Arlott below), whose voice breathed the essences of summer into millions of homes by way of radio or television.
I first met Cardus at a dinner, in Manchester. (The picture brelow was taken at that event. Cardus on left, Redhead centre, and myself). His greatest successes were already behind him.He was a bird-like man, very sharp and attentive; a sparrow. His early background was poor in cash (though not in character). He had high intelligence and intellect; he was an aristocrat of words and ideas and turned quite ordinary happenings into events, and quite ordinary people, usually cricketers, into characters. Dull and ponderous people became homely wits and sages through his pen. It pleased him to embellish them and he served their egos and his career in a single act. His words made immortal many who would otherwise have vanished from human recollection. His music was cricket and his cricket, music. I approached him with fear, and with some awe.
Brian Redhead, then editor of The Guardian in Manchester, said, at around midnight, at that dinner, "Come Neville, back to the Guardian - let us hear the roar of the presses." And Cardus said, "Certainly not." There was no rancour in it, but it was positive enough. Brian Redhead left on his own.
Cardus, Mancunian, born I889, knighted in I967, died I975 (recreations: conversation, walking, anything not in the form of a game or sport), had heard enough presses. He had probably seen as much as he wanted to see of young journalists, too. He did not, in his later years, relish the way they addressed him immediately as Neville. It was, he felt, an impertinence, not necessarily to him but to the generation he represented. It was not his style... In his own early years in journalism such familiarity would have been severely condemned. He joined the Guardian in I9I6, first contributed, (not very good) cricket articles in I9I9, and was assistant to Samuel Longford in music criticism. From I9I2-I9I6 he had been cricket coach at Shrewsbury School.
A colleague of mine, Peter Thomas, Associate Editor of the Daily Express in the North, and myself conspired to hire him for occasional articles, since he was our favourite, and that is how Cardus came to write for the Express's Northern version. The newspaper paid him a modest amount of money, I forget how much, but it was far more than he got from his own newspaper (Facts areexpensive; opinions are free, as Patrick Barclay, a talented writer himself, was to say to me) and he was delighted.
Thomas was a cricket fanatic. He dabbled in statistics - dates, run rates, and so forth. At one stage he phoned Cardus and said, "Neville, according to my records you have described amatch in detail, yet you could not possibly have been there." Cardus said, "Well, it felt as though I was there."
When I met him at his London flat and we left for lunch, he darted through traffic like a ferret. He wrote for me an article about Lancashire versus Yorkshire, a piece summing up the traditional rivalry, and he did it,in longhand. The prose, as ever, was superb. I framed it.
Only cricket, in sport, has a worthwhile literature and this is largely due to Cardus.
I met him a number of times. When I looked back on my notes of him I came across a transcript which I had done from tape, with no attempt to structure the words; and because I thought that transcript (of a conversation in his London flat) was a gem, a true reflection of Cardus, relaxed, himself, here it is:
" We poor kids in Manchester... I think I must have been one of the first to join the Independent Labour Party, and in those days it was no advantage for a poor boy to be a Socialist. You could not get a job easily. We saw this great discrepancy... I lived in a semi- slum with no inside bathroom, no inside lavatory, no rent restrictions; and there was no welfare state. You did not get a doctor unless you could afford one, and within a quarter of a mile was Victoria Park with all the wealth in the world. Manchester was very wealthy. And we used to see the people going to the HaIIe concert in their carriages and we did not want to throw bombs at them because we thought that Socialism by argument would bring about a redistribution of wealth and we, one day, would go to HaIIe concerts too.
"Today the young people want to pull down the things they can't get (he was speaking in I97I) We did not. We thought by reason, rationalism... The Fabian Society - Bernard Shaw was a great figure in our lives ... we thought that by conversation and argument we could get this redistribution of wealth ... The difference between Socialism today and Socialism in those days is that they seem to want to drag down rather than lift up. That is where I am against them. We are all rebels at one time, with different standards. So what was a rebel yesterday is a Conservative today.
And I remember the time of the no-hat brigade. This will sound very simple now, but we caused a sensation by walking about Manchester without hats. To go about without a hat - the old Conservatives used to think we were nudists. My wife's father said, ' I'm not going to have my daughter married to a young man who walks about Manchester without a hat.' What always amuses me today is this talk about the permissive age. I do not think it is more permissive than it ever was, except that it is more frank and publicised now. It has become almost a fashion to be permissive. So in a sense, paradoxically, once it becomes a fashion, it ceases to be permissive. There was a time when, to be moral, you were immoral and you were more or less looked upon as an outcast. Now you are looked upon as an outcast if you are not.
"My wonderful Aunt Beatrice, who worked at a hand laundry at the house I was born in, where we used to take in washing - was at the sort of beginning of Gracie Fields. She used to do this laundry business at home, ironing. Iron in front of the fire - spit! And these four-letter words! I do not remember a time when I did not hear them. I remember those words as being select and with a sort of distinction about them. I did not imagine the time would come when people would flock to the theatre to hear somebody saying a four-letter word. It seems so old-fashioned,
"And that is the extraordinary thing about the I970's. It became a fashion to be immoral, fashionable to be permissive. The whole point of being permissive is that you were not fashionable. That is what amuses me. It does not seem to me to be as avant garde as they think it is.
" Now within the world of the arts, you have composers like Stockhausen, not half so advanced as the development section of the first movement of the Eroica symphony, which astonishes me every time I hear it; whereas I know what Mr. Stockhausen is going to do before he begins. And if he were to lose a score, I could finish it for him. I heard a discussion the other day: the symphony orchestra was doomed. This was among the highbrows of the BBC. There would be small orchestras.
"What packs in the audiences today at the Festival Hall? Last week, Eroica Symphony. No soloist. Packed. The week before, a Bruckner symphony. No soloist. Nothing else in the programme: packed, not by old peoplebut young people. I think the vast majority of young people today are just the same as the vast majority of young people when I was young. I know six young people who spend their time
at night seeing to old people. And that is where the young people today are a dam'd sight better than we were. I never thought of going about helping old people. We had to help ourselves.A swing back to religion?
That I could not say. That is the thing that baffles me. I do not think that the young people are inclined to the churches as we were. I, as a boy, used to go toSunday school; every young boy went to Sunday school. I found everything boring. I was never much interested. And I never had. any religious instinct, but we had in those day an ethic just as severe as the Christian one, which we got from humanists like T. H. Huxley. God was watching us I remember being left in my poor house one Saturday afternoon. My parents had gone out and I was alone. On the mantelpiece was a penny and I took it. Then I had to put it back because I thought God was watching.If there was no god there was the Recorder. There was a sort of belief. Even if you did not believe; you had the creed of Huxley and Herbert Spencer, a completely forgotten philosopher. We had this conduct, this ethic; and since the end of the last war we have been in the melting pot. No real force of religion, but, on the other hand, not an ethic; but I do think young people are beginning to formulate a decent ethic and I should say I would be optimistic about the future.
" I remember an old saying - a pessimist is one who spends a week-end with an optimist. I think you must not be sentimental about life. But there is a good generation of young people. This is a marvellous technological age. If you want great bombs you can have them. If you want great symphonies you can have them. Why we can't make a synthesis and have technology and the arts ... it is a curious age and there are probably too many people in the world.
"A lot of things I would like to be: I would have had to have had six lives. If I had it over again I would. I only made one mistake. When I was a young boy you could not afford a piano in your house and I tried to be a singer because it did not cost anything; but what I would love to do now is to play the piano well enough to please myself, just for pleasure - not to be a professional pianist like Rubinstein or Horowicz.
"I suppose every man, when he gets to my time of life, always thinks he lived in the best time and when I say I lived in the best time I must repeat myself and say I lived in a period which could not be imagined today, of poverty when we had all sorts of problems; you might have a good week, and a week when the main meal of the day was your incredible concoction called pobs. They used to cut a slice of white bread in cubes and put it in a basin and pour tea and condensed milk and stir it. People seemed to get on very well. We were not ill. You never used to hear the word frustration. Never heard of that. Never heard the word complex.
And as regards health services, if you had a sore throat my old grandmother used to say, 'Put some brown paper on your chest.' And if you had this or that you put a hot water bottle against the stomach and somehow we survived. Of course, a lot of people. did not. It produced more individuals. It had to. I never counted myself the poor boy who made good. I just wanted to enjoy myself. I did not go to the library to improve myself. I used to go and wrap myself in literature; just do the things nature wants to do. It is like being hungry. I wanted to read and play cricket. It had never occurred to me that I was going to be a writer.
"The only thing I made tip my early about in life was that I was not going to work for a living. define work as something you would give up tomorrow if you came into a fortune. I had to work hard as a kid, pushing handcarts about. Then I got into an insurance company. Two agents in Bridge Street, Manchester, used to represent the United Dutch Marine Insurance Company. Two very gentlemanly men used. to sit in the Conservative Club all day. Myself and the head clerk used to make out the insurance policies in ink, no typewriter, and the bosses came back from the Conservative Club, signed the policies, and went home. I did this from I903 until about I9I I and I remember one of the directors of the Theatre Royal coming into the office with his daughter; and they were just saying goodbye to these two bosses of mine and they were going round the world. Aftert about eight months they came back again, looking very tanned, and I thought: My God, while I've been sitting on this stool they have been round the world. How can I get out of this office?
"I read a book by a completely forgotten American humouurist named Artemus Ward, who used to spell all his words differently - B4 for before - and he told the story of a man in solitary confinement who sat there for ten years and one day a bright idea occurred. He opened his cell window and got out. His window had been open all the time. I thought: The only way I can get out of this office is to walk out. I had the decency to tell my boss I was going. He said, What are you going to do?"'I said, 'I am going out,' and I applied to an advertisement for a professional coach at Shrewsbury."
" In cricket, I go to Lords a good deal and I can tell you exactly what is going to happen. At half past eleven when the match begins, two bowlers are going along with the new ball and I know how they're going to set the field. There are to be three short legs and they are going to bowl in-swingers. Then, at about I2 o'clock, or quarter past I2, they will take off these new-ball bowlers, who only bowled about two, three or four overs, and two other bowlers come on, quite unrecognisable from the two who have been on before. And at lunch the score will be 80 or so and I will know exactly who they played, and at Lords, on a beautiful day, there will be about 2,000 people.
"Now they say you need some bright cricket to attract crowds. You get bright cricket in these one-day matches, which is the sort of cricket I used to play in Manchester. I could play for Lancashire in Saturday afternoon cricket, but I could not have played for Lancashire in I9I0. Now 40,000 people used to go to the Lancashire and Yorkshire matches. To see sixes? No. It was not done. Old Harry Makepiece used to say, 'Lads, we've won t' toss, it's a good wicket; now, no fours before lunch.' It was a game of character, humour, a feud.
"What I miss in this country is the spirit of individual risk. Australia is not the same. Although the Welfare State has been an enormous godsend to the people who need it, we pay a price...You have here a most wonderful means of communication - television. Can you imagine what Jesus Christ would have done with it? Or Herbert Spencer, Bertrand Russell? What have they got there to give us a lead, an inspiration, that I got when I was young from Shaw, Keir Hardy, those great figures who made us something to live for, some idealism? What is the new light? With all respect I can not say I am going to get a new light from dear David Frost.
"What does disturb me, what I really do get pessimistic about - and I am glad I am not 30 - is the machine. It seems to me that the machine has now taken charge. It is going to dominate. And my God, we'll probably have a computer soon as Prime Minister. They need not break up the machine. Why can't we put it at our service? You can't go in the country without cars. First thing I would do as a benevolent dictator: I would stop the use of cars in cities. Getting a dam'd nuisance, you know. Then again, there is a sort of lunacy. People tell me they are going to Sydney in 48 hours to save time. What are they going to do with the time saved?
" I do not believe in this giving too much: grants for students. I would certainly give grants to gifted poor boys. I would have given a grant to myself at I6. I thank whatever gods there be that I got on the wavelength of Emmott Robinson and Dick Tyldesley, and I could get on the wavelength of Elgar and Toscanini and Kathleen Ferrier and Bemard Shaw. That, to me, composes a full circle of life and that you can not get from university.
" I used to go to music halls and hear Marie Lloyd singing and the musical comedies like Flora Dora and people would say: 'You are wasting your time. Why don't you go to the HaIIe concerts? It was from that that I graduated and today we have people listening to the Beatles who know a bit about Mozart, too, and that is what I call a real education."