‘Googly’ of The Daily ExpressMartin Chandler |
The name Pollock is a famous one in cricket, courtesy primarily of three members of a well known South African family. But there is also an English Pollock who has contributed to the folklore of the game, albeit not a player but a writer, William Pollock. There are no classic volumes of cricket literature that bear Pollock’s name, and indeed he authored only three cricket books, but his story is still an interesting one.
Pollock was born in Eastbourne in 1881. His was a large family as he was the eldest of seven children, but his father was a doctor so no doubt the Pollocks enjoyed a good lifestyle. Someone must have stimulated young William’s interest in cricket, but it is not entirely clear who. We do know that his love of the game was fuelled by the week each summer that he spent at his godmother’s home in Hastings that coincided with the cricket festival there, but nothing I have read suggests that either that lady or Pollock’s parents had any interest in cricket.
Was Pollock a cricketer of any note? He tells a story of once having bowled the mighty Sammy Woods in the nets at Hastings, but as a schoolboy at the time it seems likely that Woods was simply encouraging a youngster whose ambition that afternoon had not initially stretched beyond fielding out the booming straight drives that escaped the net. When he moved to London as a young adult Pollock was a member of Hampstead Cricket Club, but he tells no stories of his cricketing prowess, and observes that at the time the club had as many as 150 playing members.
I have not been able to find out where Pollock was educated, but he seems to have gone straight into journalism after leaving school, his first job being with the Daily Mirror, perhaps at the very beginning of that title’s life in 1903, at which time it was aimed at a female audience. No doubt because of his father’s occupation Pollock was initially charged with finding medical stories.
From medical matters Pollock moved on to the theatre, and it was as a writer and critic on that subject that he made his name before, for the duration of the Great War, serving with the Royal Navy. Back in Fleet Street after the war to end all wars he was to become a cricket writer, although I am not entirely sure at what point or with whom. Certainly he was with the Daily Mail for a time, but as a cricket scribe it was with the Daily Express that he made his name, usually writing under the byline of ‘Googly’.
It was 1934 before Pollock’s work was seen in anything other than the ephemeral medium of newsprint. The Cream of Cricket is notable in particular for two things, those being firstly its splendid period dust jacket, and then the delightful dedication that graces the page before the book begins; To all the good cricketers who keep the game alive and all the bad ones without whom it would die.
The book is not a bulky one, perhaps 40,000 words and there are twenty chapters altogether. It is not a technical one, and there are no match reports or pen portraits of players. The style is informal and chatty and subjects range from childhood memories of the stars of the golden age to more contemporary themes although, in the main, Pollock looks backwards rather than forwards. Years later Irving Rosenwater, not always an easy man to please, expressed the view that Pollock wrote most entertainingly and without the smallest hint of uncharitableness.
One of the feature of Pollock’s writing is his occasional forays into verse, something he seems to have viewed as a kind of trademark, and he was particularly impressed when CB Fry inscribed a copy of his autobiography to Pollock referring to him as ‘The Poet’. There is however nothing highbrow about what amounted to an occasional piece of doggerel such as one referencing a man who Pollock greatly admired, as do many today, Douglas Jardine:-
The Woodfull and the Bradyman
Were hoping for a stand
They wept like anything to see
The ball in Larwood’s hand.
‘If only Jardine took him off’
(They said) ‘It would be grand’
In common with most of the regular English cricket correspondents Pollock had not been in Australia in 1932/33 to follow the ‘Bodyline’ tour. The inevitable reaction to that was that a bevy of journalist followed the next England team down under in 1936/37. Pollock was one of them. Others included Neville Cardus, Bruce Harris (who had been on the previous trip) and Fry.
Following his return from Australia Pollock’s second book was published, So This Is Australia. The book is a true tour account rather than simply a record of a series of Test matches. Those wanting to read about the series will generally, unsurprisingly, opt for Cardus’ Australian Summer but Pollock’s is also a decent read with a many and varied selection of digressions from the purely cricketing business of a series which England led 2-0 before Australia won the remaining three matches in order to retain the Ashes.
Prior to his trip to Australia Pollock seems never to have met Donald Bradman. When the pair were first introduced Pollock found the Australian captain and master batsman defensive, and explained that for a while they fenced with each other before, by the end of the trip, being on good speaking terms.
Between the wars sports journalists earned good money. I don’t know what Pollock’s deal with the Daily Express was, but he was the paper’s cricket correspondent and therefore surely only one step down from the Chief Sportswriter, Trevor Wignall. According to Pollock Wignall was paid more than one hundred pounds a week in the 1930s, the equivalent now of around £300,000 a year.
In the late 1930s there were very few cricketing autobiographies around and, Jack Hobbs and WG Grace apart, no cricketer had published one before the end of his playing career. That a cricketer should write such a book less than three years after his debut would be a bit of a stretch today, but in the inter war years it must have seemed absurd. But Bradman spent most of his life being the exception that proved the rule, and the autobiography race was no different.
Don Bradman’s Book appeared in 1930 after that remarkable English summer in which Bradman scored 974 runs in seven Test innings. It is true that there was some technical advice as well, but in addition Bradman also wrote the story of his life to that date and, largely, refused to allow any editing of the text he provided.
Did Pollock have a further autobiography in mind all along? I would be surprised if not, but in any event so well did Pollock and Bradman eventually get on that towards the end of the series Pollock was invited to Bradman’s home and left with a gentleman’s agreement that Pollock had two months in which to put together a book contract.
In the event Pollock had no trouble in putting a deal together. The News of the World wanted to serialise the story and Stanley Paul to publish the book. The newspaper agreed to pay Pollock £1,000 to write the book, presumably plus expenses. Today’s equivalent would be around £70,000. Bradman, naturally, negotiated his own price and all that Pollock would say on that subject was that it was a lot more than I got, and quite rightly too. Part of the reason for that comment was, no doubt, because when Pollock arrived in Australia in the 1937/38 summer he was greeted by a Bradman who had already written a large part of the book. My Cricketing Life was published in July 1938, part way through that summer’s Ashes series.
In 1938/39 Pollock spent a third English winter in the southern hemisphere when he accompanied Walter Hammond’s England side to South Africa. In recent years two books have emerged on that series, which culminated in the infamous ‘timeless test’ that had to be left drawn after nine days play in order to facilitate the English team being able to rendezvous with the ship due to take them home. Before 1997 however there was nothing on the last cricket tour of the inter war period other than Pollock’s final book, Talking of Cricket which, published in 1941, contained amongst its nineteen chapters one entitled Nine Days’ Wonder. It was, by a distance, the longest of the nineteen and for once Pollock’s writing was a straightforward report of a game of cricket, and a very good one as well.
As for the eighteen briefer chapters in Talking About Cricket the clue is in the title. Conversational in nature there are many anecdotes from Pollock alongside his impressions of the game over a lifetime of watching the all time greats. There are also a few autobiographical snippets, although those are always incidental to the main thrust of the essays in which they appear.
Despite being 57 when the Second World War broke out Pollock still joined up, this time being a Squadron Leader in the RAF Reserve whose role was in public relations at the Air Ministry. Sadly he did not live to see peace return, and died at home in Worthing in October 1944. The only obituary I have found that gives any insight into his personality appeared in The Stage, and described Pollock as though outwardly grave, he was a warm hearted companion, rich in humour and humanity, and a loyal friend. Cricket was not merely a game with him but a faith, as readers of his charming book Talking About Cricket will know before adding, perhaps not surprisingly given that The Stage was the weekly journal of the entertainment industry; his theatrical work was more professional, but he was a sound and kindly critic.