The Cricket QuarterlyMartin Chandler |
It may only have been around for eight years, half a century ago, but there is something about The Cricket Quarterly. The redoubtable Rowland Bowen departed this mortal coil in 1978 without any real recognition of his contribution to cricket literature, but that has all changed now. Those whose egos Bowen bruised have all long since departed this mortal coil and Bowen and CQ can be and are now judged entirely on their own, considerable merits.
Bowen founded CQ as a vehicle through which what he saw as important issues in relation to the game could be ventilated. Those who wrote for CQ were what can only be described as ‘proper’ historians. These were not writers who courted sales and recognition. Instead they were people who, like Bowen, sought the truth and were prepared to delve into archives and other dusty corners of history rather than simply regurgitate facts that had become accepted without question even though they had never been properly tested.
One writer who featured regularly in CQ was GB Buckley, a medical man who had been responsible for two important collections of old references to cricket in the 1930s. Fresh Light on Pre-Victorian Cricket and Fresh Light on 18th Century Cricket contain important source material for historians. Much other Buckley research was not published and although the man himself died the year before CQ was launched Bowen was able to use some of that material.
Concerned also with the cricket of the ancients was a much younger man, John Goulstone, another regular contributor. In 2020 Goulstone is still with us, and still producing some fascinating research without any motivation beyond the acquisition and distribution of historical knowledge. He is one of four contributors to CQ who, to my certain knowledge, are very much still with us.
One subject that CQ was always ready to cover was the game outside its major centres. The Americas, North and South, often figured but so too did the occasional European outpost and other far flung venues where cricket had a foothold. David Kelly, who has (just once so far!) contributed to CricketWeb was one of the youngest to write for CQ and his lengthy articles on cricket in East Africa and Gibraltar, and a briefer one concerning a tour of Portugal by Dorset Rangers still make good reading half a century on. Histories of the game in the Maldives and Nigeria are other examples from other writers.
CQ also tended to pay rather more attention to overseas cricket in the established Test playing nations than other periodicals issued in England. For example the long serving Australian book dealer Roger Page provided CQ with a number of articles on domestic cricket in Australian. Others turned up from various sources on the subject of other countries as well, including some of particular relevance to those interested in the game on the sub-continent.
A magazine that appears every three months cannot be truly topical, hence CQ did not follow the English season as such. There was of course much on aspects of English cricket, and indeed elsewhere in Great Britain and Ireland, a goodly number from the last of those four contributors who are still with us. Peter Wynne-Thomas is currently the archivist and librarian at Trent Bridge, and was a founding member of the Association of Cricket Statisticians. It is therefore only to be expected that his contributions tended to be on the subject of Nottinghamshire cricket, or matters with a statistical aspect – for example on a number of occasions he contributed an article dealing with the previous English summer’s opening partnerships.
Although there was much more to CQ than its book reviews, in terms of content those remain its best remembered feature. The vast majority were penned by Bowen himself, although it took him a while to get into his stride. The very first edition contained a detailed review of a book entitled The Encyclopaedia of Cricket by Maurice Golesworthy. Bowen was deeply unimpressed by a book that, running to a mere 224 pages, never really had a chance of impressing anyone who started it with anything more than a basic knowledge of the game.
For once Bowen did not use his own name for his review of Golesworthy’s effort, styling the review as by Bibliophos, but whilst being critical of just about every aspect of the book Bowen did at least maintain his objectivity and took the trouble to carefully expose the book’s many flaws. It is perhaps worth noting however that whatever Mr Golesworthy (a journalist whose only cricket book this was) and his publisher did not know they knew their market as the book, unusually for a cricket book, eventually ran to six editions.
As well as the lengthy review of Golesworthy that first edition also contained other reviews, with not a hint of what was to come, Bowen praising all six books he covered and being particularly gushing on the subject of Keith Dunstan’s story of the Melbourne Cricket Club, The Paddock That Grew, which he described as one of the finest cricket books to have appeared for many years.
It was in Volume 2 that Bowen really got into his stride. He decided to review all five publications on the 1963 West Indies tour of England in one go and, to put it mildly, was not impressed. Leaving aside a pictorial souvenir which Bowen distinguishes from the four actual books and which he was actually very kind about, the comments are acerbic.
Ian Wooldridge’s Cricket, Lovely Cricket is described as one of the brashest and most vulgar books on the game it has been the misfortune of this reviewer ever to read. John Clarke’s Cricket With a Swing is categorised as being quite pedestrian and (he) does not succeed in making anything come alive, least of all the second Test at Lord’s. That second Test was the famous one in which Colin Cowdrey came out for the final over with an arm in plaster to enable England to draw a match from which they had almost managed to snatch what would have been an excellent victory.
The Lord’s match was sufficiently dramatic to persuade Alan Ross, one of the great cricket writers, to write a book solely on it. Bowen was not impressed however, writing that the book was; frankly, no sort of money’s worth and, of its author, that his mannered writing is beginning to bore. That left JS Barker and Summer Spectacular, to which Bowen grants the accolade of being the best of a not very good bunch of books, before adding but in saying that we want to make it quite clear that we are not saying very much.
Bowen was, generally, not keen on cricketing autobiographies. His complete review of Charlie Griffith’s Chucked Around reads; There is not the slightest reason why any reader of the CQ should show any interest in this book, nor why we should in anyway recommend it to them. Anyone with the smallest imagination can guess its contents, or could have written it: Indeed, we would suggest that imagination would not really be needed. Several of the photographs seem to be irrelevant. Griffith’s teammate, Rohan Kanhai, got a couple of sentences more, but his book was summarised as a complete waste of money.
Value for money was a recurring theme for Bowen, particularly once he started having to buy books because publishers stopped sending him review copies. A book consisting of nine pen portraits of famous players and edited by Reg Hayter was subject to the following withering assault; this book is quite outrageously priced and we can see no reason at all why anyone in possession of his senses would want to purchase it.
Generally Bowen was possessed of an elephantine memory, and decided to review, very briefly, the second edition of Golesworthy, who he noted continues to parade his ignorance. He might however have forgotten when, in his very first issue he described RS ‘Dick’ Whitington’s account of the 1961/62 New Zealand tour of South Africa, John Reid’s Kiwis, as sparklingly written.
By the time Whitington’s account of the 1963/64 visit of the South Africans to Australia, Bradman, Benaud and Goddard’s Cinderellas appeared Bowen had decided the author manifestly cannot write English and may not even, on the evidence of this book know what good English is. He didn’t forget that one though as, a few years later Whitington’s book on the 1968/69 West Indies tour of Australia was described as probably the worst book that Whitington has been concerned with and a year later, in the context of a biography of Tiger O’Reilly he commented that the author continues to exhibit his ignorance of how to write a book, as distinct from a gossip column.
Although the designated review section at the back of each issue of CQ dealt with current books Bowen, in this respect not unlike CricketWeb, was happy to also publish reviews of older books as separate features. In addition he published other bibliographical pieces looking at tour books, the various Lillywhite publications, and Denison as well as an interesting piece on the complex world of early Australian annuals. Wisden too featured and whilst, like the rest of us, Bowen greatly valued the Almanack he certainly didn’t regard it as a sacred cow, and amidst the generally positive comments editor and publisher picked up their share of criticism from time to time, none of it unreasonable.
As already indicated CQ appeared in card covers four times a year. At the end of the year Bowen would produce a title page with a foreword by a guest writer* and a detailed index so that subscribers could have those bound together with their four copies. The last issue contained an editorial announcement that it was to be the final appearance. There is however a ‘continuity error’ later on, and one that suggests that Bowen had tried very hard for some time with whatever difficulties he had in an effort to keep CQ going.
Towards the end of that final edition, under the title Britcher, there is a brief notice relating to that most unobtainable of cricketing artefacts, reporting the intention of John Batten to carry out a census of the copies in existence. Despite his earlier announcement Bowen promised the results of that census in a later edition. It would be many years before David Rayvern Allen would finalise the Batten task. Bowen’s expressed opinion as to the number of copies that would be located would prove to be a prescient one.
In an editorial introduction to the last edition Bowen suggested that there may not be a foreword to accompany the title page. In the event there was was a short piece by Bowen himself entitled The Last Word. There is more than a hint of bitterness to a rather rambling note. Primarily what this goes to illustrate is how many ‘establishment’ writers were upset by Bowen’s dismantling, by dint of his researches, the myths that had been repeated down the generations about the origins of the game. He described it as Hambledomania.
Whilst he and CQ may not have been as appreciated as they deserved to be in Bowen’s lifetime fifty and more years on from CQ’s first appearance twenty first century readers can appreciate it for what it was, a collection of eclectic, groundbreaking and well written articles on a bewildering range of cricketing subjects. In 2020 there is inevitably an ‘of its time’ feel about CQ’s appearance but much of the writing within it is as fresh and entertaining now as it was when first published.
Having recommended CQ in the strongest possible terms how easy is it to obtain copies in an age when it is generally difficult to give away copies of old cricket magazines, let alone sell them? Sadly for potential buyers CQ is the exception that proves the rule. A full set, bound with title pages and indexes is not going to leave a dealer’s hands for much less than £500, but sets do crop up at auction from time to time and occasionally copies that are not yet bound turn up, in which case a decent set might be obtained for nearer £300, but if bidding at auction do beware the buyer’s premium!
*Those who provided forewords to Volumes 1-6 were CLR James, CP Snow, Neville Cardus, Compton McKenzie, Ralph Barker and Leslie Gutteridge. In Volume 7 Bowen himself provides a discursive foreword, and one which strongly suggests that even then he was wrestling with the dilemma of whether to keep going