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Whitington and Miller, or Miller and Whitington?

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Richard (‘Dick’) Whitington was a useful batsman who played First Class cricket between 1932 and 1946, most notably opening the batting for Australia in each of the five ‘Victory’ Tests in 1945. Overall his record is a modest one, but a career average of more than 32 is respectable enough. Outside the game Whitington qualified as a lawyer before the war. When peace arrived and his time in the services ended he was persuaded to join the Sydney Sun as a cricket writer.

Keith Miller on the other hand was a top class batsman and, after the war, fast bowler as well. One of the handful of sporting superstars of his era he still however had to earn a living and had some fairly mundane clerical jobs before the war. Afterwards, despite his success in the 1946/47 Ashes series Miller struggled to find work and at one stage signed a contract to play league cricket in England. Realising that their prize all-rounder might be about to be lost to the country business rallied round and work was found for Miller who, eventually, found himself sharing an office with his friend and ‘Victory’ Test teammate Whitington.

It would not be long before the idea of the pair collaborating on a book was first mooted. Whilst in England with Bradman’s ‘Invincibles’ in 1948 Miller had met the owner of Latimer House Publishing and on being approached the company readily agreed to publish the book, the success of which was such that they put into print another five in succeeding years.

The first of those collaborations appeared in June of 1950. Cricket Caravan did not deal with the Australian tour of South Africa in 1949/50, although it did have chapters on the 1946/47 Ashes series and the Indian leg of the Australian Services tour of 1945. That apart a third of the book was taken up with essays on Donald Bradman, one of which was credited to Miller although it seems likely it was more a case of Whitington marshalling Miller’s thoughts for him. Years later when asked about the books Miller would generally answer with words to the effect of I must get round to reading one some day.

A telling passage appears right at the beginning of Cricket Caravan, Whitington contributing a foreword that he began with; What Keith Miller will say when he finds I have slipped this foreword into our book without consulting him I do not know. In truth Miller almost certainly had not noticed, and if he had it is unlikely he much cared. His thoughts on those half dozen pages on Braddles apart it seems unlikely he provided much besides his name. Miller nonetheless enjoyed equal billing, his image appears on the dust wrapper and in ten of the thirteen photographs. The others are one of Whitington and two of Bradman.

The 1951 book was Catch! An Account of Two Cricket Tours. The beguiling image of Miller’s cover drive that famously decorated Robert Menzies’ office appears on the jacket and in the frontispiece. The book has a foreword from Miller’s great friend Denis Compton. For once there are no digressions, the book dealing with the Australian visit to South Africa of twelve months before, and the 1950/51 Ashes series.

Straight Hit! appeared in 1952 and in part dealt with the West Indies visit to Australia in 1951/52. In addition there was a pen portrait of Miller by Whitington, and a collection of other essays two of which carry Miller’s byline. The cover illustration is Miller with the bat and there is a very brief foreword from Duleepsinhji.

Bumper appeared just in time to coincide with the Australians arrival in England for the 1953 Ashes. This was the first time Miller appeared on the cover in bowling mode. In addition Miller’s name dominated the dust jacket. If the extent of the authors’ respective contributions were proportionate to the disparity in the size of the fonts used this book would certainly have been Miller’s.

The foreword to Bumper was provided by Menzies, who openly states that the request to provide it had not been accompanied by a copy of the manuscript. In fact it may be that Miller saw none of the book either, as he certainly did not read in advance the chapter in the book that was critical of the tactics of his Test captain, Lindsey Hassett.

As the title suggests there was much about fast bowling in Bumper, and a good deal of its contents represented a preview of the forthcoming Ashes series. In addition the closing sixty pages of the book were taken up with an account of the visit of the unfancied 1952/53 South Africans to Australia, a series from which the visitors emerged with an unexpected draw.

It was the following year’s book, Gods or Flannelled Fools, that contained an account of the 1953 Ashes. The title refers to the first part of the book, a series of pen portraits of players through the ages. Once more it is Miller the bowler who appears on the cover and the use of upper case letters for his surname gives the impression of his being the main contributor to the book, despite the lower case letters used for Whitington’s name being of the same font size.

The foreword to Gods or Flannelled Fools was provided by the conductor of the Manchester Halle Orchestra, Sir John Barbirolli. Unlike his predecessor, Menzies, Barbirolli did read one chapter of the book, but only one.

The final Miller/Whitington collaboration appeared in 1955, Cricket Typhoon. Miller with bat in hand adorned the cover of a book in which the authors’ names went back to appearing in the same font and size, albeit with Miller’s name first. As the title implies the book is concerned with the famous Ashes series of 1954/55. The first half of the book is an expansive and discursive preview of the series, and the second half an account of England’s 3-1 victory. This time there was no celebrity foreword but, and this is for twenty first century readers the most interesting aspect of the book, there is a closing chapter on pace bowling from the then octogenarian CB Fry.

A few weeks after their defeat at the hands of England the Australians were off to the Caribbean. Although the home side were confident the Australians won the series comfortably but there was to be no book from Miller and Whitington this time. It is not entirely clear why the pair fell out but the generally accepted version is that, vice-captain of Australia in the series, Miller was not prepared to give as much inside information to Whitington as the latter felt he should. Given the problems that cricket has had subsequently with players talking to those outside their team it is a great relief for those who champion the integrity of the sport’s past that Miller should, despite commercial considerations, have not been prepared to discuss matters such as team selection and tactics with Whitington.

Cricket Typhoon was not quite the end of an era because, later in 1955, a Keith Miller Companion was published, a book which amounted to an anthology of the previous books. Such a long running collaboration between star player and journalist is unique in cricket literature. Was it worthwhile? The books selling point was the dressing room gossip and the general tone of the writing. The authors favoured attacking cricket, but there was no great analysis, and the sort of revelation that was disclosed, for example that West Indian mystery spinner Sonny Ramadhin needed to bowl on a full stomach to give of his best, is less than fascinating to modern readers.

At the time they were published the Miller/Whitington books were well enough received, but there were no glowing reviews and, amidst so much competition in the cricket book boom of the early 1950s there is nothing about the books that makes them stand out in literary terms. Nonetheless they do still seem to have a market and whilst any one of them can be obtained for just a few pounds on the second hand market they do appear to be easier to sell than many of the books with which, when new, they competed.

Miller’s last series as a player was in England in 1956 by which time he was 36. After that he signed a lucrative contract with the Daily Express and his outspoken views were popular with the paper’s readers for many years. Again he was generally assisted by staff writers but there is no doubt but that what was put forward in his name did accurately reflect his thoughts.

There was also an autobiography, Cricket Crossfire, published later in 1956 and, of course, serialised in the Daily Express, a book which sold well. Cricket Crossfire was again not Miller’s own work. As the tour progressed he met Reg Hayter, who had recently established an eponymous sports reporting agency, on numerous occasions in order to give Hayter the material for the book. Hayter in turn passed his notes of those meetings on to the actual ghost, Basil Easterbrook. The book is not an entirely satisfying read. Miller was happy to share his cricketing story and his thoughts on the game, but reluctant to say very much about his wartime activities or, as was of great interest to many at the time, anything of his friendship with the Royal Family and, more particularly, Princess Margaret.

The success of Cricket Crossfire encouraged Miller’s new publisher, Oldbourne, to reprise the old Miller/Whitington formula with a new book from Miller reflecting on the 1958/59 Ashes series. The first part of the book dwelt on retirement and Miller’s views on that issue and there was also a prescient opinion piece on one day cricket. The account of England’s 4-0 defeat was, inevitably, based on the reports that had appeared under Miller’s name in the Express and, given that the exercise was not repeated, sales were presumably at a level that convinced Oldbourne that that style of book had had its day.

Although as far as I am aware there is no causal link the end of the partnership between Whittington and Miller coincided with Whitington relocating to South Africa in 1958. To supplement his earnings from the Sunday Times and Rand Daily Mail in 1961 Whitington assisted South African skipper John Waite with his autobiography (Perchance to Bowl) and followed that with John Reid’s Kiwis, an account of the visit to the Cape of the 1961/62 New Zealanders which provided the game with an unexpectedly exciting series of Test matches.

A couple of years later South Africa visited Australia and Whitington went with them. Bradman, Benaud and Goddard’s Cinderellas was another return to the sort of book Whitington had written before. It was primarily an account of the Test series, but there was also a lengthy essay on Bradman and another on Benaud, who retired from the game at the end of that summer.

In 1966/67 Australia visited South Africa, and were soundly beaten. Again there was a book from Whitington, Simpson’s Safari. A gushing foreword to the book (although he admitted to not having read it) came from Miller and his acknowledged assistance with the chapter on the fifth Test demonstrated that whatever may have gone wrong in 1955 the friendship between the two men had either never actually been completely lost or, if it had, there had been a rapprochement.

By now Whitington was back in Australia where, in 1967, he helped former Australian skipper Vic Richardson get his story into print before, for one last time, working with Miller on a book. Fours Galore was Whitington’s book but the jacket announced it as being with Test descriptions by Keith Miller. The first part of the book, in the manner of the 1950s collaborations between the pair, consisted of a series of essays by Whitington on the game in Australia and West Indies, including a long overdue look at that 1954/55 clash. Political correctness is not to the fore, and some of the words used (no doubt in all innocence) do jar. The second part of the book is an account of the West Indians 1968/69 trip to Australia.

I have not, so far, quoted from any reviews of the books I have mentioned. In this context I always like to refer to the views of Rowland Bowen, so at this stage I will begin by referring to an extract from my post on Bowen’s The Cricket Quarterly. Bowen had, in his first issue, provided a positive review of John Reid’s Kiwis, but after that it was downhill almost all the way as I went on to explain:-

“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.” 

The Miller/Whitington collaborations appeared a decade or more before The Cricket Quarterly arrived, but in 1968 Bowen did, in an article examining post war tour books generally, mention Catch!. He wrote; Mentioned here only because the first part of it is some attempt at an account of the Australian tour to South Africa in 1949/50. There are no full scores apart from the Tests; it is interesting to see what a racialist has to say about the South African scene, even if he does also condemn the South African attitude to women. The rest of the book is about the MCC tour to Australia in 1950/51 and it is not recommended on that account at all.

In addition to the books already mentioned in a particularly prolific period up to 1974 Whitington also wrote a biography of Lindsay Hassett, the only account (with the usual digressions) of the 1970/71 Ashes series as well as producing An Illustrated History of Australian Cricket and ghosting the autobiography of ‘Bodyline’ umpire George Hele. With books on lawn tennis, a general sporting book and a biography of Frank Packer (father of Kerry) as well Whitington was working hard. In fairness to him, and indeed to Bowen, I will also quote from Bowen’s review of the Hassett biography, The Quiet Australian, which began with; this is a thoroughly interesting book and altogether to be recommended. What a strange character the author must be to be capable of producing such bad books, and yet such a good one as this.

Miller continued his journalistic activities until 1975 at which point, presumably tiring of ‘commuting’ between England and Australia, he sought and was offered a position with Vernons Pools in Australia. He did not go into print again. As for Whitington his last book of substance was published in 1981 and was, appropriately enough, a biography of Miller. The Golden Nugget was published by Rigby in Australia and seems not to have had a UK release. Certainly the only review I have read of it were a few kind words from John Arlott in Wisden. Perhaps one day I will get around to actually reading the book, rather than just using it for research, even if attempts to do so always leave me cursing its lack of an index.

Comments

There’s not much mystery about these books. Miller lent his name and perhaps a few opinions: Whitington did everything else. They are, almost without exception, terrible. Whitington was incapable of writing about the subject in front of him; instead, he wanders off into one irrelevant diversion after another. He was a snob and a bigot and an appalling apologist for South Africa’s apartheid regime. His book on the 1966-67 Australian tour to South Africa is a sustained, personal and vitriolic attack on Bob Simpson (whose crime, it seems, was failing to appreciate what a wonderful place the host country was). His writing is riddled with basic factual errors. He hated Bradman (here, perhaps, Miller’s voice breaks through from time to time) and most of the books have a section that might have been headed “He could bat, but…” It’s hard to think of anyone else who wrote so much on the game, yet so little of value.

Comment by Max Bonnell | 10:47am BST 15 March 2020

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