All On A Summer’s Day – A Look At A Lady WriterMartin Chandler |
Even a decade ago women in the cricketing media were a rare thing. The reason can only have been prejudice, as just a few short years on we now have a number of excellent commentators and several fine writers from the ranks of what in Margaret Hughes’s days was, rather patronisingly, referred to as the fairer sex.
So who was Margaret Hughes? The answer is that she was a remarkable woman who, back in 1953, published All On A Summer’s Day, a fine book which was essentially an appreciation of English cricket over the previous quarter of a century, but one into which she cleverly wove her own story as well so it is, in some ways, an autobiography.
1953 was the year of our present Queen’s coronation, and in a hard fought series of Ashes Tests England won back the famous urn for the first time since Douglas Jardine’s team did so in Australia in 1932/33. For the Lord’s Test of that summer Margaret became the first woman to cover a Test match for an English newspaper. It is not entirely clear why her tenure was limited to the one match but comments in Margaret’s second book, The Long Hop, suggest that her employers expected some sort of ‘feminine’ angle to her reports that they did not get.
But I am getting ahead of myself. Margaret Hughes was born in 1919. Her parents had three sons as well as Margaret and although she describes her family as very ordinary that, for once, does seem to have been something of a misdescription by her. Her father had a successful manufacturing business so much so that he could afford to be a racehorse owner, and in time the family had a substantial home in Kent.
As well as the sport of kings Arthur Hughes was also a keen cricketer and golfer, and Margaret’s mother, Dorothy, was also keen on sport and was a season ticket holder at Highbury where she would attend almost all of Arsenal’s first team games. When her mother didn’t use the ticket, usually for reserve games, Margaret was allowed to do so and then, in the summer of 1930 she first visited Lord’s.
It must have been difficult for a young girl not yet in her teens to see a great deal at Highbury if there was any sort of a crowd. Even as an adult Margaret was only around 5’2” in height, and it is testament to her love of sport that she persisted. Cricket was her passion though and her first hero the Middlesex batsman Patsy Hendren, whose spell she fell under when she first saw him. The following year Margaret spent a week in Nottingham with an Uncle, and there she saw the man who was to become her second great cricketing idol, Harold Larwood, for the first time. In All On A Summer’s Day she wrote:-
Hendren had captured my heart with his happy smile and twinkling feet and filled it with love of the game. Harold Larwood turned the key to keep cricket safely locked inside. On that day it was as if some Greek God had journeyed from Olympus to fill the cricket field with graceful movement. I can see him still, the sun glinting on his fair hair, his slight figure measuring out his lengthy run. Then the smoothness of his perfect action, like a modern machine, technically faultless.
Leaving school at 16 in 1935 Margaret embarked on what should have been a year at secretarial college. She did not much enjoy what she was doing, but quickly realised that if she worked hard at her studies during the winter months, and reached the requisite level of competence by the end of the following April, she would be able to spend the cricket season watching the game and, having duly acquired her certificates as she planned, that is exactly what she did.
The following winter the world of work beckoned and, not with any great enthusiasm, Margaret applied for a job with The Star in Fleet Street, figuring that by working for a newspaper she would at least have access to the cricket scores sooner than she would elsewhere. Interviewed by, serendipitously, another Hendren admirer, a job in the otherwise all male advertising department was hers.
After six years of wartime service in the Women’s Royal Naval Service (WRNS), including a period in New York, Margaret was demobbed at the end of April 1946. With a couple of months leave due there was no need for her to immediately look for gainful employment and, naturally, she spent the summer watching cricket, and making the decision for the future that her plan would always be to earn sufficient money in the winter to enable her to watch cricket all summer.
That she was successful in achieving that ambition was, in large part, thanks to her long years of military service. The cricket season having ended, that autumn she walked into the offices of The Queen, a society magazine that has changed its masthead a few times but, as Harper’s Bazaar, is still being published. In September 1946 the editor’s secretary was a former WRNS officer, and a job offer quickly followed.
In one of those 1940s summers, it is not entirely clear where although presumably at Lord’s, Margaret met Neville Cardus. Then in his late fifties Cardus was, having spent the war years in Australia, living in London. In years to come he was to describe Margaret as his ‘cricket wife’. In addition Cardus had a ‘music wife’, and was also contentedly married to his legal wife Edith, albeit the couple never lived together. Whether the relationship between Cardus and Margaret, who was destined never to marry, extended beyond a close friendship is unclear, but matters little. What is certain is that their friendship endured for the rest of Cardus’s life, and indeed it was Margaret who, in February 1975, found the great scribe in his flat in a state of collapse and secured his admission to hospital where, some days later Cardus, then 86, passed away.
Cardus contributed a foreword to All On A Summer’s Day, beginning with the observation that; This is the first book on First Class cricket not written by a man. He had to choose his words carefully as he had, three years earlier, also contributed a foreword to another cricket book written by a woman, Nancy Joy’s Maiden Over, in part a short history of the women’s game and in part an account of a tour of Australia in 1948/49.
Did All On A Summer’s Day sell well? It should have done, as it is an excellent book, described by John Arlott in Wisden as the book of an enthusiast who has watched and enjoyed cricket with an eye for detail and for character, for adventure and the human reflection behind the ropes. Arlott was, of course, a man with a breadth of vision and tolerance that was unusual for the time, so it is no surprise that he welcomed Margaret’s debut, but he wasn’t alone. The Cricketer also gave the book a positive review. Gerard Martineau’s words might appear a little condescending in the twenty first century, but I doubt he intended them to be; It is an excellent thing to have our cricket writing reinforced by a feminine pen …….. Miss Hughes is one of the most hopeful cricketing symptoms of our time.
As I have already indicated there is an incidental autobiographical thread to All On A Summer’s Day, but its main purpose is to look at the cricketers and matches that establish the game’s history from 1930 onwards. Naturally an obvious flair for the English language helps, but what is also clear from the book is Margaret’s deep love for the game, and a detailed knowledge of it that could only be acquired by, as was the case, by watching a great deal of cricket.
In truth however I suspect it is more likely that All On A Summer’s Day did not sell too many copies, an assertion that I base on a glance at today’s second hand market. On the assumption, possibly flawed, that books that sold well in the past are the easiest to obtain in years to come I compare Hughes’ book with two others from 1953. Les Ames autobiography, Close of Play, came out that year and, as I type these words, there appear to be around twenty copies available. Test Match Diary 1953 was the work of Arlott, and was one of seven full length books on the Coronation Ashes. There are around fifteen copies available whereas, of All On A Summer’s Day there are just three.
By now Margaret was hankering after an opportunity to watch cricket in a foreign land and her eyes turned towards the 1954/55 Ashes series. Undaunted by her experience of reporting on her single Test in 1953 she looked for an opportunity to cover Hutton’s tour and was successful in persuading Frank Packer, the father of the man who caused such a schism in world cricket in the 1970s, to employ her for the series for the Sydney Daily Telegraph, a tabloid newspaper with a reputation rather different to that of its conservative UK namesake.
It might have been expected that Margaret’s friend Cardus was a major factor in the opportunity opening up, and indeed he may have played a role, but certainly on Margaret’s account it was a chance she earned for herself, via an introduction from the former Australian wicketkeeper Bert Oldfield.
The visit to Australia was the catalyst for Margaret’s second book, The Long Hop, and whatever I may have suggested about the sales of her first book the same publisher, Stanley Paul, was content to back her again. In those days a series won 3-1 by England after losing the first Test heavily was always going to attract a great deal of interest and there were as many as ten books competing for cricket lovers’ money. In 2020 there are more copies of The Long Hop available than of All On A Summer’s Day, around twice as many.
The Long Hop is not greatly different from the competition. There is again a little autobiographical content although, published so soon after its predecessor, not a great deal. There is something of the touring experience, in the manner of Alan Ross, and Margaret does not shirk from expressing her views on the Australian way of life, which are not always positive. But at it’s heart the book is an account of the cricket, notable mainly for the author doing so without the assistance of a single scorecard, nor any averages or other statistics.
And that was to be that. Margaret Hughes never wrote another book nor, as far as I can see, did she write about cricket again anywhere, at least not professionally. Her love affair with the game did not end however and she continued to go to Lord’s regularly into the present century. So why did the writing end? I do not know for sure, but there are one or two clues in The Long Hop.
She begins the book with the sentence; Ever since I wrote my first cricket book I have been treated as a freak, rather like the fat lady in the circus. There are other comments which indicate a greater or lesser degree of disenchantment with the way she was received, and the book’s closing chapter contains some similar sentiments. A feature of both Margaret’s books is that in closing the author, identifying herself as Alice, tells a story using her and the other characters from Lewis Carroll’s Wonderland. The first, Alice at Lord’s, is generally upbeat albeit taking a heavy swipe at the then Government’s Entertainment Tax. Alice in Australia is rather different in tone.
In the circumstances I can only assume that Margaret decided that the effort of writing about cricket simply wasn’t worthwhile something which, given the quality of her writing, is a great shame. Her name did not however disappear completely. In his will Cardus, by no means a wealthy man, left Hughes the copyrights to his work and was appointed his literary executor. Through the late 1970s and early 1980s Margaret helped put into print a number of anthologies of Cardus’s work, some well known and other pieces from long forgotten magazine articles. The only disappointment in those books is that Margaret contributed no narrative content herself. Her views on Cardus and his work would have been fascinating, but have never appeared in print.
Watching cricket and editing Cardus’s oeuvre apart I know not what Margaret Hughes did with her life after 1955, but she lived for another half century before she passed away in 2005 at the age of 85. Ironically enough it was for that summer’s historic contest that, for only the second time ever and the first in half a century a female journalist, Chloe Saltau of The Age, was part of the press corps for an Ashes tour.