Fly at a Higher GameMartin Chandler |
Author: Hignell, Andrew
Rating: 4 stars
A couple of years ago I read and much enjoyed The Daffodil Blooms, a book co-written by Andrew Hignell and Brian Radford. Fly at a Higher Game is, in many ways a prequel to that, and at the same time is a biography of Tom Whittington, referred to throughout the book as ‘Tal’, the nickname that his initials created for him.
Whittington played a significant role in Glamorgan’s elevation from Minor County to First Class in 1921. In addition to his off field contributions, which were substantial, he was also a player of note and although he turned forty during that inaugural summer he appeared in eleven matches, and for the next two years, the last of his playing career, he led the county.
As a cricketer Whittington was an opening batsman. By the 1920s he was past his best, and his average for his First Class career is not even 15, but in his younger days he was clearly a capable player and although Glamorgan performed poorly, to say the least, under his leadership in 1922 and 1923 he had been a successful captain before the Great War.
Glamorgan are set apart from the other First Class counties by being almost a national team, and also by being the only county elevated to First Class status between 1905 and 1992. The story of their formation is one of the vision of a few men, and a struggle to raise the funds required. For Whittington there was a huge commitment in terms of time spent on and off the field.
That Whittington came from a background of some privilege will come as no surprise and, with family assistance, he trained as a solicitor and in 1910, with a partner, established his own practice in Neath. It is not unusual these days for solicitors firms to employ rainmakers, whose role is to attract clients and, not infrequently, to avoid any actual legal work altogether. I have never quite been able to work out how that is achieved in a two partner firm like Whittington’s, but his partner must have been a hard worker as quite apart from his regular absences in the summer Whittington toured the Caribbean with MCC sides in 1910/11 and 1912/13.
And the story might have ended in 1923. The county were in dire straits and after a dismal playing season Whittington retired. That Glamorgan recovered is a large part of the story of The Daffodil Blooms, but what happened next for Whittington did not make for such a happy story.
Despite his start in life, and his being a partner in a solicitors’ firm Whittington, on a personal level, seems to have been rather less than astute or, possibly, simply a risk taker. In any event by 1923 the partnership was dissolved and two years later Whittington suffered the ultimate indignity for a professional man when he was declared bankrupt. Picking up the threads of his life Whittington left South Wales for Sussex and went into teaching. He later moved to Cornwall and, at the relatively young age of 63 died from cancer in 1944.
Given that, Whittington having never married and having no descendants, there were no primary sources available to Hignell he has done a remarkably thorough job in reconstructing an interesting life, and particularly what became of him after he left South Wales. Fly at a Higher Game tells two inextricably linked stories very well. It is highly recommended.