Lords of Mischief

Published: 2022
Pages: 165
Author: Midwinter, Eric
Publisher: Max Books
Rating: 3.5 stars

Describing a cricketer as a ‘clown’, or their cricket as ‘comic’ is something we all do sometimes. As sledges go it’s certainly not defamatory and is hardly personal, and whilst it is insulting and critical, as name calling goes it is far from the worst example.

It turns out however that there was in fact a time, in the 1870s, when ‘Clown Cricket’ by definition was a concept that was a popular diversion. More than one troupe of itinerant entertainers would travel around the country, taking on local sides in games of cricket that were played in light hearted fashion. Various other entertainments were put on at these events as well.

The cricketing establishment did not approve of the clown cricketers, and that is doubtless why the whole concept was allowed to drift off into complete obscurity after, for a couple of years at the turn of the century, being reintroduced as a fund raising concept by the famous Music Hall comedian, Dan Leno. Had Leno not departed this mortal coil at the age of just 43 in 1904 his ‘Comic Cricket’ idea might have made a greater mark on the twentieth century than it did, but as it was his idea died with him.

Eric Midwinter turned 90 this year and, in putting together a book about as quirky an aspect of the game of cricket as you will see, has demonstrated that the power of his intellect has not been dimmed by the advancing years. A renowned cricket researcher and writer on the game Midwinter’s primary career disciplines as a social historian and policy analyst undoubtedly made him the best qualified man to explore this forgotten corner of the game.

The Clown Cricket incarnation is the trickier of the two to deal with in that much of the available material amounts to advertisements for the matches rather than detailed accounts of what the events actually involved. There is rather more in the way of reportage on Leno’s Comic Cricket, and even some photographs.

There can be no doubt that Midwinter marshals the material at his disposal superbly, and his background as a social historian enables him to provide a commentary on the times, and in particular on the music halls that, to an extent, replaced Clown Cricket, and later were the catalyst for the creation of Comic Cricket.

Lords of Mischief might have petered out with Leno’s passing in 1904, but Midwinter is not a man to leave a job half done and at that point there is still the best part of a third of the book to go, space which Midwinter uses to explore the continuing relationship between cricket and the performing arts.

I suppose that simply by dint of the fact it has taken until 2022 for a detailed study of this aspect of the game to appear that it would certainly be a stretch to describe Lords of Mischief as required reading. That said it is certainly an interesting one and, credit to the publisher here, is presented on high quality paper with an extensive selection of very well reproduced images.

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