Off and on the FieldDavid Mutton |
Author: Leveson-Gower, Henry
Publisher: Stanley Paul
Rating: 1.5 stars
According to the blurb at the front of Off and On the Field, “the name of ‘Shrimp’ Leveson Gower is a household word among cricketers the world over.” Sixty years after its publication, Leveson Gower’s name is obscure and his aristocratic brand of cricket administration feels many lifetimes removed from today’s hyper-commercial world of television deals, streaming rights and international freelance players.
Leveson Gower’s memoir plods along, apparently like the man himself, amiably enough but without any substance. We learn about a conventional upper-middle class upbringing at Winchester and Magdalen College, Oxford, although I had considerable sympathy for his mother, who gave birth to twenty-one children (she even proclaimed it was “almost two elevens”), followed by a jolly life as an amateur cricketer and then equally cheerful days as a selector and administrator. Strife never appears in Off and On the Field. Not even the Great War can get in the way, mentioned only in passing and as a backdrop to the death of W.G. Grace.
It is hard to understand why Leveson Gower put pen to paper and by the book’s halfway point he ran out of material. Three whole chapters are devoted to cricketers’ birthdays, while chapters such as “Golf Stories” and “A Gibralter Visit” are mere padding to fill out space.
The frustrating thing is that Leveson Gower was at the forefront of English cricket for fifty years. He was, for example, a selector in 1909 when Wisden wrote that “never in the history of Test Matches in England has there been such blundering” in choosing an eleven. Yet there are no justifications or apologies because Leveson Gower simply ignored anything even remotely controversial. The only hint of negativity is his description of Lord Harris as “in a nice sense, a dictator”, and even that is leavened by a page of praise to his Lordship ranging from his service to Kent to the concise notes at MCC meetings.
I felt compelled to award Leveson Gower half a star if only for the inclusion of a delightful ditty composed at his expense. His name created a great deal of confusion during a tour of the USA, not least because its pronunciation and spelling shared only a passing similarity. One wag wrote about Leveson Gower’s partnership with Gilbert Jessop:
At one end stocky Jessop frowned,
The human catapult
Who wrecks the roofs of distant towns
When set in his assault.
His mate was that perplexing man
We know as “Looshun-Gore”,
It isn’t spelt at all that way,
We don’t know what it’s for.
But as with Cholmondeley and St. John
The alphabet is mixed,
And Yankees cannot help but ask –
“Why don’t you get it fixed?”
Any book that includes such a poem can’t be entirely bad.