book_reviews_banner_image-81x81 A BIBLIOPHILE'S BLOG

Middlesex in Print

The present Middlesex club was formed in 1864 and has been well served by the game’s past historians, there being a trilogy of bulky histories taking the story from 1864 to 1947. Volume 1, covering 1864 to 1899, was written by WJ Ford. The great historian Frederick Ashley-Cooper wrote the continuation, covering the years from 1900-1920, and former captain Nigel Haig the third, which took the story to 1947.

That series did not continue, but there was a book on Middlesex in the Christopher Helm series, written by David Lemmon and which appeared in 1988 and prior to that, in 1982, a history written by Anton Rippon had been published. There has been no detailed history since although a 112 page brochure did appear to celebrate the club’s 150th anniversary in 2014 and that also appeared as a limited edition hardback (150 copies, naturally) signed by a number of former players.

Moving on to biographical books, instrumental in the formation of Middlesex were the Walkers of Southgate, a family who provided seven brothers who played for the county, and whose deeds  were celebrated in a book bearing that title. The book is one of the oldest cricketing biographies, written by WA Bettesworth and published in 1900. All the brothers played as amateurs, and their fortune came from the brewery, Taylor Walker. More than a century later the brotherhood were celebrated again, in a self-published book by Peter Jouning, The Walkers of Southgate and Middlesex: A Cricketing Fraternity a book that, other than the fact of its existence, I know nothing about.

A contemporary of the Walkers for both club and county was Edward Rutter, who appeared 31 times for the county in the late 1860s and early 1870s. Primarily a slow left arm bowler Rutter published an autobiography in 1925, by which time he was already 83, Cricket Memories.

An interesting character who also played with the Walkers and Rutter was Cuthbert Ottaway, albeit only seven of his 31 First Class appearances were for Middlesex, the majority coming in his student days at Oxford. Ottaway’s greater claim to sporting fame was as England’s first football captain, but he was a talented batsman who, had he not died tragically early at 27 might have been a double international. Ottaway was the subject of a biography, England’s First Football Captain, that was written by Mick Southwick and published in 2009.

Unlike Ottaway Alfred Lyttelton was a double international, and another member of a famous brotherhood, six of whom played First Class cricket. Lyttelton’s cricket career was between 1877 and 1887.After sport Lyttelton enjoyed a distinguished career in the law, and also entered parliament. One of his brothers, Edward, wrote Alfred Littleton: An Account of his Life, published in 1917, four years after Alfred’s death.

Another family who gave six brothers to First Class cricket were the Studds. Two, George and Charles, were capped by England as well as playing for Middlesex. Charles Studd was a class all-rounder but played the game only between 1879 and 1884 before embarking on the missionary work that brought him rather greater fame than his cricket. A biography, CT Studd: Cricketer and Pioneer was written by Norman Grubb and appeared in 1933. The book has been republished on more than one occasion since then.

Just as Studd left the First Class game AE ‘Drewy’ Stoddart made his debut. Another double international, cricket and rugby union, Stoddart was a fine batsman who led England in to victory in the thrilling Ashes series of 1894/95 and, ultimately, was a tragic figure who took his own life in 1915. He was a lifelong source of fascination for David Frith who wrote My Dear Victorious Stod in 1970, a book he updated twice, firstly in 1977 and then in 2015 as Stoddy: England’s Finest Sportsman

There is clearly something about families and Middlesex cricket in the Victorian era as the man who comes next is JT Hearne, known as ‘Old Jack’ to distinguish him from his young cousin, JW ‘Young Jack’. JT, a right arm medium pacer, first played for Middlesex in 1888 and played on until 1914. He was capped by England a dozen times in the 1890s. JW, a batsman and leg spinner, joined his cousin in the Middlesex side in 1909 and between then and his retirement, 27 years later, he was capped 26 times by England. Both men feature in Wheelwrights to Wickets, a book published in 1996 by a descendant, another JW Hearne, and which looks at all the many cricketing branches of the Hearne family.

Cyril Foley is the next man in line, and again one whose cricketing career was not the most celebrated part of his life. Foley first appeared for Cambridge in 1888 and played in the first of his 57 matches for Middlesex five years later. Primarily an opener a career average of 16.62 confirms that Foley was not in the first rank of batsmen, but he enjoyed distinguished military careers with both the Army and the Royal Flying Corps as well as, in 1909, playing a leading role in an archaeological expedition to Jerusalem that went in search of the Ark of the Covenant. An autobiography, Autumn Foliage, appeared in 1935.

A year after Foley died ‘Plum’ Warner first appeared for Middlesex. Warner captained county and country, wrote extensively on the game and was heavily involved in its administration once his playing days were over. Perhaps surprisingly there has only been one full biography of Warner, Gerald Howat’s 1987 Plum Warner, to go with Warner’s own My Cricketing Life (1921) and Long Innings (1951).

The first of two Australians to enjoy long careers with Middlesex was Albert Trott, who first played for the county in 1898. Like Stoddart Trott took his own life, in his case in 1914, and after a career of great achievement on the field it was a surprise that it was not until as recently as 2017 that Steve Neal’s Over and Out appeared. It was worth waiting for however as it is certainly one of the best cricketing biographies of recent years.

Six years after Trott another Victorian, Frank Tarrant, first appeared for Middlesex. Tarrant is the subject of one of the very few biographies that is better than Trott’s, Mike Coward’s fascinating account from last year, The Frank Tarrant Story.

Neither of the next two Middlesex men I will consider, both debuting during the Edwardian era, enjoyed distinguished cricket careers. Guy Napier made 81 appearances (21 for Middlesex) over ten years, and took 365 wickets with his right arm medium pace. Wilfred Bird was a wicketkeeper who made 55 (11 for Middlesex) over a similar period. Both lost their lives in the Great War, and both are the subject of excellent monographs by Duncan Anderson in a series of occasional publications he has produced under the general title Victime de la Guerre.

One of the most famous of all Middlesex batsmen, and by a distance the county’s most prodigious run scorer was Elias ‘Patsy’ Hendren. A 1934 book, Big Cricket, was an autobiography, and two other books bearing Hendren’s name, My Book of Cricket and Cricketers (1927) and Cricket Musings (1947, in India) have autobiographical elements. There has been just one biography however, Patsy Hendren: The Cricketer and his Times, written by former teammate Ian Peebles and published back in 1969.

Two years after Hendren debuted, in 1909, Frank Mann first appeared for Middlesex. Like the Walkers before him Mann came from a family that owned a successful brewery and he was to captain Middlesex and, in South Africa in 1922/23, England as well. A generation later Mann’s son, George, another decent batsman, completed the same double. The pair were the subject of a double biography by Brian Rendell, Frank and George Mann: Brewing, Batting and Captaincy, a 2015 addition to the ACS Lives in Cricket series.

Harry Lee was one of three brothers (Frank and Jack each had long careers with Somerset) and he was a professional batsman for Middlesex between 1911 and 1934. He then stood as a First Class umpire until 1946. Lee was a reliable batsman but, only once in South Africa in 1930/31 when he was summonsed while on a coaching contract to cover for injuries amongst the tourists, did he play for England. Not many such men published autobiographies, but Lee did, Forty Years of English Cricket appearing in 1948.

Like Warner before him Gubby Allen, who it is occasionally suggested might even have been Warner’s son, was to become the grand old man of the game. Perhaps surprisingly Allen never did write an autobiography, although he doubtless approved of the magisterial EW ‘Jim’ Swanton hagiography, the 1985 published Gubby Allen: Man of Cricket. It is a fine book in some ways, but those seeking a greater understanding of the Allen persona would do well to invest in one or both of two books by Brian Rendell, Gubby Allen: Bad Boy of Bodyline and Gubby Under Pressure, which analyse his letters home from his two tours of Australia.

A great friend of Allen’s was another England and Middlesex all-rounder Walter Robins. ‘Robbie’ too gave a good deal back to the game after he stopped playing, and eventually his contributions were recorded in a biography from the estimable Rendell. Walter Robins: Achievements, Affections and Affronts appeared in the ACS Lives in Cricket series in 2013.

Another Middlesex and England leg spinner of the inter-war period, and later a writer was Ian Peebles. Peebles wrote a number of very good books on the game one of which, Spinner’s Yarn in 1977, was an autobiography.

One of the biggest hitter in the game between the wars was ‘Big Jim’ Smith. Primarily a fast medium bowler good enough to be selected five times for England Smith enjoyed a reputation as a smiter of sixes when his luck was in and was also one of two Test cricketers to emerge from the Wiltshire town of Corsham, and with the other, Warwickshire’s Sep Kinneir, Smith is a subject of David Smith’s book, Corsham’s Two Test Cricketers, published in 2000.

Two years after Jim Smith started his career that of Denis Charles Scott Compton began. Probably the best know of all Middlesex cricketers Compo gave his name to two autobiographies, Playing For England in 1948 and End Of An Innings ten years later. Compo has also been the subject of several biographies, by Jim Swanton (Denis Compton: A Biographical Sketch, 1949), Ian Peebles (Denis Compton, 1971), Peter West (Denis Compton: Cricketing Genius, 1989), Tim Heald (Denis Compton, 1994 with a new edition in 2006) and Norman Giller (Denis Compton, 1997).

A year after Compton’s debut Bill Edrich, the man whose name he will always be linked with, joined him in the Middlesex side. An Edrich autobiography also appeared in 1948, Cricket Heritage, and a couple of years later in Cricketing Days he published another selection of stories from his career. By and large however biographers have not paid him so much attention as Compton with just Alan Hill’s 1994 biography, Bill Edrich having appeared since 1976 when, understandably concentrating on Bill and cousin John, Ralph Barker published The Cricketing Family Edrich.

Also appearing for the first time in 1937 were George Mann and opening batsmen Syd Brown and Jack Robertson. Of the two Robertson was the man capped by England, and the pair were the subject of a double biography in the ACS Lives in Cricket series by Chris Overson. Jack Robertson and Syd Brown: More Than Just the Warm-Up Act appeared in 2013.

Fred Titmus, who played First Class cricket in five decades, made his Middlesex debut in 1949. Whilst he was still playing Titmus published an autobiography, Talk of the Double, in 1964. More than forty years later, in 2005, a further autobiography was published, My Life in Cricket.

For many years Titmus played with wicketkeeper John Murray, one of the best in the business, who was to be capped by England on 21 occasions. A book on Murray finally appeared in 2019, Christopher Sandford’s biography, Keeper of Style.

Mike Brearley is a fascinating man but to date, although he has written a number of books all of which have some autobiographical elements, he has so far resisted the temptation to write his own life story. In the circumstances Mark Peel’s fine biography from last year, Cricket Caesar: A Biography of Mike Brearley was a very welcome publication.

Two of Brearley’s main weapons, although he had a few problems with the latter, were his spin bowlers, John Emburey and Phil Edmonds. So far there has been a single book about each. In 1986 Simon Barnes wrote Phil Edmonds: A Singular Man, and a year later Emburey’s autobiography, titled simply Emburey followed.

Roland Butcher was, famously, the first man of Afro-Caribbean heritage to play for England and, to add some piquancy to the occasion, he was selected to play first in the Caribbean. It was a tough assignment and Butcher didn’t make enough runs in his three outings to earn another opportunity against more benign opposition. Butcher’s 1989 autobiography, Rising to the Challenge, is an interesting read.

Back in the 1980s Mike Gatting led Middlesex and England. ‘Gatt’ had an interesting career during which he often made headlines, and not always on the back pages of the newspapers. It is perhaps surprising that a quarter of a century on from his retirement from the game we still have only his 1988 autobiography, Leading From The Front.

One of the men who established himself under Gatting’s leadership was an opening batsman from St Vincent, Wilf Slack. A good enough player to win three England caps, and perhaps unfortunate after making a half century against Patterson, Holding, Marshall and Garner in Antigua to not be capped more often, Slack tragically died at 35 in 1989. Bridgitte Lawrence put together a fine brochure, Wilf Slack: An Appreciation, shortly after his death.

Simon Hughes was, with the greatest of respect to a bowler of not inconsiderable talent, one of those journeyman seam bowlers who were so prevalent in the county game through the 1990s. His autobiography, A Lot Of Hard Yakka, was a huge hit in 1997, so much so that it spawned an equally entertaining sequel, Yakking Around The World, three years later.

Mark Ramprakash spent time north and south of the Thames, but a little longer with Middlesex. In 2009 his autobiography, Strictly Me, appeared. It was his second book but the first, Four More Weeks, was a diary relating to the 2004 season, and thus dealt with his time at Surrey.

Another member of the Middlesex seam attack alongside Hughes was the lumbering giant who was Angus Fraser. On his good days, when injury free, Fraser inspired comparisons with men like Alec Bedser and Maurice Tate, and published Fraser’s Tour Diaries in 1988, not a full autobiography, but still a detailed look at his playing career.

Many cricketers enjoy successful second careers in the media, but almost all of them stick to what they know. One of the few to make the leap into mainstream media work is Phil Tufnell, whose ‘cheeky chappie’ persona has made sure he has not been short of work in recent years and publications bearing his name include two autobiographies, What Now? in 1999, and Where Am I? in 2015.

The most recent Middlesex player, to date, to go into print is yet another England captain, Andrew Strauss, who has ventured into the autobiographical genre twice. The first, Coming Into Play, appeared in 2006, and the second, a post retirement reflection Driving Ambition, was published in 2013.

The Tempus 100 Greats book on Middlesex appeared in 2003, written by Robert Brooke. The county also features in the Sutton Publishing Britain in Old Photographs series, compiled by William Powell in 1999. A couple of other more general books on Middlesex are rather older. In 1970, to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the 1920 County Championship success, Ronald Mason wrote Plum Warner’s Last Season and, largely whilst in captivity as a prisoner of war, Terence Prittie put together a series of essays that was published as Mainly Middlesex in 1946.

And my two selections? One has been done, that being a biography of Gubby Allen, but an entirely objective one would, in my view, much enhance the literature of the game. The second is rather more contemporary, and would be a biography of a man who was one of the county’s overseas players between 1977 and 1988, the West Indian fast bowler Wayne ‘Diamond’ Daniel.


The Swanton biography of Allen was a whitewash, an old pals job, which stopped it being at all useful or interesting, either as an analysis of his impact on the game or as an account of his personal life. Allen, of course, was a lifelong bachelor, something which Swanton put down to him “never having met the right girl”. I once asked one of Allen’s cousins about this, and was told “we always assumed he was [gay] but of course we never knew for certain”. Of course, in one sense it doesn’t matter what his inclinations were. But to a biographer it’s hugely important. Imagine living your life in the public eye without ever being able to be open about who you are. Or enduring, as men did in Allen’s lifetime, the risk of criminal prosecution. If you hypothesise (and at this stage we can hardly do more) that this was how Allen lived his life, it makes him more interesting and human than the haughty, autocratic establishment figure he appeared to be.

There are two schools of thought on this. One is that these questions should be left alone, because people are entitled to have some aspects of their lives remain private. I understand that, and regret that I once upset the descendants of a long-dead player by things I wrote about his family. But I also think that a biographer needs to try to understand the inner life of his or her subject, and sometimes this can’t be done without seeking answers to deeply personal questions.

Comment by Max Bonnell | 12:13pm BST 27 June 2021

Leave a comment

Comments are moderated, and will not appear until they have been approved

More articles by Martin Chandler