Henry Blofeld and Peter Baxter; Memories of Test Match Special, recounted by the two of them at the elegant Lyric theatre in London’s West End was pure delight.
We began over whiskies in The Garrick, sank reds under the exuberant Blower’s brolly, and ended swilling yet more red at The Garrick – can there be a better way to spend a Monday evening?
Blofeld is a prince amongst men. To call him a personal hero would be a vast understatement; so, I was filled with not a little apprehension when I pressed my nose up against the glass window to observe the chap up close – and close is the correct word as we were in the third row of the stalls.
Splendidly, I was elated with what I found. Not a bond villain lusting for fame but indeed the very gentleman that I have spent umpteen whimsical hours listening to.
The theatre was packed to the rafters with cricket lovers of all ages. A lot of Bloefeldesque clothes were on show – myself in reds, a tweed, and my marvelous new duck tie. However, a young woman in a Stuart Sturridge jumper was the winner in the cricket commitment stakes.
The stage was set up like a dusky corner of a colonial club in the Raj – a pair of decent armchairs, lots of bizarre plants and trinkets, an ancient Wisden almanac and of course a whisky decanter. The relative calmness of an empty stage was broken by the generous applause for our two hosts.
Blofeld strode on in ripest of red trousers and shoes as shiny as Grenadier guardsman’s; however due the clement heat no cravat or blazer was on show! Baxter, ever the home county gentleman, was suitably dressed in plain chinos and a club tie, with a stripy blazer, perhaps from his Henley days.
We sat in collective silence and waited Mr Blofeld’s opening gambit, just as Lord’s once waited for a sumptuous cover drive from Colin Cowdrey.
“My dear old things” slipped laconically from the great man’s lips. A welcome sigh of relief and a few knowledgeable titters.
The first half was a cricket fan’s dream. The two survivors deliberately prompted each other to begin their decades of stories. Blowers tearing off down bucolic routes of even the most beaten of all paths and Backers occasionally reigning him back to the script – it rather reminded me of a bouncy walk with Gambon, my effervescently exuberant Jack Russell!
Punctuated with many double entendres, the double act were prattling along like a pair of old hams. However the posthumous star of the first half was Brian ‘Johnners’ Johnson. Tales of popping ear lobes and raised eye brows were coupled with the evergreen sound bite ”Botham…couldn’t quite get his leg over”. Even writing that down has brought a smile to my face.
An hour flashed by and Blofeld ended another story about cakes and Johnners with the splendid denouement: “Well I must stop here, as our audience look a thirsty lot and must be in need of a drink”
A sharp bottle of red in the interval and we were back in our seats with another glass, this time rather inelegantly decanted in a plastic vessel.
The second half was less structured and equally rib tickling. The most unlikely stage partnership continuing to delight, like watching two great spin bowlers in tandem – Backers, the wily, subtle old off spinner to H.B’s leg break bowler, fizzing with turn and spitting from the rough like a beguiling snake charmer.
Thoughts moved to two more late greats – Arlott and CMJ – and later to the apparently alive Tuffers. Question time, with Q’s picked from a suitable wicker basket, was the final act. The usual questions flitted about, including a very honest answer about KP from Blowers. However, being a Hampshire man I was appalled at the question; was(italics) Barry Richards the greatest batsman ever!
If life seems nasty brutish and short there is no better way to spend a couple of hours in hands of these raconteurs. And if they say that laughter is the best remedy – one little Wodehousian tick from Blowers is enough medicine for life.