This man might seem a strange choice in a tribute to people who have made me laugh. But he did provide me with one of the funniest stories for my very limited party piece repertoire. More of that in a moment. First, a little more background on a great man and legend of broadcasting.
John Arlott was a Hampshire man, blessed with a rich and glorious burr. His voice was perfect for radio and in particular, cricket. For 34 years, from 1946 to 1980 he was the BBC's 'voice of cricket', as a member of the Test Match Special team. Anyone who loved the game, loved John Arlott and his commentaries. He was also a brilliant writer, a poet, and a lover of wine. In his later life he lived in Alderney in the Channel Islands. John Arlott died on 14 December 1991. I shed a small tear that day.
So, what was that funny moment? In truth, Arlott produced quite a few over the years. More of them another time along with other cricket funnies. The one I want to blog today came not from a radio commentary, but from TV. In the late seventies, the BBC televised John Player Sunday League fixtures. They took up the whole schedule from 2pm through to the finish of the match. There were no other sports events on Sundays in those days. Just cricket. Forty overs a side, Arlott commentating on the first twenty of each innings, the great Jim Laker taking the other twenty. Anyway, one Sunday, and I have no idea when exactly, Arlott, in his customary manner, told viewers that a particular player, Andy Murtagh (who I think played for Hampshire), was Irish. A few moments later he told us again. Next time he touched the ball, he told us again. Such repetition was not in keeping with Arlott's usual polished performances. But the old devil was leading up to a great joke. Moments later a player called Rice was called into the attack. The ball was played into the covers to Murtagh. John Arlott said, simply.........Rice bowls, paddy fields !!!!
That made me laugh and has stuck with me for the best part of thirty years. As I have said, I was very saddened by John Arlott's death in 1991. He had brought another tear to my eye a few years earlier, on September 2nd 1980, the day he commentated on cricket for the final time. I had plenty of holiday owing from work and took a day off especially, in order to witness it on TV. It was the last Test of that summer, England versus Australia. Upon finishing his stint at the microphone, his hand over was without fuss and typically modest. At the end of the next over play was halted. The crowd rose to their feet and, along with the players on the field, they applauded this great man. It was one of the most emotional moments in cricketing and broadcasting history.