‘I’ve been having all sorts of adventures’: cricket legend Henry Blofeld on his retirement and new show
- Credit: The Other Richard
Fresh from his retirement from international cricket commentary, Henry Blofeld isn't just yet declare just yet and is returning to the region on his farewell tour, looking back at 50 years behind the Test Match Special microphone.
'It was an extraordinary send-off, surreal,' chuckles Henry Blofeld in happy disbelief at the farewell ovation he got from an adoring Lord's on the occasion of his last Test Match Special. 'Do you know, in a funny way, I was almost embarrassed.'
Almost as the legendary cricket commentator, who had announced his retirement from international cricket commentary at the start of last summer, is also a natural-born performer.
Warm, fun, eccentric, and stuffed to bursting with memories, stories and larks from a life well lived, just for a second, he appears to be lost for words as he recalls the outpouring of affection.
Not for more than a second, though. His final match was the conclusion of the Test series between England and the West Indies, which starts on at Lord's on September 7.
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'All good things come to an end,' he says. 'After 50 years in the Test Match Special commentary box, I decided the time had come for the last of the old farts to hang up his microphone.'
He did his last commentary dressed in a typically flamboyant lime green jacket and striking red trousers, but when the end came is relatively understated. He handed over to fellow announcer Ed Smith with a handful of overs of the match remaining and left the commentary box. The entire TMS team huddled in the media centre to say goodbye.
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There was no escape though as he embarked on a lap of honour after the end of the match. 'It's been terrific fun and I really don't know where to start, end or continue. Or what to do,' he said.
Hailing from Hoveton, cricket has been his life but it's been a quite remarkable one. He has always lived the life less ordinary, and has made even the grimmest England batting collapses bearable.
His family were landowners in Norfolk and he was the youngest of three siblings. His older brother, Sir John Blofeld, became a High Court judge. His father was at Eton with Ian Fleming, his name being the inspiration for the James Bond arch-nemesis Blofeld.
A keen cricketer himself during his youth, Blowers played 16 first-class matches for Cambridge during the late-1950s. His cricket career was curtailed by being run over by a bus in 1957. 'I spent quite a while unconscious, I only knew what I didn't want to do which was to work in the world of finance in the City of London. I did just that from 1959 to 1962. It was a bad and boring time before in 1962, thanks to Johnny Woodcock, the Times cricket correspondent, I began to write about cricket. Then I knew what I wanted to do and the world I wanted to be in.'
As a broadcaster, he became the longest serving member of the TMS commentary team, having joined the show in 1972, famed both for his distinctive voice and a loveable habit of analysing almost anything that catches his eye, including playful pigeons on the pitch and drunken fans.
It seems unthinkable to have TMS without Blofeld but, as he points out: 'TMS, like everything, is evolving. The commentators today are excellent, so professional, but I suppose when I began there was a little more room for the strong individual characters, the willing enthusiastic amateurs. In the old days, the BBC wasn't oppressed by the fog of political correctness.'
One such unique character was Blofeld's great pal Brian Johnston. 'I remember him in Madras, England were touring. Johnners was the most fastidious of eaters, boring, boring, boring. Awful food he had. But of course, being the man he was, he kept getting asked out for dinner by everyone.
'I ran into him on the first morning of the Test match and I have never seen anyone look ill-er in my life. I said to him, 'Johnners is it really as bad as it looks?' 'Oh Blowers, it is worse,' he said. 'Last night I invented a new curry. It is called the Boycott Curry. You got the runs just the same but they come a great deal more slowly'.'
The ultra-professional, scrutinised BBC of today might not have been so forgiving of another legend of the TMS box. John Arlott's name comes up and Blofeld recalls the 1975 Lord's Test when Arlott 'was taken for lunch by his publisher, which meant that what was normally a two-bottle affair became a four, probably five, maybe even six-bottle affair, especially because the publisher was paying.'
On returning to the ground, 'feeling distinctly mellow', Arlott was straight into the radio hot seat. Blofeld recalls: 'After five minutes he had the greatest bit of good fortune a commentator has ever had: the first streaker at Lord's. A young, rotund merchant seaman clad only in short socks and trainers and called, as it turned out, Michael Angelow – truthfully – came galloping out from the Tavern. A blond policeman eventually caught up with him and got his helmet over the offending weapon.'
There are seemingly no end to stories like these and not ready to pack up his bat and head to pavilion just yet, plenty of his uproarious anecdotes, impressions and reminiscences about his life in radio will feature as he heads our way with another new live show.
It's the latest of his one-man shows that started with An Evening With Blowers, and collaborations with John Bly and Peter Baxter including Memories of Test Match Special and Rogues on the Road as well as The Great British Spin Off with Graeme Swann.
His latest, 78 Retired, he admits, is something of a misnomer: 'I've been having all sorts of adventures that I am eager to tell everyone about, and I'm just not the sort of person who can tolerate inactivity so I cannot wait to get on the road.'
When Blofeld started on TMS, he says, he was instructed to remember that it was a unique programme, and that while the job was in part about cricket commentary it was even more about 'providing company' for the listener.
There is no better company than Henry Blofeld, and the radio's loss is the theatre's gain.
• Henry Blofeld: 78 Retired is at Maddermarket Theatre, Norwich, on May 4-5, The Apex, Bury St Edmunds, on May 6 and Princess Theatre in Hunstanton on May 13.
• More at henryblofeld.co.uk