I had the pleasure of catching up with the one and only Henry Blofeld during this years Cricket Word Cup, which was hosted in England and Wales over the past seven weeks. ‘Blowers’ – one of the true legends of cricket commentary – took to the stage in for a Cricket World Cup Special: An evening with Henry Blofeld in conversation at the Emmanuel Centre in London’s Westminister, where he kindly signed and dedicated my sketch with his signature saying, ‘My dear old thing.’
Before Henry entered the commentary realm, he was “an opening batsman of sorts” with sixteen first-class matches for Cambridge University, scoring his only fist-class century against the MCC at Lords in July 1959 in his penultimate game. Realising he had no taste for merchant banking after leaving university, he ‘drifted into sports journalism.’ While covering England’s tour of India in 1963/64 for the Guardian he was close to being picked as an emergency batsman when Micky Stewart fell ill before the second test in Bombay. He also did TV commentary for ITV and later, in the 1990’s for BSkyB.
In 1972 Blowers joined the BBC Radio’s TEST MATCH SPECIAL team. His commentary is characterised by a ‘plummy voice’ and his idiosyncratic mention of superfluous details regarding the scene, including construction cranes, pink shirts in the crowd, pigeons, buses, and other flying objects. He was also a regular member of the commentary team on New Zealand television while England toured there and I recall once sending a cartoon of him as a seagull, captioned ‘Henry Livingston Seagull’, which he displayed during the live broadcast. After 45 years with TMS, Blowers retired at the age of seventy-seven, after commentating the test between England and the West Indies at Lords in September 2017, receiving a standing ovation on a lap of the ground following the match.
He wrote on his website, “Listeners will now be pleased to know that their chances of being told the right name of the fielders at third man and fine leg have greatly increased. I hope some will be sad that they will now hear less about the lifestyles of pigeons, seagulls and helicopters, although I fear the general feeling will be one of huge relief.”
The final of the World Cup was played at Lords last Sunday between the hosts England and my beloved Black Caps from New Zealand. The thriller ended in a tie, as did the subsequent ‘Super Over’. England were crowned World Champions on a count back of boundaries scored – congrats to them. Writing in his column for the Daily Mail, Henry wrote it was the “greatest cricket match of all time. What drama, what tension, what heroics. My dear old things, in all my years of watching cricket I cannot recall any match that kept me on my toes”.
Obviously as a New Zealander I was disappointed with the result, but immensely proud of our team, for the way they not only played and contributed to such a magnificent sporting spectacle, but also for the way they responded to the manner of their defeat. I was very pleased he wrote, “I felt for New Zealand, truly. Their undaunted spirit, their sense of decency even after they lost by that wafer-thin margin was an absolute tonic and very much in the spirit of the game.”