Arlott, Swanton and the Soul of English Cricket by Stephen Fay, David Kynaston
This excellent double biography will have a special appeal to anyone who remembers the voices of its two subjects, said Sebastian Faulks in The Sunday Times. In the postwar decades, John Arlott and E.W. “Jim” Swanton were English cricket’s two greatest broadcasters, the former famed for his ball-by-ball commentaries, the other for reading out the scorecard and summarising the day’s action at stumps. As personalities, they could hardly have been more different: the working-class Arlott was a poetry-loving romantic who saw cricket as the “shadow of a lost chivalric order”. He “worked from the ground up, valuing the county pro above all others”. The public school-educated Swanton, by contrast, was a “top-down man” who believed the “outcome of the Eton-Harrow match to be almost as important as that of England-Australia”.
Of the two, Arlott was the better broadcaster, and also the “more loved” character, said Richard Morrison in The Times. With his “massive snobbery” and tendency to lord it over the press box, Swanton regularly provoked ridicule and hostility. Yet as the authors show, when it came to the big issues facing the game they both loved, the pair were “on the same side” surprisingly often. Both realised in the 1960s that English cricket was dying at county level, and could only be rescued with the introduction of one-day matches. Both deplored the “coarsening of manners on the pitch” and both castigated England’s decision to leave the mixed-race Basil D’Oliveira out of the 1968 tour of South Africa. It’s in recounting these “great episodes” that the book “really comes to life”. Overall, however, it’s a delightfully “evocative” work that gives “elderly codgers like me” the chance to “wallow in rose-tinted remembrance of things past”.