Bonkers but lovely

Cricket legends Henry Blofeld and Peter Baxter
Cricket legends Henry Blofeld and Peter Baxter
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Cricket legends Henry Blofeld and Peter Baxter reveal untold stories from the Test Match Special commentary box, and beyond, when they bring their current tour to Lancashire. Fresh from Australia, and brand new for 2014, audiences get the ‘direct from the booth’ insights on the Ashes plus all the latest on the continuing turmoil in English cricket.

Henry ‘My Dear Old Thing’ Blofeld is one of Britain’s best-loved broadcasters and a bastion of the cricketing community. Peter Baxter was the brain behind TMS for more than 34 years; the man tasked with corralling Henry and his colleagues around the world. Together, they offer a show for both cricket and non-cricket lovers alike. Catch them at Lancaster Grand tonight, Chorley Little Theatre on Friday and at Lytham’s Lowther Pavilion on June 19. Steve Canavan spoke to the legend who is Henry Blofeld

It takes all of 12 seconds for Henry Blofeld to use the words ‘my dear old thing”.

Then again, given it’s his catchphrase, perhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised.

Blofeld, for those not in the know, is one of Britain’s most loved sports commentators, a regular on the BBC’s famous Test Match Special for the last four decades and counting.

But it is almost wrong to label him a cricket commentator.

He is happiest when there’s a lull in play and he’s able to describe the behaviour of a pigeon which has flown on to the pitch or a passing double decker bus, or the number of pink shirts in the crowd.

He is, in other words, slightly bonkers but very lovable.

Over the next month, he’ll be on stage with TMS producer Peter Baxter to reminisce about his life as a broadcaster.

He’s spent his life either playing or watching cricket but is at pains to point out that’s not what this live show is about.

“I can’t stress that enough – it is about broadcasting, not sport,” Blofeld said, in that familiar voice, somewhere between erudite upper class politician and a kindly, slightly bumbling grandad.

“We won’t be talking about who has the best forward defensive stroke or who is the best bowler of all time, we talk about the humour in the commentary box and some of the great characters we have met over the years.

“It is a very lady-friendly show and I think everyone of all ages will enjoy it.”

Sales-pitch done, Blofeld is happy to reflect on how he ended up a national institution.

He was a cricketer with potential (“I scored two hundreds at Lords – mention that”, he laughs), but suffered serious injuries after being hit by a bus while riding his bicycle and was unconscious for 28 days.

He played cricket again but realised he wasn’t the same player and decided to quit to try his luck in the city of London, taking a job at a merchant bankers.

“I absolutely loathed it, it just wasn’t me at all,” he said.

“I lasted three years, then thought ‘hang on – the only thing I’ve ever been any good at is cricket, so why can’t I do something that involves that?’”

Banking’s loss was cricket’s gain.

Blofeld started writing for The Times in 1962 and joined the TMS team 10 years later. He’s still going strong now, at the age of 74.

“Goodness only knows how that has happened,” says Blofeld.

“I think it must be because I don’t take myself too seriously. I like to think I’ve got a good sense of humour and that goes hand in glove with Test Match Special. Some peope like to preach to others, I tend not to. I tend to see the funny side of things and people seem to like it. Life has been fabulous and I am deeply grateful for everything life has given me because I know how lucky I am.”

He is looking forward to coming to Lytham – “I’ve been there many a time and love the area; I normally stay in Cartford, the whole of the coast there is lovely,” he said – and to staying part of the TMS team for a good while longer.

“It is a wonderful thing to be part of and I love the blend we’ve got in the commentary box between oldies like me and the youngies,” he said.

“There are plenty of times in a cricket match when rain or bad light stops play and you need to carry on talking.

“Now if you’re like me, and you’ve watched more than 700 Test matches, you’ve got plenty to talk about – so that’s why you need a bit of experience in the commentary box.”

Blofeld describes Alistair Cook as “not a very strong captain” but argues that success in cricket is cyclical and England will come good again.

He has two ambitions, to commentate on England regaining the Ashes and for someone to find a cure for macular disease, which he suffers from and affects his eyesight.

“I’m not going to pack in the commentating yet but I think one day my eyes will fail me, which is sad,” he says.