Henry Blofeld: Cricket commentator on success of Test Match Special and grassroots of the game
If, as a schoolboy, ‘Blowers’ had avoided an accident that knocked him off his bike, he might have gone on to a successful county and, even international, cricket career.
But the path he took, via a hated job in the City, to work as a cricket journalist and then commentator, saw him become one of the most distinctive and colourful voices to grace sports radio show Test Match Special.
Four decades on the airwaves with the programme introduced him to larger-than-life characters both in the box and on tour with England and left him with too many memorable moments to recount.
But he’ll be sharing some of them in his latest show My Dear Old Things, An Evening With Henry Blofeld when he appears in Halifax later this month.
“I hope people will laugh themselves silly,” he says. “There are some very good stories, very interesting and I think it will be fun.”
“It has become a completely iconic programme in that it’s unique. I don’t think there’s another sporting programme to touch it,” Blofeld reflects.
"It’s a mixture of humanity, laughter and a programme that brings so much of life to the airwaves and also tells what might be a good cricket story as well, depending on England’s fortunes at the time.
"The two people who made TMS what it is are two very great broadcasters both sadly no longer with us, John Arlott and Brian Johnston.”
Blofeld will regale his audience with “wonderfully amusing stories” from the programme’s sixty year history, with Arlott’s description of the first streaker at Lord’s and Johnston’s ‘leg over’ moment at the Oval in 1991 both set to feature.
The latter, once voted the greatest sporting commentary of all time by listeners to Radio 5 Live, saw Johnston and fellow commentator Jonathan Agnew famously get the giggles on air during a report of the day’s Test Match between England and the West Indies.
England’s Ian Botham had lost his balance and in an attempt to avoid trampling over his wicket, tried to step over the stumps but his thigh flicked a bail. As Agnew put it, he “just didn’t quite get his leg over”. The laughter ensued.
“Test Match Special offers so much more than just commentary on the cricket,” says Blofeld. “It offers a bit of life, tremendous humour. You never quite know what you're going to get.
"People who don’t like cricket enjoy it because you just never know what stories there’ll be when rain stops play and we carry on talking forever.
“You have to have the gift of the gab really, which I think I probably do have. You just have to keep on talking.
"There are other people there, there’s always something to talk about, memories and all the rest of it. It’s terrific.”
Blofeld’s love of the game began with play and as a schoolboy cricketer from the age of seven, his talent looked promising for a successful career.
But a serious accident curtailed that, when Blofeld was knocked off his bike and spent 28 days unconscious.
“Everyone thought I was going to make good but then I had this terrible accident and I was not going to be good enough to make a career out of it,” he says.
“So, by a lot of curious chances, I went first into the press box and then into the commentary box.”
The sport has changed “enormously” since then, he muses. There was no one-day international cricket for a start and he claims the game played in the sixties was a more “gentle” sport.
“We live in a much more violent age and cricket reflects that. Cricket always reflects society…
"Today, there is a huge great love for cricket. Very sadly, it’s not played enough at the level of state school simply because of expense and facilities.
"But cricket clubs all around the country are doing the job of getting everyone involved. I think the grassroots of the game are stronger now than they’ve ever been.”
Blofeld’s show promises to be engaging for both the cricket connoisseur and those who know nothing about the game, drawing on stories from his life and career.
He expands little on being locked out of a hotel room in the nude, but when it comes to inviting the wrong woman on holiday after a telephone mix-up, the extraordinary tale was told and broadcast when Blofeld appeared on comedy panel show Would I Lie to You? back in 2017.
There are memories to be shared from his journey to India in 2019 as part of the Real Marigold Hotel for the BBC.
“Then there’s my friendship with Ian Fleming and Noel Coward which led to lots of amusing stories….There’s famous people I’ve met in extraordinary situations...
"I’m not sure quite which of these will get in because if I tell them all, it will go on for [far too long],” he says. People will be leaving laughing then? “They’ll be awfully hard pressed if they don’t.”
Henry Blofeld is at the Victoria Theatre, Halifax on September 14 with My Dear Old Things.
The event is being run in aid of Chance to Shine, a charity aiming to give all children the opportunity to play, learn and develop through cricket.
Tickets are available to purchase online, www.victoriatheatre.co.uk, or by calling the Box Office on 01422 351158.