Magazine article The Spectator

Bertie Wooster in the Commentary Box

Magazine article The Spectator

Bertie Wooster in the Commentary Box

Article excerpt

Squeezing the Orange by Henry Blofeld Blue Door, �20, pp. 368, ISBN 9780007506392, Spectator Bookshop �16, Tel: Tel: 08430 600033 There can be a strong strain of self-parody in even the greatest commentators. When Henry Blofeld describes the progress of a pigeon in his inimitably plummy tones, or greets a visiting Ocker to the commentary box with a jovial 'My dear old thing!', he is impersonating himself as surely as Rory Bremner has ever done. Just where 'Blowers' ends, though, and the man behind the act begins, can be tricky to judge.

In Squeezing the Orange he does occasionally show us behind the scenes. He reveals, for instance, the advice which led him to his obsession with describing buses, and cheerily explains how he came by that 'silly' catchphrase, 'My dear old thing'. What Blofeld does not do, though, is to explore anything so untoward as depths. 'The nasty bits don't hurt or matter as much as they did, ' he explains in his preface, 'and the best bits seem to have become even more fun.' Much the best policy, then, is to have 'a thoroughly good laugh'.

So it is that we are given a jolly canter through the life of one of cricket's more seasoned after-dinner speakers. Much of the material, from Botham running out Boycott to Johnners and Aggers getting uncontrollable giggles, will be familiar to anyone with even the most glancing familiarity with the sport. Other episodes, including a cricket tour to South America and the arrival of Blowers and John 'Wooders' Woodstock in a vintage Rolls-Royce at 'an agreeable hostelry in Kandahar,' take on something of the hallucinatory lunacy of Tales From the Long Room.

So too do Blofeld's dismissals of the sinister figures who every once in a while poke their noses in from beyond the dimension of cricket. Cicero is nailed as a 'Godawful Roman no-hoper', John Junor as 'a stinker in any coinage' and General Zia Ul-Huq as 'a Terry-Thomas lookalike,' while Colonel Gaddafi is definitively summed up as a man who 'never set foot on a cricket ground in his life'. An anecdote involving Clive Dunn is darkly hinted at, but never revealed in full.

'What fun it was!' Maybe - but there are still occasions when the fun can seem a little forced. Of the Blofeld who notoriously had a 'disagreement' with Botham on the 1981 tour to the West Indies, and told Duncan Fletcher to 'f**k off' in a restaurant, we are given only the most veiled of hints. …

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