Farewell to CMJ – A Voice Stilled

I have written before about the mark of the passage of time – first of all your sporting heroes retire (Ian Botham for example); then your sporting heroes have children who become prominent sportsmen (Liam Botham); and then the children of your sporting heroes retire too!

Similarly actors, TV stars, comics and singers who seem part of your life, having been on the radio, television or cinema screen seemingly for ever pass on, or the ones who are still touring are, remarkably, into their 60’s (Bruce Springsteen, the Rolling Stones, the Who, amongst others).

And then there are voices with which you have grown up which fade into silence…

The New Year started with the news of the death of one such.

Christopher Martin-Jenkins was a member of the Test Match Special commentary team for the BBC for almost 40 years. He had two long spells as the BBC Cricket correspondent, and was Cricket Correspondent too for the Telegraph and the Times.

CMJ in the TMS box with Henry Blofeld and Bill Frindall

CMJ in the TMS box with Henry Blofeld and Bill Frindall

He edited The Cricketer magazine and served proudly as president of the MCC.

But it is as a voice of my growing up that I will remember him. For as long as I remember, he was one of the voices which filled my summers and winters.

Test Match Special is one of the most remarkable sporting programmes there has been. It is often at its very best when there is no play at all!

Imagine listening to Alan Hansen and Alan Shearer, or Billy Dodds and Craig Burley describing a postponed football match…

By contrast great broadcasters like John Arlott, Brian Johnston, Don Mosey, Jonathan Agnew, Henry Blofeld and the ranks of overseas commentators, such as Jim Maxwell, Allan McGilvary, Tony Cozier and the rest, together with the massed ranks of summarisers, have filled hour after hour, discussing everything and anything, and by no means always cricket-related!

CMJ was one of the stalwarts.

CMJ with Trevor Bailey and Brian Johnston

CMJ with Trevor Bailey and Brian Johnston

Bearing in mind that, if you listened to a full five day Test match all the way through, each commentator might do ten hours’ on air, together with discussions before play, during intervals, and at the close, it was no wonder that the voices became so familiar.

And CMJ talked on, through the West Indies’ demolition of England in 1976, the emergence of Botham and the return of Boycott in 1977, the valiant efforts by England in World Cups across the globe, England’s decline, rise, decline and rise again.

Wonderful Ashes series. Woeful tours abroad.

In all of them you would here one commentator after another say “And now, to take over commentary, slightly later than intended, it will be Christopher Martin-Jenkins”. His time-keeping, you see, was notoriously bad.

His grasp of technology was even worse. The tale was regularly told on TMS of CMJ trying unsuccessfully to make a phone call from his hotel room, only to find that he had been using the TV remote control, and not the phone at all!

He was a great lover of the traditions of the sport, and of Sussex, his county. Whenever, in recent years, he passed on the county scores at tea or lunch, there was always that extra tone of pride in his voice when reporting on the successes of the Sussex all-rounder, Robin Martin-Jenkins, his son. But he was always respectful of the sport, even when what was happening on or off the field seemed designed itself to tear down its very foundations.

Having listened to CMJ over all those years, whether on the radio at home, in the car, or, for the Tests on the other side of the world, on an earpiece in the middle of the night, the news of his passing was far more shocking than I would have expected for someone whom I had never met. It was similar to the shock on hearing of the death of Bill Frindall, the Bearded Wonder, the King of Scorers.

The voices of our youth, young adulthood and middle age have to pass on. But it is sad when they do, as it serves as a sign of our own mortality.

CMJ, as the new MCC President, in the Lords Pavilion

CMJ, as the new MCC President, in the Lords Pavilion

Thank you CMJ for hundreds of hours of your voice. Condolences to your family, both personal and in the World of Cricket.

And let’s hope you are now in the great TMS scorebox in the sky, where Johnners is describing a new chocolate cake, just arrived in the box; where the Bearded Wonder has managed, after only two minutes’ research, to confirm that we have just seen the second highest score by a left handed man of Kent for England when facing only off-spin bowlers; where John Arlott is talking about the pitch being invaded by “freakers” (as streakers were originally called in the TMS box – although the freaker was on the pitch, and not in the box, to avoid confusion); where Fred Trueman and Trevor Bailey are debating how Jimmy Anderson compares to Lindwall and Miller, or Tendulkar to the Don; and where you have hurried into the box, in time, just, to commentate on the first ball of your stint.



Posted by Paul McConville



Filed under Cricket

19 responses to “Farewell to CMJ – A Voice Stilled

  1. BillsyBillsy

    A Voice Stilled – but indellibly printed and very much alive in my head, what greater obituary can there be for the man.

    Beautifully crafted article Paul, summing up perfectly the relationship a certain generation have enjoyed with TMS, and how the evolution of the cast has marked off time on our personal stick off life.

  2. Stephen

    Excellent article. I spent many a happy summer hour listening to CMJ on TMS while painting the railings in my parents’ garden in the East End and then in later years painting my own house in Inverurie. Fantastic memories of what seemed like long hot summer days listening to the team describe a variety of happenings around the ground plus the occasional pause for some cricket. Outstanding broadcasters and CMJ seemed an ever present through the years. A sad loss. Summers won’t be the same again..

  3. mick

    Nice of you to highlight it Paul lets raise a glass to him having a eternal innings in heaven .although soccer is our main sport cricket is on the telly a lot am more a rounders man myself

    • Mick i truly love your post,s keep them coming
      all the best to all men who leave a comment,
      thank you Paul for all hard work done.

    • Arb urns

      Mick am a fan now too this post is truly brilliant. 8.547 posts per day in 2012 !!! defo keep em coming. There’s a book in there them blogs Mick!! Trying to describe your style is a fun challenge written speak and hilarious genius logic is best effort so far. Lookin forward to your 2013 typos why bother with they’re ,there ,their when your favourite there is there.

  4. A splendid obituary, Paul.
    A fondness for cricket has long been one of my guilty secrets and TMS has always struck me as being the absolute epitome of civilised broadcasting. It’s almost enough to make me want to buy into the British Empire myth!
    CM-J was an integral part of the supreme example of English culture at its best.
    RIP CM-J

  5. Arb urns

    A fine tribute to a Broadcasting icon.CMJ is proof indeed the great man doesn’t just place weavers and deceivers on the Big Wheel wonderful talent with the written and spoken word. I recall Him lilting away in the background in the away dressing room at langloan as we battled for road points at cricket during my summer outings to Coatbridge.

  6. Coyler

    Lovely obituary Paul – you find cricket lovers in the most unlikely places – myself a dedicated follower of Armagh GAA or Aengus Fanning, late editor of the Irish Independentwho was as passionate about cricket as he was about Gaelic Football which as a true son of Kerry was to be expected.
    Keep up the good work.

    • Gortnamona

      ” you find cricket lovers in the most unlikely places”

      Indeed you do. My father a CMG man used to talk about his admiration for Bradman. I took after him, much to the bemusement of some of my friends, though have little interest in the limited overs version.

  7. Cricket not being my first sport , but the professionalism of it’s journalists and commentators is first class , you could listen to these guys reading out the telephone book.

  8. cmh64

    I agree wholeheartedly. He will be missed. A lovely obituary.

  9. Well done Paul, an excellent article. I too am a closet lover of TMS and can recall the early days of CMJ when some of us thought that Johners and Arlott and Trevor Bailey were irreplaceable, how wrong we were. I recall a story when a young production assistant took possession of a case of fine claret sent up from John Arlott’s home to Lords for a test match. He asked his boss if the wine was for the whole team only to be told that it was all for John Arlott himself.

    TMS gave us all a village green feel for a major sporting contest even when Fred Trueman was bemoaning the fact that fast bowlers today are all mollycoddled and how in his day all you needed to do was shout down any mineshaft to get 6 as good as them. I miss them all.

    If I may, another guilty pleasure is Radio 4’s ‘I’m sorry I haven’t a clue’ and how I thought that Humphrey Lyttleton was irreplaceable, again I was wrong.

  10. allyjambo

    Thank you for that excellent obituary, Paul, for a great sporting commentator, sadly missed from the best radio sporting programme on the planet. He’ll be able to enjoy a slice of that chocolate cake, “sent in by a Mrs Symmington-Smythe of Sussex. Is that pronounced Smith, or Smythe, Jonners? I don’t know Chris, but Tony Gregg’s just put the Aussies to the sword with another shot through the covers…” Heady days indeed, brought to us with seemingly effortless brilliance.

  11. A lovely obituary and piece of writing Paul, although cricket is about as alien to me as extreme ironing, but good work all the same. I agree whole heartedly though, that when someone that you have appreciated and enjoyed from your youth dies, then thoughts of your own mortality, passed hopes and, if your lucky, successes loom large in your mind and the only conclusion that makes any sense is that you should be glad that that person did enter your life and you are better off for the experience.

  12. Peter

    Paul, your best yet, lovely man he was, TMS is undoubtedly the best sports programme on any radio anywhere.

  13. Maggie

    A lovely piece Paul.Almost made me want to take an interest
    in cricket…for the commentary box banter alone.

    It did,however, remind me of the wonderful coming
    of age Jack Rosenthal play, P’tang Yang Kipperbang,,about
    the cricket obsessed schoolboy,narrated by the
    incomparable John Arlott.Brilliant !
    Is it just me,or has Wimbledon never been the same since the
    departure of Dan Maskell ? Who can forget his “Oh I say!”when
    a wonderful shot was played.

    A belated Happy New Year Paul, and to all the “the gang”.
    Thanks for all your time and effort on our behalf.
    I loved the two parter on corporate hospitality.Been there,
    done that,and like Ginger Rogers,in high heels,though thankfully
    not backwards,but sinking into soggy ground while balancing
    a migraine inducing glass of rubbish faux champagne,umbrella
    and handbag.I’m sure Mrs Mc will explain the severe trauma
    involved. 🙂

  14. Richboy

    Excellent article Paul, emotional and filled with many of my own reminiscences.

    I used to love listening to the cricket in my twenties. Rainy day conversations between CMJ, Arlott, Blofeld, Truman etc were something to behold. They are all sadly missed.

    When I moved to Australia I was entertained by Benaud, Grieg and Lawrie, (not I Chappell) with regular appearances from Michael Holding, Sunny Gavaskar and Richard Hadlee. I actually met a few of these in hospitality suites and in the Casino where I worked. All of them (not I Chappell) were/are gentlemen. Also, all of these were great cricketers in their time and were as knowledgeable as anyone I have ever heard. I felt the same sadness as Paul recently on reading of the death of Tony Grieg.

    Showing my age, I now have no time for the current crop of brash commentators on Australian television. They are mostly biased (Mark Taylor aside) and contribute nothing to the enjoyment of the game.

  15. Pensionerbhoy


    I have not commented for some time for a variety of reasons but I could not pass up the opportunity to congratulate you on a wonderful tribute to one of sports great commentators. If only some other sports could produce even shadows of giants of the microphone like Christopher Martin Jenkins, the world of sport would be a much better place. Football commentators especially, with but an odd exception, ought to be ashamedly embarrassed when compared.

    All my working life, I did a lot, and I mean a lot, 25k miles easily many a year, and anyone who has done the same will agree that the car radio is the greatest friend a long distance driver could have. I guess many would claim I was a listening “weirdo” since, unlike the majority of listeners, I was not fond of music in the car. Good music, to me, should be heard in the quietness of home and I could never get into the blasts and blares of a lot of the normal pop productions. Country and Western just made me cry, not advisable on long car trips. So, I listened a lot to quizes, discussions and humorous programmes, mainly on radio four. This was the channel, in those days anyway, that broadcast live coverage of cricket and on long journeys it was the most interesting and relaxing sound on air. I too can remember the dulcet tones of Brian Johnson, John Arlott, Peter West, Peter Cranmer, Henry Blofeld and, of course Christopher Martin Jenkins (CMJ) commenting for days on end on a game that intrinsically should have bored the pants off anyone with sporting action in their blood never mind a Scottish football adict. But supported admirably and just as professionally by summarisers like Norman Yardley, Freddie Brown, Trevor Bailley and the great Fred Trueman, they brought to life an experience that I had never had.

    I do remember, though I have to say somewhat vaguely, the jokes about CMJ’s late arrivals and often this and other comments provided the humour that I so craved on my journeys. I have no doubt you too will recall with relish the constant cake discussions which sometimes became more central to the programme than the game itself. You mentioned the unique skill of these men to be able to regularly “fill in” and the gaps, often for hours, were not always predicted especially given the accuracy, or rather the inaccuracy, of British weather forecasts. There are few commentators in sport that I could compare with any of them. Perhaps Kenneth Wolstenholme, Jim Rosenthal, John Motson in football, certainly the great Bill McLaren in Rugby Union and in Athletics, if not sport in general, the outstanding David Colman. Christopher stands tall with any of these men and I am sure not one of his cricketing pears would cast the slightest shadow on his talent or personality. I am eternally grateful for the hours of pleasure he and the others gave a stressed driver on many a long journey.

    Cricket commentary on the radio was and probably still is (sadly I am not as interested these days. It could be something to do with the commentary but probably more the game itself.) far superior to television and even when all cricket was the domain of the BBC and not another “steal” by Sky, I still much preferred the radio coverage. Radio 4 with these men was the real way to “watch” cricket, although I can not argue for being at a live game as I have not had that pleasure, if that is what it is. I use the word “watch” on radio advisedly. CMJ and the other commentary geniuses could literally bring cricket matches to life. Their skill was such that even when available I always preferred listening to watching.

    I can only thank you, Paul, for reminding me of some really pleasurable journeys over many years past. For recalling to mind those brilliant cricket commentators who welcomed you into their box and became your guide and friend for the day. For restoring a desire to start listening again this season even though I will be lucky to drive another 25k all in before my final journey. For bringing back my hunger for a bit of those famous chocolate cakes that arrived every day and were described in minute detail. Thank you, above all, for paying such a well earned tribute to a true gentleman, an exceptional commentator and an all round good sport. May Christopher Martin Jenkins join the fellowship of those colleagues gone before him to the big commentary box in the sky. They probably had to wait a bit for him but I am sure they will all have enjoyed a big slice of chocolate cake “at tea” to celebrate the achievements of one fine man.

    R,I,P, CMJ,

  16. Paul,
    keep up the good work!
    Superb recognition for CMJ..His foibles made him!
    CMJ , Henry B , JA , GB et al in TMS over the decades have just brilliantly captured Scotsmen’s hearts…easily the best programme on the BBC .
    On more than one occasion i had to park my car in a lay- by rather than driving …heart in my mouth ..listening to these guys commentating to the close of a test match…Cardiff? A few years ago..Panesar and Collingwood come to mind ?..anyone else do that?
    .Can you imagine ?.I thought it was just me..the only sport in planet earth that a Scotsman is an avid England Fan

    PS..I also admit to dozens of times getting up in the middle of the night stretching back 30 years plus listening to CMJ et al commentating on the Ashes from OZ ball by balli
    And I have never played cricket in my life!

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