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.
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.
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.
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