John Arlott commentating on the cricket match between Gloucestershire and the New Zealand touring side in 1949. Photograph: Haywood Magee
David Allen on John Arlott
John Arlott's Hampshire burr stood out like a marrow in an orchard of plums among the cut-glass vowels of postwar broadcasting
Friday 28 March 2014
he voice was unmistakable, the Hampshire burr that stood out like a marrow in an orchard of plums among the cut-glass distorted vowels of immediate postwar broadcasting. John Arlott, who would have celebrated his 100th birthday this week, had easily the most unconventional path to the microphone of any regular practitioner: clerk in a mental home; wartime policeman screening conscientious objectors; published poet who became a friend of Dylan Thomas and John Betjeman; literary programmes producer at the BBC in succession to George Orwell. He espoused the cause of the common man with an unabashed liberalism – twice as an aspiring Liberal MP – and after a visit to South Africa, where he answered "human" to an immigration officer who inquired as to his race, became an outspoken opponent of the apartheid regime. He was later instrumental in the "rescue" of the so‑called Cape Coloured Basil D'Oliveira, which led to a cricketing schism.
As a journalist he was most notably both the cricket and wine correspondent of the Guardian. The latter job he claimed as a right by asking "who else has got 5,000 bottles in their cellar?" And his command of the airwaves, particularly during his cricket commentary, was legendary: "His bat has as many holes in it as a Henry Moore sculpture"; "Botham runs in like a shire horse, cresting the breeze". The bon mots were prolific, and mostly spontaneous. When I congratulated him on his famous 1975 commentary at Lord's, when a streaker (Arlott called him a "freaker") vaulted the stumps before being ejected from the ground, he replied "No, I blew it. What I should have said was that perhaps his greatest disappointment was not being deprived of further cricket for the day, but that he actually managed to straddle the stumps without even dislodging a bail."
Arlott: The Authorised Biography by David Rayvern Allen is published by Aurum.