There were 50 shades of grey and quite a few walking sticks in the audience for Blowers and Baxter which had a brief innings at The Grove on Friday night.
The few ladies there were, I suspect, taxi drivers for their other halves who had come to hear all the familiar stories regaled in unique fashion by one of cricket’s greatest institutions.
So, my dear, old thing, did the charms of one of the great gentlemen of radio, bowl this maiden over? I have to admit I did rather fall for his rather laid back performance although for me it was all about listening to his wonderful voice – the plummy, public school tones of Henry Blofeld and cricket commentaries for Test Match Special are a match made in heaven.
The last time he appeared at the venue he was alone and delivered his show like an after-dinner speech, standing at a lectern. Age and a certain infirmity have caused a change in batting.
He ambled on stage in the most frightening pair of cherry red trousers I’ve ever seen on a man and took up position in an easy chair alongside his old TMS producer Peter Baxter. There was a potted plant, lamp standard, a coffee table holding two decanters, a copy of the cricketing bible – Wisden -and a hearth rug.
They proceeded to chat about the great characters that had worked on TMS and it was a bit like eavesdropping on a private conversation, or listening to the radio. Did they even know they were on stage?
But actually the format worked well. Most of the cricket fans in the audience had heard the anecdotes before but they still laughed in all the right places. I sat listening in astonishment, unable to believe what I was hearing. John Arlott and his love of wine (“A better commentator after lunch than before!” said Backers), CMJ and his terrible time-keeping, the hatred between Boycott and Botham, Brian Johnston and his sense of humour. It was all there.
Johnston apparently got his place at the BBC after spells working at his family’s sugar plantation and in the Grenadier Guards. He was approached at his Mayfair Club by a couple of broadcasting types who offered him a job. “Needless to say recruitment has changed a bit since then,” remarked PB.
And on it went. One outrageous story after another. The show ended with a question and answer session and then the two men took up new positions in the foyer to sign autographs and help flog their books and vino.
Having the veteran producer on board worked well. The two men made a winning team with PB helping to keep the dialogue flowing and coming up with a mine of his own inimitable stories. Trying to keep his commentators in check must have been a horrendous job. If they weren’t drunk they were missing. How the programme ever got broadcast I will never know.
Blowers & Baxter is now on tour.