Lord’s, ‘the home of cricket’, is known for having a conservative crowd, with modest applause the order of the day.
So anyone observing the prolonged burst of clapping when England were 88 for 1 on their way to a target of 107, and a series win against Windies in the third Test on Saturday (September 9), could well have wondered what was going on.
The answer was that, after 45 years with BBC Radio’s Test Match Special, itself celebrating its 60th anniversary in 2017, Henry Blofeld had just completed his final commentary stint.
“I’ve enjoyed every moment we’ve had together, it’s been the greatest fun,” he said during his closing moments on air. “Thank you for listening — you all say you’re going to miss me, I’m going to miss you all terribly.”
Unusually for a man best known for his work in radio, Blofeld has long cut an instantly recognisable figure and Saturday was no exception. Cerise trousers and a similarly coloured cravat were teamed with a pink shirt and lime green jacket, allied to a pair of two-tone cherry pink and white loafer shoes.
Educated at the exclusive Eton College school, which has produced several British prime ministers, most recently David Cameron, and Cambridge University, Blofeld was an outstanding schoolboy batsman.
But a cycling accident in his final year at Eton, where his father had been a contemporary of Ian Fleming and the inspiration for the name of the villain ‘Blofeld’ in the author’s James Bond spy novels, meant he was never as good a cricketer again.
The on-field loss was offset by off-field gain, with ‘Blowers’ — whose brother followed a rather more ‘establishment’ career in becoming a High Court judge — going on to entertain generations of listeners as much for his descriptions of what was happening around a ground, be it the progress of London buses or passing birds, as the actual cricket itself.
There was widespread dismay when Blofeld, famed for his “my dear old thing” catchphrase delivered in a voice so aristocratic it might have been aged in a sherry barrel, announced his retirement, with Joe Root, the England captain, summing up the mood of many cricket followers by saying: “He’ll be sorely missed.”
Not that Blofeld himself has any regrets. “I am 78 next week — or is it the week after? — and at my age you don’t get better,” he told AFP in an interview before play at Lord’s on Saturday. “I think it’s better for everyone to get rid of the old farts — they can fart around for too long.”
When Blofeld started his broadcasting career, a ‘tweet’ was the sound made by one of his beloved pigeons and he said there had been a noticeable change in cricket commentary down the decades.
“If I am any good at anything it’s describing things. Commentary has become more conversational,” explained Blofeld, whose memorable moments behind the microphone included being on air when England completed an astounding come from behind victory against arch-rivals Australia in the 1981 Headingley Test.
“I think it’s important to go over the boundary and paint the entire picture. Then the public can pay you the greatest compliment of all — which is that ‘you made me feel I was there’.”
For many around the world, Blofeld has come to embody a certain idea of England bound up with the traditions of the centuries-old game of cricket. “It’s extraordinary isn’t it?” said Blofeld of his international following.
“I happen to come from the background I do come from, I can’t help it, I had the education I did and have got the voice I have — this is the way everyone in my family talked.
“This sort of PG Wodehouse voice does represent ‘old England’ if you know what I mean.”
Not that Blofeld, also a freelance cricket writer and author, whose next book ‘Over and Out’, is published next month, is retiring completely, far from it.
“I’ve got 100 theatre dates this year, I do quite a lot of after-dinner speaking and I’ve also started to do one or two reality TV bits — but wait, you won’t see me on ‘Love Island’ or ‘Big Brother’,” he said with a huge grin. AFP