(Photo: Getty Images)
Alison Mitchell pays tribute to commentating legend Henry Blofeld, who retired after the third Test at Lord’s
My dear old thing…” Summers won’t quite be the same in the Test Match Special box after Blowers bowed out of commentary on a bright and breezy final day of the Test match against the West Indies at Lord’s. The changeable weather that Saturday matched his unique blustery and eccentric style. And so it was, that after a lap of honour at the end of the match (suggested by the MCC) and a visit to the England dressing room (by invitation of the captain), the sun eventually went down on a remarkable 45 years in the TMS box.
I will miss Henry’s hearty “good morning!”, his mischievous chuckle, his quirky attire and, of course, his colourful commentary.
Henry made no secret of the fact that his deteriorating eyesight in recent years had made commentary harder than it used to be (“listeners will now be relieved to know that their chances of being told the right name of the fielders at third man and fine leg have greatly increased” – he wrote on announcing his retirement) but what I always loved when listening to Henry was his sense of excitement and ability to build anticipation every time the bowler ran in, coupled with his vivid descriptions of the scene in front of him.
When the listener is relying on the commentator for pictures, the tiniest detail can bring an audio commentary to life in the mind’s eye. One such line that sticks with me, out of many, was his description, once, of an apparently enormous furry black bumble bee that was hovering outside the commentary box window. It was “hanging in the air like a Christmas Pudding”. I immediately had the image of a fat and round, giant black fuzz-ball loitering ominously in Henry’s line of vision. He took great delight in bringing a sense of playfulness to any scene.
I was pleased to have been at Lord’s to share in Henry’s last match and to be amongst the team gathered in the commentary box to applaud him from the airwaves when he finished his final stint of commentary.
With Mark Stoneman and Tom Westley picking off the runs for England, it was easy to judge that play wouldn’t go on long enough for Henry to get another stint, and so as he settled in alongside Tuffers for what would be his final 20 minutes as a TMS commentator, it was natural for the rest of us to come together gradually in the box behind him. When I arrived, there were already tears in the eyes of producer Adam Mountford at how this was “the end of an era”. It truly was.
I didn’t expect Henry to say anything too profound or self-indulgent as he took the headset off for the last time. He thanked the listeners and remarked how they had all been saying they would miss him. He added, “But I tell you what, I’m going to miss you something dreadful.” There was then a very endearing and typically Blowers moment, when he had to crane forwards to read the rota before he signed off, as he had forgotten who he was handing over to. When he announced that it was Ed Smith, he simply declared, “how lovely!” and that was that. Once he had untangled his headphones from his binoculars’ strap, 45 years of Test Match Special commentary was at an end.
As we all clapped, he looked genuinely touched, and then he seemed a little surprised to hear the generous applause that was sweeping around the stands outside the commentary box as well. We had to tell him to look out of the window and see that the applause was for him.
On the TV footage of his goodbye, you can see how people listening in the stands below the media centre were craning their necks to look up at the commentary box and salute Henry as he bade farewell. It was a fond moment – and well covered by Sky Sports as well, who recognised Henry’s contributions to cricket writing and broadcasting over the years and, of course, his popularity as a personality.
The public don’t always get the opportunity to show a broadcaster how appreciated and loved they are until it’s too late.
When Blowers announced his retirement back in June, my mind went back to our friend and former colleague Christopher Martin-Jenkins, who died too soon, in January 2013 from cancer. He was only 67, and had he been able to continue commentating up until a moment of his choosing, he too would have been applauded from the airwaves (as much as it would have embarrassed him).
Henry was conscious of this and he and I talked about CMJ and others, on the Friday in the commentary box. Blowers told me how overwhelmed he’d been at the outpouring of tributes towards him when he announced his retirement, and he felt very fortunate that he’d been able to step down on his own terms and soak up everything that had happened since. I’m glad Henry has had that opportunity, too.
So we will miss Blowers in the TMS commentary team, but he will be busy with his many other activities, and I know we will still see him at Test matches when he is back from what will become his new base in Menorca. He may even make the odd appearance on the programme with a story or two. I hope to still meet up with him and his lovely wife Valeria for the occasional lunch as well.
By the time this is published, we will have enjoyed a private retirement dinner with Blowers, which is sure to feature much champagne.
In the meantime, the cricket continues, and I will always be mindful of the advice given to me several years ago by Blowers to paint the whole picture for the listener, to go into all four corners of the canvas and not just the 22 yards in the middle. He also told me to never try to imitate another commentator. “Be yourself.”
It is advice that the inimitable and unique Blowers followed to the letter.