NORMAN DE MESQUITA 1932-2013

By David Llewellyn

If the jazz saxophonist Stan Getz can be known as 'The Sound', then in his prime, Norman de Mesquita could justifiably have been dubbed 'The Voice'. He had harboured an ambition to be an actor, but for whatever reason Norman's dreams were not to be realised.

Fortunately the theatre world's loss became sport's gain. Initially The Voice joined BBC Radio London for whom Norman reported on football - he was an Arsenal fan - ice hockey and cricket among other sports, and whenever the chance arose, he would undertake commentary, on cricket matches in particular. He became an extremely knowledgeable and accomplished commentator, able to bring authority to his broadcasts, and of course his masterful voice complemented Norman's undoubted ability in front of a microphone. In fact The Voice was appreciated so much by his bosses that Norman was chosen to host Sportsline, BBC Radio London's Sunday morning sports magazine programme, a job he carried out for ten years, before leaving the BBC and taking his talents and his voice to LBC, the independent, commercial local radio station serving Greater London. He made the ideal host for a show such as that because Norman had the 'gift of the gab'. He was a great conversationalist, with a mind that could move effortlessly from subject to subject - either outside or inside sport.

The Voice was truly special, a mellifluous baritone that was always perfectly modulated. Norman's sense of drama was able to inject itself into that voice to convey the excitement, the highs, the lows and the climax of every event that he was covering, yet he never needed to raise the decibels. There was never a question of Norman having to shout in order to capture all the the drama, which was just as well because in those days there were no separate broadcasting areas in the press boxes around the country. A raised voice in a cricket press box, particularly at writing up time, was most definitely frowned upon.

The Voice was also in demand at other big sporting events, where Norman would take on the role of public address announcer. The Voice was used to great effect at the Masters Snooker Tournament in the competition's early years at Wembley, as well as at the pre-Wimbledon tennis tournaments at Eastbourne and Beckenham and Middlesex employed Norman as their PA announcer at their out-grounds.

It was therefore a cruel twist of fate that, during emergency neuro-surgery some 14 years ago, he suffered a stroke, which robbed him of that wonderful voice, and robbed his colleagues of some great conversation, not to mention plenty of witty asides. He did not give up, far from it. Norman persevered and regained a great deal of of his speech, but despite therapy, he struggled, and the result was that it left him increasingly frustrated, and even angry, especially when his slurred speech had people thinking he was drunk. The indignation of teetotaller Norman left him further frustrated with the knowledge that he could not round on the accuser and put them in their place with one of his perfectly delivered put-down lines, of which he had an ample store.

The son of Herbert, a solicitor, and Rachel, Samuel Norman Bueno de Mesquita - his first name appeared only on his birth certificate, passport and bank account - was of Hispanic Jewish stock, and he was proud of his Sephardic ancestry. He attended Wessex Gardens Primary School in Golders Green, before moving on to Christ's College in Finchley, whose alumni include Lord Sachs, the chief Rabbi, and Charles Saatchi. He had always been interested in drama, but, sadly, after leaving school he was unable to fulfil his thespian ambitions and his acting was confined to local productions. Instead he poured his efforts into applying his theatrical talents to sporting commentary for the radio to the benefit of a great many people.

It was a thing of wonder to observe Norman working in a cricket press box. He used to keep an immaculate scoresheet, it saved him from having to ring the official scorers every few minutes for "minutes, balls, fours, sixes". It was extremely useful to those newspaper reporters present in the press box, who hungered for 'factoids'. And, remarkably, all the while that he would be giving his radio report, or doing a five minute stint of commentary, Norman would carry on scoring, keeping tabs on every ball bowled, recording them meticulously in his neat handwriting. He didn't miss a trick, thus he was able to announce for example, a bowler's or a team's wicket-to-wicket details, to his radio audience as well as simultaneously to the rest of us. Norman was also able to provide his press box colleagues with other useful facts and figures from the comprehensive records that he maintained throughout the season. The discipline he demonstrated with his record-keeping was exemplary.

On top of all that he could also pen a few words, and reports of his appeared in several national newspapers, among them The Daily Telegraph and The Times.

If cricket was his first love - Norman was a founding member and former President of the Seaxe Club, the official organisation for Middlesex supporters, a long-standing member of MCC, a former committee man in the Cricket Writers' Club - then ice hockey came a close second. Although it is hard to imagine him on ice, Norman actually learned to ice-skate on the way to becoming a well-respected ice hockey umpire - and you have to be an extremely proficient skater to become an umpire. He used to officiate in domestic competitions in the 50s and 60s when matches involving teams such as Wembley Lions would draw coverage from BBC television. He also used to travel to Canada to watch a clutch of Stanley Cup games live, invariably travelling with the late Peter Byrne, another former member of the Cricket Writers' Club.

Norman was one of the great 'characters' of the press cricket circuit, whose contribution to the daily activities in this specialised, not to say pressurised, environment was always welcome. He had a great sense of fun and enjoyed the banter and repartee that was so much a part of a cricket press box, where a lot of people (in those days) were brought together for three or four days, and for up to ten hours a day.

In the four decades or so that Norman spent covering cricket he witnessed swingeing changes to the game. He also saw journalism undergo a wholesale transformation as new technology was gradually embraced by the hacks and their rags. To his credit, Norman generally accepted all the changes that have taken place, from the introduction of limited overs cricket, to four day county championship matches and even Twenty20 - although perhaps there might have been the occasional snide aside about this last.

His death means the Cricket Writers' Club has lost a valued member, while Middlesex have lost a devoted fan, and the world of cricket has lost another respected voice.     

July 2013

FRANK KEATING 1937-2013

By Tanya Aldred

Someone opens the folded pieces of paper that have made their way from Herefordshire and reads out the words "delectable primrose doorstop". There could only be one author of that lovely phrase - words that made us laugh and remain imprinted more than 10 years on - Frank Keating, sports writer extraordinaire, who died last Friday from pneumonia in St Michael's Hospice, Hereford. He was 75.

Frank was the gentlest of men and the most gorgeous of writers. Adjectives, verbs, adverbs sprang from pen to page, as if in a particularly dotty race, scattered with aplomb and great chunks of humanity. He loved sport and he loved the people who played it. Never malicious, sometimes fanciful, he would roar you along with whatever event he had been sent to. Along with Matthew Engel, David Foot and David Hopps, he was the reason to curl up with the Guardian's cricket pages back when the newsprint came off in your hands and the opened paper required an elongated wingspan.

I first met Frank in 1997 when I was the office junior at WCM. Back when barely anyone had email, and certainly not Frank, his typewritten copy would come through the post in crisp envelopes and I was charged with keying it in. Struggling under a torrent of adjectives, I would phone him tentatively with a query, whereupon he would pick up and sound enchanted to receive the call, though it must have been a chore. That rich, Irish stew of a voice would pour through, "Oh m'dear, don't worry, do what you like to make it fit. And anyway, how are you?"

What would follow was encouragement that he did not have to give with a generosity that erred on the ridiculous. He did not have to be kind or interested. But he was: kind, interested, funny, big-hearted and dazzling. It was what made him so popular with readers. It was what made him so popular with sportsmen. It was what made him so popular with fellow journalists, young and old. And it was what made his writing what it was: erudite popping candy writ large upon the tongue.

Like Christopher Martin-Jenkins, another terrible leaving at the beginning of this month, Frank inspired a devoted following.

Even if the Guardian or Observer was not your thing, you could find him in Punch, The Spectator, New Statesman or The Oldie. He also wrote books, including an effervescent memoir and fruitful account of the England tour of the West Indies in 1981, blighted by the Robin Jackman affair and the sudden death of Frank's friend, Ken Barrington.

It did not have to be a big occasion for him to pull out all the stops. Here he is at Grace Road watching the Australians during the 1993 Ashes tour. Shane Warne has just bamboozled the Leicestershire batsmen and this is just a sentence from the match report he sent into the paper. "Two or three batsmen rolled back to the pavilion in a daze of eye-rolling double-takes after being scrambled and poached by an outrageous right-angled extravagance which dips in serenely to land on the uncut edges of the strip far outside the left peg before snapping back a full yard to nip away the off-bail." Brilliantly, beautifully barmy.

He could get cross when faced with pomposity, and professionally heckled John Major at a dinner for selling off school playing fields. But generally what you saw was what you got. Whiskers, the mop of hair, the contentedly upholstered physique, the crinkles around his smiling eyes, the glass of wine in his hand, the big open smile - he understood how to enjoy life. And he enriched mine, though I knew him only lightly.

I rang him just a few months ago, to ask if he would write something. It must have been five years since we last spoke and I had no idea how ill he was. Typically, he did not mention it. He asked after me, and then my family, but turned down the offer of writing a piece. "Oh m'darling, don't say anything, but I think I've quite run out of words."

Oh Frank. What a preposterous idea. He sleeps now, but his sentences are still vivaciously alive. May there always be room for writing like his in a world that has grown angrier and more judgmental.

January 2013

Christopher Martin-Jenkins 1945-2013

By Julian Guyer

The death of CMJ from cancer was a truly saddening way to start the year. Arguably the best-known member of the Cricket Writers' Club, he held four of the 'great offices of state' in our trade, having been, the Cricket Correspondent of the BBC, the Daily Telegraph and The Times as well as the editor of the Cricketer.

He also completed the rare 'double' of being both President of the CWC, an office he held at the time of his death, and MCC, a position which provided him with unexpected controversy as well as joy.

I think David Warner, in one of several messages of condolence that made their way to me, spoke for us all when he wrote of Christopher: "This is a terrible loss. An outstanding man with a great love for cricket and a vast knowledge of the game. And always prepared to speak out strongly in support of county cricket."

But there were also, as Peter Baxter and Tony Cozier point out below, so many entertaining private 'CMJ moments' for those of us fortunate to have shared a press or commentary box with him down the years. For my part two incidents remain vivid, with both demonstrating Christopher's fundamental decency.

My first conversation with CMJ was during a county match at Southgate when I was working for Hayters, a fact which prompted Christopher to reply: "That's where all the stars start." Which only goes to show that even a man well-known for his judgment can be wrong once in a while. The second was years later at the Oval, during the final Test of the 2005 Ashes. It so happened I was in the seat next to Christopher's in the press box. At one stage he was looking through a series of cuttings in preparation for a radio interview with Michael Grade, the then BBC chairman. One piece suggested Grade was a "bit of a schmoozer."

CMJ turned to me and, in that gloriously well-modulated voice, asked: "What does schmoozer mean?" When I asked him afterwards if I could quote the conversation for a diary piece, I was filing for the Wisden Cricketer, he gave me the go-ahead without a moment's hesitation. As a result, I was able to write: "That's what I do when it rains. I advise CMJ on Yiddish." I don't suppose I'll ever have a better line.

The late 'CMJ'

Peter Baxter, who first worked with CMJ more than 40 years ago, recalls his initial impressions of a future Test Match Special colleague:

It is incongruous - for both of us - that I first met CMJ at Chelsea Football Club in 1970. I was producing the Outside Broadcasts department's commentary on whatever match it was and he was doing a report for the rival Sports News department (such was the strange organisation of the BBC at the time).     

My department were impressed in those days by Christopher's command of the concise one-minute report, a fact which would surprise his more recent colleagues who only knew him when his relationship with the clock - any clock - had become more estranged.

When he joined Sports News, its legendary editor, Angus McKay, creator of Sports Report, told him: "We shall call you Chris Jenkins." But Christopher stuck to his guns. "I'd prefer my full name, please." So 'CMJ' became common currency.

It was attention to detail that made him such a fine commentator and the choice of the right words to describe the action and the scene in which it was set. But what we will remember are those 'CMJ moments'.

I recall once being in the West Indies and describing to him the details of a difficult day I had just had, with everything going wrong, down to the road being dug up when I was hurrying off to get an interview. There was silence from him before he said, sadly: "My whole life's like that."

And he did the decent thing by letting us know of crises like cutting through the headphone cable from his Walkman and wondering why it had suddenly all gone so quiet. Or ringing me after the start of play at the Oval to admit he had gone to Lord's.

With the demise of Tony Greig just before Christopher, I remembered that in India in late 1976 I had set up a pre-Christmas phone-in to the England captain. It was an ambitious idea, but the arrangements were made with All India Radio. CMJ just had to get Greig to the radio station in Gauhati, where England were playing the East Zone. They ordered a taxi and Christopher told the driver, "All India Radio, please."

He knew the station was on the edge of town, but when rice paddies and green hills were going by, he thought it seemed further than he had reckoned. "How much further?" he asked. "To Oil India?" the driver asked, as they were pulling up at the refinery. To do him credit, Greig was amused, but - not uniquely - Christopher was late.

Principle and punch in Barbados

Tony Cozier remembers how CMJ refused to back down after enraging Caribbean cricket followers before the healing power of rum soothed all wounds:

Christopher Martin-Jenkins. There was the unmistakable ring of an English gentleman, through and through, to the very name of my fellow (BBC Test) debutant when I first became pretentiously known as "the West Indian voice" on Test Match Special in 1973. In the nearly 40 years that followed, sharing commentary and press boxes in England and the Caribbean, turning out for his team in a Sunday match on some idyllic ground in Surrey and entertaining the usually boisterous touring media at off-day parties at our modest Barbados beach bungalow, I found CMJ to be always that. As with the numerous, heartfelt tributes that followed his passing, I recall mostly his kindness, generosity, a dry sense of humour and his devotion the game's values and traditions. And, of course, he was the radio commentator supreme.

I only became aware of the eccentricities that made him so endearing to those in the profession second-hand; I did know of his propensity to be late for his stints on TMS when Shilpa Patel, the lively, and lovely, production assistant, would dash into the press box to summon me for mine with the rebuke," You're becoming the West Indian CMJ."

We sometimes crossed swords. I found it completely out of character when he used sport's most pejorative word, "cheating", to charge that the dominant, pace-based West Indies teams of the 1980s deliberately slowed down their over-rates which "guaranteed them from defeat" and in the infamous Rob Bailey dismissal in the 1990 Barbados Test when he reported umpire Lloyd Barker had been pressurized into changing his decision by Viv Richards's "orchestrated appeal". "If that was gamesmanship or professionalism, I'm not sure what cheating is," he said.

The public reaction was typically overblown. He was removed by the local station as part of its commentary team and the sports editor of one paper wrote that he should have been "put on a plane out of Barbados."

Even on the rest day of the Barbados Test four years later he remained wary when the landline from the Cozier beach bash was out of order (I had informed him and the others that they could file their reports from there) and the nearest pay phone had to suffice. Trouble was that it adjoined a rum shop and CMJ was well down the line for making his call. Reluctantly persuaded to join the others in the shade of the bar while they waited, CMJ was somehow identified and a hostile reception expected. A couple of rum punches soothed his nerves as did the informed cricket talk that ensued. There was not a mention of over-rates or the Rob Bailey incident. Of course, he missed his place in the telephone queue.

January 2013

IN MEMORIAM 2013

ESTABLISHED 1946

 

DICKY RUTNAGUR 1931-2013

By Ivo Tennant

Dicky Rutnagur, who has died aged 82, was one of the most prominent of Indian cricket reporters. Having learnt his craft on the subcontinent, he moved to England in search of greater journalistic opportunities and was to cover the game, as well as squash and badminton, for The Daily Telegraph for 40 years.

Such longevity with one newspaper group is increasingly rare nowadays. Rutnagur moved to England with his family in 1966, a time when this newspaper was reputed for its county and Test coverage under the formidable leadership of EW Swanton. Barely a day went by when the by-line of DJ Rutnagur did not appear on the sports pages, for he would regularly undertake tours in the winter when not reporting on a squash tournament.

Rutnagur worked hard throughout his life. He loved the game of cricket and the great majority of journalists and players, who, in turn, thoroughly appreciated his convivial company and considerable knowledge. He particularly enjoyed the banter in the press box (if not necessarily the daily struggles with copy-takers and, later, computers) and the company of umpires in the bar at close of play.

He loved England and valued many features of English life: democracy, the education (although never well-off, he determined to put his one son through Westminster School and Oxford University), and, not least, the tobacco industry. It was a bonus for Rutnagur that Benson and Hedges and John Player were long-lasting cricket sponsors.

Although Rutnagur also wrote for The Times and The Guardian, as well as undertaking radio work, in that he was a freelance journalist throughout his time in England, his style of writing was ideally suited to the Telegraph in the heyday of Swanton and his successors as the leading correspondents, Michael Melford and Michael Carey. He knew the game, had an extensive knowledge of cricket history and was quick to appreciate the talents of an up-and-coming player.

Not the least reason for his lasting as long as he did as a cricket reporter - he was to cover more than 300 Test matches as well as the day-in, day-out county fixtures - was the respect he was accorded by Swanton, who placed considerable emphasis on accuracy and an understanding of the game, and his successors. Rutnagur fulfilled this criterion - and, equally importantly insofar as Swanton was concerned, was from an acceptable social background.

Dicky Jamshed Rutnagur was born in Bandra, then a distant suburb of Bombay, on February 26 1931. A Zoroastrian, he attended St Xavier's College (effectively his university education) and from there commenced work in the family business, which produced the Indian Textile Journal - a trade publication for what was a key post-war industry in India.

He started freelancing, covering cricket matches and writing for a local sports paper, The Bharat, and then for daily publications. For eight years he produced and edited the Indian Cricket Field Annual, then the only comprehensive almanac covering Indian cricket, and was cricket correspondent of Hindustan Times. He came to England in the spring of 1966 and settled in Dolphin Square, central London, where he would remain for the rest of his life.

Ron Roberts, himself a Telegraph cricket reporter, persuaded Rutnagur that greater opportunities would exist in Fleet Street if he emigrated. He also became particularly friendly with John Arlott and Tony Cozier, two of the great commentators, and John Woodcock, cricket correspondent of The Times. In 1962 he toured the Caribbean for the first time, meeting and subsequently marrying Doris Cassim, a Trinidadian air hostess with British West Indian Airways.

This was the tour in which Charlie Griffith struck Nari Contractor, the Indian batsman, on the head, causing serious injury. Rutnagur queried the legitimacy of Griffith's action in his coverage, which caused a good deal of controversy. Nor was he afraid to investigate match-fixing allegations during Pakistan's series in India in 1979-80, when he was threatened by bookmakers.

Rutnagur's son, Richard, who survives him, gave him immense pleasure by winning a cricket Blue at Oxford. When Rutnagur was sent to report at the Parks, he would insist on doing so under a different byline to ensure the impression of objectivity. He continued to cover sport until he was 75, writing a memorable farewell article on his 40 years with the Telegraph for Wisden. At his 80th birthday party, held in Park Lane, Woodcock, proposing his health, said that even though numerous friends and colleagues had died "we could fill the Long Room at Lord's with your admirers".

June 2013