PETER LAKER 1926-2014
By Pat Gibson
Press boxes are not what they used to be. The thought came forcibly to mind with the news that Peter Laker, the former cricket correspondent of the Daily Mirror, had died suddenly at his Somerset home at the age of 87. They were places of fun and laughter as well as work in the days before mobile phones and laptops, blogs and tweets, and Peter was the leading prankster until the time came to roll himself a fag and settle down to write a colourful back page lead plus a well-informed, well-constructed match report of 1,000 words or more.
He certainly knew his cricket, having played two County Championship matches for Sussex as a right-hand batsman and leg-spin bowler in 1948 and 1949 and hundreds, probably thousands, more for Lewes Priory Cricket Club where he was still turning out, alongside his grandson, in his seventies.
He had moved to Lewes, where he also played football for the local club, in the 1930's when his parents took over the Pelham Arms and was a consummate all-round sportsman, well-versed in all the pub games like darts and dominoes, shove halfpenny and crib, which served him well on those long overseas tours during his 25 years as the Mirror's correspondent.
It was as a practical joker, however, that those of us who were in the Press box in the seventies and eighties remember him with warmth, affection - and the occasional shudder.
Wendy Wimbush, the long-serving Cricket Writers' Club treasurer, who was there as a scorer and statistician, recalls the pranks he played, often in collusion with Basil Easterbrook, his partner in crime, who once declared a Surrey innings closed by waving a piece of paper out of the Press box window after sharpening his pencil on it.
"No doubt he and Basil are already plotting their next trick," she said, remembering how Jack Fingleton, the old Australia batsman who wrote for the Sunday Times, and Dick Williamson, the legendary Yorkshire freelance, would look around for Peter, suspecting another hoax whenever the phone rang at the back of the box.
Fingo , who was once summoned downstairs to meet "a lady admirer" only to find it was Laker in disguise, did take revenge by getting Peter out of bed in the early hours of the morning with a call from Australia and the greeting: "Is that you, Laker, you bastard?"
He was not the only victim to use that expression. When Cornhill were sponsoring Test cricket, they used to stimulate the creative juices by serving a glass or two of wine as writing-up time was approaching.
One day Peter , noticing that John Arlott was still enjoying his customary afternoon nap, swapped the vintage claret he always had at his elbow for a glass of the sponsor's product. John woke up with a start, took a swig, spat out the inferior wine and bellowed: "Where's that bloody Laker."
Another time, Peter rang Dick Williamson, pretending to be a council official from Bradford handling a complaint from a neighbour that Dick had left a stinking sack of fish heads in his garden. Laker was a picture of innocence as Dick raged at the accusation.
As a rare woman in the box, Wendy was a natural target and assumed that Peter was up to his old tricks when he approached her as she was enjoying an ice cream during the tea interval on a sunny day at the Oval.
"Oh Wimbers," he said, "you'd better get upstairs as quick as you can. Somebody has knocked a glass of wine over your scoresheets."
A likely story, she thought, as she dashed upstairs expecting to see his beaming face as she fell for yet another of his jokes. Only this time it was true. The sloping desks in the old Press box had claimed another victim and she had to borrow a hair drier from the office to rescue the now pale pink papers.
As she says: "Far off times and far off memories of some wonderful people."
DAVID FIELD 1946-2014
By Brian Scovell
We have lost a very popular yeoman bowler in David Field, who died recently at the young age of 68. He worked for the Exchange Telegraph for many years and he was the Fred Trueman figure Cricket Writers' Club CC side. He wasn't as quick as Fiery Fred, but he put a lot into his fast-medium bowling and used a similar vocabulary when a batsman failed to walk or play and miss.
Eric Brown, his great friend, has written in the Sports Journalists' Association website that the game he enjoyed most was at Headingley in the late 1970s. In fact it was on July 2, 1978 at Harrogate CC, the year after we helped put on the CWC v Australia Press match there which featured Kerry Packer, Ian Chappell and a few others.
It was reduced to a 32 overs a side and we made 148 with Barry Stead, the former Yorkshire and Nottinghamshire left-arm pace bowler scoring 43. Three Pakistan Test players Khan Mohammad, Mahmoud Hussain and Imtiaz all played and we lost.
Dave lived in Orpington for many years and his wife Jacky used to score the matches in which he played. They had no children and she died two years ago and I think losing his soul-mate played a part in his early demise. People do die of a broken heart. I signed up Learie Constantine to play in one of our matches at Great Baddow in Essex and he scored 6 sixes in his 66. When he died, his devoted wife Norma died just months later.
I spoke to Dave at the CWC lunch last year and he was in pretty good form, meeting his friends and talking about matches long past. He always had a good sense of humour. We'll miss him.
DAVID RAYVERN ALLEN 1938-2014
By Murray Hedgcock
The word "genial" comes to mind instantly when thinking of David Rayvern Allen, who died on October 9, aged 76, after a determined struggle with cancer.
He was often to be met at Lord's, strolling between the Pavilion and Library, where he would break into a cheery smile on spotting a friend - and he had many.
Those friends stretched far beyond cricket, into the fields of music and broadcasting. London-born, DRA made the most of his musical talent during National Service, playing piano, cello and oboe with the REME staff band, before taking diplomas at the Royal Academy of Music, and the Guildhall School of Drama and Music.
The BBC was a natural outlet and he became a producer handling a wide range of programming, winning the 1991 Prix Italia in collaboration with Richard Stilgoe for the radio production, Who Pays The Piper.
He combined his cricket and musical interests in 1981 with his first book, A Song for Cricket, a lovingly researched collection of melodies about the Summer Game.
David's interest in the stage led him to write in 1982 Sir Aubrey: A Biography of C. Aubrey Smith - England Cricketer, West End Actor, Hollywood Film Star. An enlarged edition followed in 1987.
This set him on the path to a series of books on the game, producing in 1985 both The Punch Book on Cricket, and Cricket On The Air - A Selection from Fifty Years of Radio Broadcasts.
While he made a speciality of researching early cricket, his interest in the game was fully up to date. His personal hero was John Arlott: in 1987 they collaborated on Arlott on Wine, and in 1994 David's authorised biography of Arlott won the Cricket Society Jubilee Literary Award.
In 2004 he tackled the task of assessing the somewhat controversial life of the magisterial E.W.Swanton, publishing under the simple title, Jim. Wisden termed it "an affectionate but not uncritical book" - a proper assessment.
On retirement in 1993 as a full-time radio producer, while continuing as a freelance, DRA found time to become much involved with MCC activities, serving on the Arts & Library Committee from 1999 to 2011, and again from 2012 to his death.
He set up in 2003 the Lord's audio archive project, which now holds more than 250 interviews with cricket personalities. The first, one of many conducted by DRA himself, was with Alec Bedser, and as recently as the MCC v. Rest of the World match in July, he recorded the thoughts of Muttiah Muralitharan.
In a highly productive career, David wrote, compiled, edited or contributed to 43 books, mostly on cricket. Typical was his 1987 reminiscent survey of writing on the game before radio, TV and the rest - Cricket's Silver Lining: The 50 Years from the Birth of Wisden to the Beginning of The Great War. In 2004 DRA joined with the ageless Hubert Doggett to edit A Breathless Hush - The MCC Anthology Of Cricket Verse.
David was a collector of many interests, notably sheet music, and Punch - the latter providing much help at his home when I was researching the life and work of P.G.Wodehouse.
DRA had a special interest in the writing and records of cricket's formative years: his 1987 roundup, Early Books of Cricket, remains an invaluable introduction to the literature of the game in its formative years. He contributed scholarly introductions to the reprints of three significant early works, beginning with the facsimile of Bentley's Scores, first published in 1823 and 1826, and reproduced in 1997 by Roger Heavens.
In 2003 Christopher Saunders brought out a boxed collection of Britcher's Scores, limited to 212 sets, with an Allen commentary. Five years later, 200 facsimile sets were produced by the same pairing of The Essential Denison - the writings of William Denison, "the first real cricket reporter".
Only weeks before Allen's death, Saunders published in facsimile a booklet on Richard Linsell, known for his skill at single innings, whose life was first recorded in 1858. DRA again wrote an introduction.
At grassroots level, David was an active member of Chorleywood CC, being a vice-president, supporting the project to replace the old pavilion, and helping to produce the club's 150th anniversary book in 2004.
On January 21 this year, David was delighted to be made an honorary Doctor of Letters by De Montfort University.
He continued to lead as full a life as possible, even on learning that his time was limited. In August he made his usual thoughtful contribution as a member of the panel choosing the CWC Book of the Year.
GERALD MORTIMER 1937-2013
By David "Plum" Warner
The death of Gerald Mortimer on December 30 at the age of 77 has robbed The Cricket Writers' Club of another of its staunchest and most likable members.
For well over 30 years from 1970, Gerald extensively covered the fortunes of Derbyshire CCC for the Derby Evening Telegraph and was respected for his knowledge of the game - and his acerbic wit - by Press Box colleagues around the country.
But county cricket was not his only forte because he was also the newspaper's Derby County correspondent over a similar period and few provincial sports journalists could ever claim to write as authoritatively as Gerald on both the summer and winter games.
From the mid-70s until his retirement at the end of the 2001 season, I shared cricket Press Boxes with Gerald whenever and wherever Yorkshire were playing Derbyshire and I have treasured memories of those days.
The travelling Yorkshire Press contingent could, I would imagine, be a little overpowering in some of those Press Boxes where they outnumbered the home county's cricket reporters, but this was never the case on our visits to Derbyshire where we got as good as we gave.
Gerald was backed up over the years by the likes of Mike (Henry Bevington) Carey, Neil (Inti) Hallam and Nigel Gardner, all top-notch sports journalists - and all capable of listening intently to a Press Box story from one of the Yorkies before capping it with one of their own.
Educated at Repton School and Oxford University, Gerald joined the Derby Evening Telegraph after ten years in teaching, and from that moment on he was totally committed to his new job and he warmly welcomed writers to the Derby Press Boxes, provided they were full-timers, kept proper records and offered bits of information as well as receiving them.
Gerald got on particularly well on his visits to the Broad Acres with Dick Williamson, the legendary doyen of the Yorkshire Boxes, and whenever I was covering a Yorkshire match in Derbyshire I made sure I went armed with the latest Williamson story to inflict upon my colleagues. Neil Hallam always said he had never actually met Williamson but somehow felt he had known him for years!?
And whenever I think of Gerald, I always think also of sponsors in suits. Nothing irritated him more than for play to held up because a smartly dressed chap, looking a bit bewildered, had wandered across the sightscreen at the bowler's end. "Sponsors!" Gerald would splutter while at the same time tapping a Gold Leaf cigarette on the back of the pack and pouring tea from his flask into a china cup.