KEN LAWRENCE 1931-2021by Colin Bateman
Of all the diverse people appointed to the role of England press officer (media manager, head of communications, call it what you will), the least well-suited must have been Ken Lawrence.
There is no doubt Ken knew his cricket. He loved the game and was an MCC member as well as a Surrey member. He was also an expert at how the media worked, having been a national newspaper sports editor for 20 years.
He also had a chatty rapport with the players and the umpires, so what could possibly go wrong?
Well, you could take Ken out of journalism but you could not take the journalist out of Ken. He loved a good story. His antennae twitched at the whiff of a row. A tasty tale set his juices flowing.
While most press officers would look to cover up, obfuscate or defuse at the merest hint of controversy, Ken could not contain himself. And so the tone for the tempestuous summer on 1992 against the touring Pakistani team was set at the Oval in May before the Test series has begun.
England were heading for a comfortable victory in the second ODI when Ken, breathless and red-faced having dashed up the stairs from the dressing rooms to the Press Box - then perched on top of the Bedser Stand - was bursting with excitement.
There had been an almighty row, he quietly informed different sections of the press box.
The two biggest characters in the series, Ian Botham and Javed Miandad, had clashed, said Ken.
The great England all-rounder had dismissed the Pakistan captain and given him a four-letter send-off. Miandad was now in high-dudgeon demanding an apology. All hell was breaking loose downstairs according to England’s press officer. You could almost sense Ken re-drawing Fleet Street’s back pages and thinking of headlines as he went around telling the tale.
Ken loved newspapers. He gave his life to them for 40 years from the Berkshire Chronicle to the Daily and Sunday Express. He was an old-school Fleet Street man in the days when newspapers sold in their millions. His editors at the Express included legendary figures such as Alastair Burnett, Derek Jameson and Larry Lamb.
He was not everyone’s friend. He could be bawdy and bolshie at times if he did not get his way. He hated the unions and was politically incorrect. But at the same time, he could be generous and helpful.
Scores of young sports journalists owed their start in national newspapers to him, myself included. Another was David Llewellyn, also a member of the CWC, who subbed at the Express in the 1980s. “I did learn a lot from him, chiefly that you had to be a hard-hearted bastard to succeed on The Street.”
Ken knew his motor sport - he had a Formula Three racing licence - and he loved golf. Nothing excited him more than a busy night of football fixtures when editions and stories were changing the whole time up to midnight.
But it was cricket - or rather journalism - that came first. He sent me on my first tour in 1984 to India. As the Press and players awoke on our first morning in Delhi after a late night arrival, we learned that India’s Prime Minister Indira Gandhi had been assassinated, a world-shaking event.
Somehow, in those days of unreliable international telephone calls which normally had to be booked hours in advance, Ken got through to my hotel room: “Here son, I’ve ‘eard the news, forget the bloody cricket, you’re now the Express’s man in India, go out and find out who did it.”
Ken loved helping young sportsmen and women. He backed a boys’ golf tournament in the Express. He was the brainchild behind cricket youth development schemes at Surrey and with the Lord’s Taverners, and with his network of contacts, he had no trouble getting companies to put their money into them.
He became an honorary vice-president of Surrey and chairman of the Taverners in 1995 and ‘96, which gave him enormous pleasure.
Ken is survived by his wife of 66 years, Jean and their son and daughter, Andrew and Gillian. In his later years, Ken suffered from dementia and became very frail. His daughter Gillian said that shortly before his death at the end of June he said to the family: “It’s time for me to be off.”
A few nights later he enjoyed a good meal and an even better bottle of Chablis, and passed away the next day aged 90.