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Last Updated: Monday, 2 June, 2003, 15:15 GMT 16:15 UK
Brian Johnston
By Peter Baxter
Producer, Test Match Special

Brian Johnston
Johnners was an immensely popular character in cricket circles
On 16 May 1994, more than 2,000 people crammed into Westminster Abbey to give thanks for the life of a cricket commentator.

The then Prime Minister John Major gave an address, two Guardsmen played on fife and drum and the Abbey organ ended proceedings with the theme from Neighbours.

Brian Johnston was, of course, much more than just a cricket commentator - he was a national institution.

He joined the BBC in 1946 after wartime service in the Guards and before that in the family coffee business.

He was naturally suited to the ad lib life of radio outside broadcasting and in his early days undertook a variety of assignments in the days when anything outside a studio was something of a novelty.

Johnston's first job was to cover the disposal of a bomb discovered in Hyde Park, which he covered from the apparent safety of a ladies' lavatory.

His propensity for awful puns produced the line that he emerged "looking a bit flushed".

Such occasions led to his own live spot - Let's Go Somewhere - on In Town Tonight.

The highlights included him riding bareback in the circus, reporting from beneath an express train and from inside a post box at Christmas.

His career as a cricket commentator actually began on television.

He did not cross to Test Match Special until 1970, when television unceremoniously dropped him in a change of policy, recruiting only former players.

The lack of any word from television rankled Brian for the rest of his life, but his arrival at Test Match Special was a true homecoming.

Brian would say TMS was "just a bunch of friends going to a Test Match and talking about it"
Peter Baxter on Johnners
His informal style was a complete contrast to John Arlott, but his natural popular appeal brought a new audience to the programme and gave it a new lease of life.

He was by this time the BBC's first cricket correspondent, having made a huge impact while on extended leave in Australia to watch England play in 1958/9.

Thereafter, he was to accompany England tours round the world until his retirement in 1972.

However, retirement from the BBC staff did not end his involvement with Test Match Special.

In fact, he was still an integral part of the commentary team at his death in January 1994 at the age of 81.

Everyone was given a nickname. Scorer Bill Findall became 'the Bearded Wonder'. And to this day, Henry Blofeld and Jonathan Agnew are fondly known as Blowers and Aggers.

Laughter was never far away with Brian and he will inevitably be remembered for the so-called "leg-over" incident.

During the summary of a day's play at the Oval, Aggers suggested that Ian Botham, in being out hit wicket had failed to "get his leg over."

Brian fought the giggles manfully for almost half a minute and then dissolved, wheezing helplessly into a large spotted handkerchief.

When asked about Test Match Special, Brian would say that it was "just a bunch of friends going to a Test Match and talking about it."

And with him, it was.

Links to more Legends stories


Brian Johnston in 1981
Ian Botham is out at Old Trafford for 118 off only 102 balls

Voices of the past

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