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Last Updated: Monday, 2 June, 2003, 15:16 GMT 16:16 UK
Howard Marshall
Howard Marshall
Marshall, a trained journalist, was hired by Seymour de Lotbiniere
When live cricket broadcasting started in 1927, the received wisdom was that ball-by-ball commentary could never work for a game as a slow as this.

The point was missed that the very pace and structure of the game make it, conversely, the ideal subject for radio commentary.

The man who realised this was Seymour de Lotbiniere - 'Lobby' to his friends - who went on to become an outstanding head of outside broadcasts at the BBC.

What he needed though, was an instrument to carry his vision out, and he found that in Howard Marshall.

Marshall had been a good club cricketer, an Oxford rugby blue and captain of Harlequins.

Then, having trained as a journalist, he came to the BBC in 1927, and in the early thirties was let loose on cricket commentaries.

His measured tones were perfect for the game and his style was - at a time when even interviews were scripted - conversational.

He operated alone - with only an engineer to back him up - until 1934, when he acquired the services of a scorer, but carried on without an expert summariser.

Marshall makes every ball bowled so fertile with meaning that any wireless set may make a subtle cricket student of anybody
Edmund Blunden, a poet

His descriptive powers took him to the Normandy beaches in 1944 as a war reporter.

Relationships with the cricket authorities in those pioneering days of broadcasting were not always smooth and, for a time, he was forced to do all his reports from a flat near Lord's.

On one such occasion, arriving in the nick of time for a report, he started as the girl in the next flat began practising her scales on the piano.

Marshall fought manfully through his first minute before the engineer found the pianist and silenced her.

His descriptive powers took him to the Normandy beaches in 1944 as a war reporter.

And, though he did commentate on some of the Victory Tests in the following year, he had moved on to grander things in the BBC when real Test cricket resumed.

But a listen to his delivery now, suggests that he would still not be out of place in a Test Match Special box - where the occupants owe him an historical debt.

Perhaps his best epitaph was written during the war by the poet, Edmund Blunden:

"And then on the air, Mr Howard Marshall makes every ball bowled, every shifting of a fieldsman so fertile with meaning that any wireless set may make a subtle cricket student of anybody."

Today's commentators would settle for that.



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