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  Wednesday, 16 May, 2001, 13:36 GMT 14:36 UK
John Arlott: A poet
John Arlott's voice is still fresh in the memory
John Arlott's voice is still fresh in the memory
By Test Match Special producer Peter Baxter

John Arlott was many things - a poet, author, wine connoisseur - but above all a cricket broadcaster.

He was born of humble beginnings in 1914 in Basingstoke and brought up in the local cemetery superintendent's lodge.

Amongst his early jobs was that of diet clerk at the local psychiatric hospital.


The stroke of a man knocking a thistle top off with a walking stick
John Arlott on Clive Lloyd
During the war he served in the Hampshire police and it was while still a policeman that his early poetic works came to the attention of John Betjeman.

Betjeman became his mentor and it was he who led John into joining the BBC in 1945 as the poetry producer of the World Service's Eastern Service.

Cricket had been a passion from his early days.

One of the attractions of the police force was the facility to play.

Now poetry and cricket could combine, with the arrival of the Indian touring team in 1946.

The young Eastern Service producer was despatched to cover the tour and the BBC's man in Delhi reported to Bush House a delighted audience response.

By the following summer what was to become the sound of summer - the unique Arlott Hampshire burr - was on the domestic radio airwaves where it stayed for 34 years.

John's last broadcast was in 1980, but that remarkable low rumbling voice is still fresh in the memory of those who heard it.

And the style of commentary owed much to the poet in John.

He would relish the phrases he used to describe what he saw and leave his colleagues wishing they could have thought of them.

The picture he conjured of Clive Lloyd pulling a ball into the Mound Stand at Lord's in 1975 as "The stroke of a man knocking a thistle top off with a walking stick" is a gem.

The BBC flew him to Australia in 1977 to commentate on the Centenary Test in Melbourne, where he described "the seagulls standing in line like vultures for Lillee".

He had covered cricket tours early in his career, but was uncomfortable in heat and his one visit to South Africa turned him into a passionate anti-apartheid campaigner, which led to his part in bringing Basil D'Oliveira to Worcestershire from Cape Town.

When he did his last Test Match commentary during the Lord's Centenary Test Match in 1980, the players of both sides joined the crowd in turning to the commentary box to applaud.

Surely a unique tribute.


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