Friday 27 May 2011 

Wodehouse At The Wicket - Murray Hedgcock (ed.)

Wodehouse At The Wicket - Murray Hedgcock (ed.)
Wodehouse At The Wicket - Murray Hedgcock (ed.)
 

‘Sublime comic genius’ Ben Elton

‘P.G. Wodehouse wrote the best English comic novels of the century’ Sebastian Faulk

‘The funniest writer ever to put words to paper’ Hugh Laurie

‘Witty and effortlessly fluid. His books are laugh-out-loud funny’ Arabella Weir

‘Not only the funniest English novelist who ever wrote but one of our finest stylists.’ Susan Hill

‘It’s dangerous to use the word genius to describe a writer, but I'll risk it with him.’ John Humphrys

‘P.G. Wodehouse remains the greatest chronicler of a certain kind of Englishness, that no one else has ever captured quite so sharply, or with quite as much wit and affection.’ Julian Fellowes

‘You don’t analyse such sunlit perfection, you just bask in its warmth and splendour.’ Stephen Fry

WODEHOUSE AT THE WICKET is much more than a charming assembly of some of the best writings on cricket by the
master humorist of Twentieth Century English literature, a cricket-lover all his long life.

As well as extracts from Wodehouse novels, short stories, articles and poems - some appearing in book form for the first time - WODEHOUSE AT THE WICKET includes a long introduction by Murray Hedgcock, setting out the particular place cricket held in the life of Pelham Grenville Wodehouse, from his days as an enthusiastic Dulwich College First XI member, and a young man playing in the Golden Age of Edwardian England, to include a study of his writings on cricket, and his love affair with the game which endured throughout his years in America.

He played at Lord’s no fewer than six time for The Authors; he was a founder member of the Hollywood Cricket Club - and he never lost his feeling for the summer game on which he had been brought up, and in which he had been an enthusiastic fast bowler and occasionally successful batsman.  Admittedly he found baseball refreshingly straightforward and rewarding in his American years - but he always kept a sharp and affectionate eye on the game of his youth, even becoming intrigued by the advance of one-day cricket.

WODEHOUSE AT THE WICKET also throws fascinating light on the 1936-37 MCC tour of Australia, when the Sydney-born England captain, Gubby Allen, after winning the first two Tests, lost the next three and the chance of regaining the Ashes - thanks largely to the genius of Don Bradman.  Allen was bitter about the way his team had played, as he explained to Wodehouse when spending some time with him in Hollywood on the way back to England.  And he complained that Australian cricket authorities had tried to foist on him an umpire the England team believed had actually cheated in an early tour match.

Murray Hedgcock, Australian-born, London-based cricket and Wodehouse enthusiast, analyses the evidence for this extraordinary claim, recording that the umpire accused did not stand in the games Allen cites - nor did he umpire a Test in the entire series.  So was Allen misguided, or misquoted?  We will never know - but it is an intriguing sidelight on the untold stories inside international cricket.

Great names stride through the pages of WODHOUSE AT THE WICKET, ranging from Wodehouse’s first captain at Lord’s, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who once bowled W G Grace, to the legendary Sir Charles Aubrey Smith.  A Wodehouse opponent on that Lord’s occasion in 1905, a few years after captaining the first England team in South Africa, he was later to be a screen star and guiding spirit of the Hollywood CC alongside screenwriter Wodehouse.

Lord’s was the most famous stage for Wodehouse the player: the most improbable must have been the grounds of a former lunatic asylum in Tost, in Upper Silesia, where he was bowling legbreaks in an improvised match under the puzzled eye of German guards, when word came from the Nazi authorities that he was to be freed from internment, four months before his 60th birthday.

The wide range of Wodehouse material included in masterly as ever, demonstrating a shrewd and certain touch with its cricket, even if the behaviour of men and maidens of the short stories rings strangely, almost a century on from their first appearance in their Edwardian settings.  But there are very modern touches too - such as the account of a prying reporter spotting a romantic interlude in the pavilion at Lord’s, which was promptly paraded by his newspaper, suggesting that today’s tabloid excesses had a forerunner back in the Fleet Street of 1906.

And if the England selectors are looking for help in salvaging something from a disappointing 1997 Ashes series, then they might like to read ‘How to be a Fast Bowler’, ghosted by Wodehouse in 1907 for his old Dulwich First XI team-mate Neville Knox - just ten weeks before Knox made his Test debut against South Africa.

There is also a sharp reminder of the way cricket history can repeat itself, in this summer when Radley and Marlborough called off sporting contact because Marlborough refused to declare, complaining of sledging by the opposition.  Wodehouse tells of a public school eleven batting throughout a one-day match, and not declaring, because the opposition housemaster was so disliked.

WODEHOUSE AT THE WICKET is the first book to tell the full story of P.G. Wodehouse as cricketer, cricketwriter, and cricketlover, with the unique bonus of a miscellany of The Master’s matchless writings on the topic - from sparkling fiction to informative fact.