All first-class cricket grounds these days have a sign outside saying “Importation of alcohol strictly forbidden”. The only exception, I believe, is Lord’s itself, the MCC having obtained some kind of Special Dispensation. The consumption of alcohol, on the other hand, is positively encouraged, not least by the numerous posters advertising Marston’s – official beer suppliers to the England side. It’s just that it has to be bought from the various bars in the grounds, so maximising revenue.
My feeling has always been that, although watching cricket and drinking oneself insensible are both worthwhile activities, they don’t mix very well. Others, clearly, take a different view, and, indeed, many spectators at test matches seem to regard the opportunity to go on an eight-hour bender as the primary attraction.
Another who seems to have felt that the great game is best viewed through a mist of alcohol was C.B. Fry, according to the brief biography by his secretary Denzil Batchelor (“the wittiest man in London”). In a chapter entitled “Magnifico in Olympus” (a title which hints at the tone of the work) DB describes Fry reporting on a day’s cricket (I believe for the Evening Standard).
Apart from “a copy of Herodotus, a box of Henry Clay cigars” Fry takes with him “reserve hampers of hock and chicken sandwiches in case there has been a strike of caterers“. At twelve he has “the cocktail a visitor from Mars has introduced into the box: a straightforward tumbler filled with equal measures of gin and whisky which as soon as it has been christened a Bamboo-shoot is somehow accepted by the company as innocent to the point of being non-alcoholic.”
For lunch he has “lobsters with that fine Traminer ’26”, and then, no doubt, it’s back to the Bamboo Shoots. Martineau reports that “I had a rather bored lady in tow when I ran into Charles. He thought of a way of mellowing this gelid Diana … he sent a page to the Langham … to fetch a bottle of Liebfraumilch of a vintage which he considered to be worthy of the occasion. The boy … was given strict instructions to drive back in a taxi which never exceeded fifteen miles an hour … The lady drank the great wine with an air of condescension. She said she had always liked Alsatian wines and could not understand why all her friends affected to despise them.”
And all this before he heading out for an evening’s dancing until three in the morning.
There’s no doubt that, in later life, Fry’s behaviour became increasingly erratic. He decided, for instance, that he could best contribute to the war effort by offering himself – in his sixties – as a coal miner. He expresssed some questionable political views. He ran naked along the sea-front at Brighton. One can’t help wondering if his alcoholic intake may have contributed to this in some way.
One cannot help but wonder too whether a bottle of Liebfraumilch would be enough to unfreeze today’s gelid lady – though he wouldn’t have had to send a page out to the Langham for it, the nearest branch of Lidl would do. But perhaps Liebfraumilch was a different drink in those days?