Torn for his bad verses : John Snow meets the critics

Back to John Snow for a moment.

Snow’s verses did not meet with universal approval from the dreaded Poetry Establishment, who, in those days, could be a rough lot when riled, as the following clip illustrates.

This is from England’s 1970-71 Ashes tour of Australia, when Snow was subjected to a fusillade of bottles and cans thrown by spectators, one of whom tried to pull him over the boundary rope and assault him. 

The usual explantion for this incident is that the bottle-chuckers were Australian cricket fans incensed by Snow’s felling of tail-ender Terry Jenner.  The truth is that the trouble was started by a group of English poets and critics who happened to be visiting Australia on a British Council tour and  had decided to come down to the ground to remonstrate with Snow about the quality of his versifying.

The first bottles are believed to have been thrown by Sir Stephen Spender, who had been getting stuck into the  tinnies since shortly after breakfast and had been taunting Snow with cries such as  “Oi, Snow – your diction’s archaic and your scansion’s all over the shop“.  Ted Hughes, who had a marked influence on the commentary style of Geoffrey Boycott, joined in with comments such as “Call yourself a poet?  Mah old moom could have written that wi’  a stick of rhooobarb!”.

Things turned really ugly when Snow began to answer back, saying to Spender “Your best work was done in the ‘thirties.  Why don’t you just give up!” and “You’d never have got anywhere without your pal Auden!”.  Inevitably Spender invited Snow to “Come here and say that!” – he did so and ugly scenes ensued.  The man who grabs Snow and tries to drag him into the crowd is believed to have been the notoriously belligerent critic Geoffrey Grigson.   

(This clip isn’t from my usual suppliers – Youtube – but seems to be kosher.  Doesn’t seem possible to embed it, but the link should work.  It all kicks off at about 1 minute 40 if you want to skip the cricket action).

Battle of the Bards

Cricket fans will note that the batsman who is beaned by Snow in the first part of the clip is Terry Jenner who, after a varied career, including a spell in prison, went on to mentor Shane Warne.  Perhaps it would have been better to have annoyed someone else, in retrospect.


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