“This Gay Conception Died Far Too Young” : Robertson-Glasgow Looks Backwards And Forwards

There are people – let us, for the sake of argument, call them me – who dislike music at cricket matches.  Some of them dislike not only the sudden blasts that accompany boundaries and wickets at televised one dayers, but even the playing of  ‘Jerusalem’ before the start of international matches.  How much more dignified it would be if the players took the field to a polite ripple of applause and the faint susurrus of flicked-through Playfairs, they think.  Would anyone who remembered those days have hankered after musical accompaniment?

Well, apparently, yes.  This is from a collection of ‘lighter pieces’ from the Observer  by R.C. Robertson-Glasgow (writing in 1946).     

“Alas, for our decline from romance to utility.  When eight-five years ago, H.H. Stephenson took the first England cricket team to Australia, the band at Melbourne played their guests into the field to the strains of ‘God Save the Queen.’  Imagine a band at a modern Test Match.  I suppose it is conceivable, if they played ‘Rock of Ages’ and the ‘Dead March in Saul.‘  

Those same people are rather inclined to regret the advent of coloured clothing, and the numbering and naming of shirts.  I – I mean they – are also inclined (not entirely consistently) to complain that the wearing of helmets makes it difficult to tell which player is which.  But surely no-one with an ounce of poetry in their souls would, in the days when players were uniformly turned-out in crisp white flannels and severely classical caps, have wished it any different?  Well again, apparently, yes.     

‘With what finery, too, that first team cheered and enlightened the spectators.  Each English player wore a very light helmet-shaped hat, with a sash and hat-ribbon of a distinctive hue, corresponding to colours set down in the score-card against each man’s name.  This gay conception died far too young.  I like to fancy Hendren in heliotrope and Sutcliffe in sea-green.  Douglas Jardine did his best with his Harlequin cap, but by then most of the Australian spectators were beyond the emollient influence of bright colours.

England and most of the Counties have settled to the uniformity of the darker blues, though Surrey struggle on with chocolate brown, Worcestershire with green. It is left to the Schools and clubs to illuminate the darkness.  Rugby still take the field against Marlborough in light-blue shirts, and the I Zingari cap shines like a beacon in the mist.  But it must be admitted that, in modern cricket, versicolority is apt to be rated as a sign of incompetence, until the contrary is proved.’ 

It’s possible that Robertson-Glasgow – had he lived long enough – would have been an enthusiast for the astonishing versicolority and the dancing girls of the IPL.  Or, perhaps, there are those who will always be inclined to hanker after something better than what they have, and who will – if hankering after the future seems too hopeful –  hanker after the past.

H.H. Stephenson was the first man to be awarded a hat for taking three wickets in three balls, and ended his days as a coach at Uppingham School.  He died in Rutland.

This is the side he took on England’s first overseas tour, en route to the United States in 1859 (a couple of years before they first toured Australia).  Stephenson is fifth from the left.  They do look appealingly raffish – particularly, I suppose, when seen from the point of view of austerity-frozen 1946.

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6 thoughts on ““This Gay Conception Died Far Too Young” : Robertson-Glasgow Looks Backwards And Forwards

  1. Interesting.

    Personally, although I still like to think of myself as young (ish) and relatively in touch with ‘the modern game’, I’ve always found the use of music completely pointless and unnecessary. It was originally some marketing person’s idea – probably dating back to the genesis of the English T20 competition – of the way to liven up a sport which, as anybody who likes it would have been able to tell them, didn’t need livening up (or at least not in that way).

    In certain parts of the world, as illustrated recently on Sky, it seems to be catching on in the Test arena too. At times the Sri Lankan grounds sounded like a mediocre eighties disco was taking place.

    Few things on earth, though, are worse than the Barmy Army ‘singing’ (and here the word is used in the loosest sense imaginable) Jerusalem. What would ‘Crusoe’ have made of that?

    • I don’t really dislike the music that much, though, as I don’t have Sky, I’m shielded from most of it (they seem to filter it out on TMS). I’ve only really encountered it at Grace Road at televised CB40 matches and the one T20 match I saw (which I quite enjoyed). There it seemed to contribute to the sort of church fete aspect of the day, as though some would-be trendy curate had brought a mobile disco along, to go with the tombolas, facepainting & hogroasts. It did seem a bit silly to have a fanfare when someone had snicked it for four, and a bit insulting to have some mocking music when someone was out.

  2. I adore cricket and love music. My passion for music is strong enough to know that it sounds awful when played at an arena as open as a cricket ground. Badly reproduced music won’t liven up a game (even, as BC points out, if it needed livening up).

    More generally, you do a good job of reminding us that our traditions are neither as ancient, nor as fixed as traditionalists believe.

  3. Thanks, Chris. It is very striking that, if you read a lot of what was written about the game between the wars (and even up until the invention of one day cricket) you’ll find people hankering after the Golden Age (i.e. about 1890-1914) when games were briefer, batsmen more attacking and so on. On the other hand, I think the relationship between cricket and nostalgia is a complex one, and I think it’s inarguable that – for instance – county cricket was of a better quality in the ’70s than it is now.

    I do have a theory that people who’ve lead genuinely wild lives (John Paul Getty, Mick Jagger and so on) tend to prefer the more traditional form of the game, whereas the ones advocating jazzing the thing up tend to be rather staid.

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