On Tour With Compton Pt. 2 : How To Deal With The Press

If, as expected, England complete a Famous Victory tomorrow, they may be tempted to let their hair down a bit (except for Monty Panesar, I suppose).  I doubt whether there are many dwarf-throwing bars in Mumbai, nor pedaloes, but, even if there were, my understanding is that the team will be pretty much confined to barracks and their celebrations will have to consist of raiding the mini-bar, pigging out on Quality Street and staying up past their bedtimes playing Championship Manager.

Things were very different on the 1950-51 tour of Australia (which we lost 4-1), as our next extract from Denis Compton’s autobiography demonstrates.  England were captained on this tour by Freddie Brown, described by Tom Graveney as being ‘a very-stuck up individual – at least when he was sober’ (so hardly stuck-up at all).  The English press were more-or-less what we would now call ’embedded’, in that E.W. Swanton would usually have a few stiff ones at the close of play with FRB and could be relied upon to keep shtum about any off-field incidents.  The Australian press, unfortunately, were a different kettle of fish and were inclined to take a mean advantage by putting the worst possible interpretation on events.

For instance, when, as he recounts in his own autobiography, FRB was involved in a car crash on the evening of the fourth day of the Adelaide Test and had to miss the fifth day, there were suggestions that drink had been involved, whereas he had simply been “dining with General Sir Willoughby and Lady Norrie at Government House”, in the company of the tour manager Brigadier Green.  So you can see why Compton might have gone to such lengths to throw the reptiles of the press off the scent, when the following incident occurred:

“It was Christmas-time in Melbourne, and I was at a party at the home of Bill Gluth, an old friend of mine, with Freddie Brown, Godfrey Evans, Cyril Washbrook and Major-General Jim Cassels and others.  It was a pleasant, hot southern summer’s night, and at about eleven o’clock we were all sitting on the lawn.  The drinks were going round hospitably and Bill said to me, ‘Denis, would you like another drink?’ 

I gave a Christmas reply and answered, ‘Yes, please’, and as I did so I half turned towards my host.  Unhappily, just near where I was sitting, there was a tap of the kind which many a gardener has in his lawn for convenience in watering it and the garden.  I struck my right eyebrow on the tap and ripped it open, and very quickly I could feel the warm blood truckling down into my eye. 

Of course Freddie Brown and I had enough experience of the Press … to know that if they got hold of the story that Denis Compton had a cut eye, or a damaged eye, or a black eye, they would very quickly draw the most improbable inferences, from his having been mixed up in a brawl to being challenged to a duel by an angry husband.  We discussed it for a while and decided that I should put on a pair of dark glasses and the next day catch a later plane to Sydney. 

I got to Sydney all right and … in my dark glasses I went unobserved to the hotel and straight to bed.  By this time Keith Miller, who was with the Sydney Sun, had got wind of what had happened and had organised a little surprise for me.

Next morning I had just woken up and was still unshaved, lying in my bed, when somebody knocked at the door, said ‘Denis’ loudly, and then flung it open, and as I turned took a photograph of me.  It was a photographer from the Sydney Sun.

The photograph was front page in the Sydney Sun and in the press in this country.  It is an interesting photograph.  It could correct any over-flattering impressions which certain rather better known pictures in underground stations and other places may have created in people’s minds about how I look.  In this one I looked like a gangster, or a murderer at large.  It’s an adults only picture.”

Unfortunately, news management was in its infancy in 1950 …

“I wasn’t much helped by a statement which Brigadier Green, our manager, decided to make; by the time he’d finished seeing the gentlemen from the Press I had lost any chance of making anyone believe that which I said had happened really had happened.

In a moment of aberration he told them, simply, without circumstance, that Denis Compton had caught his eye on a waterspout.  Because it was higher, he evidently considered a waterspout more credible.

I could see unbelief in people’s eyes: “Waterspout … waterspout indeed …”.

I’m sure that, if anything untoward were to happen tomorrow night, Andy Flower and Team England would be able to put a much more positive spin on it than that.

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