This week saw the 48th anniversary of the death of Winston Churchill (the first public event I think I can remember). One aspect of Sir Winston’s character that is seldom remarked upon is his love of cricket, mainly, I think, because he had none.
Stanley Baldwin was married to a useful cricketer, sometimes sported an I Zingari tie and liked to employ cricket as a metaphor for his own (in retrospect) benign brand of conservatism: ‘Lord’s changes but Lord’s remains the same’ he said poetically ‘how unchanging is each phase of the ever changing game.’ On the other side of the House, Clement Attlee (supposedly) kept a tickertape machine in his office so that he could keep up with the cricket scores and was complimented (well, I’d say it’s a compliment) by Aneurin Bevan on bringing to ‘the fierce struggle of politics the tepid enthusiasm of a lazy summer afternoon at a cricket match‘.
But (though I’m willing to be contradicted) I can find no evidence that Churchill ever expressed any enthusiasm for the game, ever employed it as a metaphor or even attended a game. Why was this?
Well, he clearly got off on the wrong foot in relation to the game. (Is that a cricketing metaphor, by the way? I’m not sure.) As a schoolboy at Harrow he fagged for both F.S. Jackson and the (always ‘autocratic’) A.C. MacLaren who, when asked by an interviewer what Churchill had been like, replied “a snotty little bugger”. There are also (unsourced) claims on the internet that one of his earliest memories was of hiding behind a tree while the other boys threw cricket balls at him.
But even after this prejudicial start I believe the Great Man might have come to appreciate the Great Game had it not been for a later incident involving a third Future England Captain, which may well have been enough to put him off for life, or even end it. Step forward Lionel Tennyson, in another extract from ‘Sticky Wickets‘.
“One friend of mine at Eton was Duff Cooper, who later became Under Secretary for War and our Ambassador in Paris, and husband of the beautiful Lady Diana Manners. They and I and other Eton friends and their sisters were more than once guests together at Taplow Court, the home on the bank of the Thames of the late Lord Desborough. Those were happy days and they give me another link with then and now.
One lovely summer evening during the session of Parliament, Mr. Winston Churchill had come down from London still attired in what was then – as in contrast with now – the usual Parliamentary costume. He wore a top hat, frock coat, stiff shirt and collar. Standing on the bank of the Thames, which runs past the foot of the garden, before the dressing bell rang, Mr. Churchill was talking to Lady Desborough. The sight of him orating and gesticulating in those clothes so near to the water was too great a temptation for us to resist. Charging altogether from behind him, a few of us sent him flying with a mighty splash into the river.
He was very sporting about it. When he came ashore, soaked and without his hat, he interceded for us with Lady Desborough in an address which I have never heard excelled for humour and the arts of advocacy.”
A good job Churchill could swim, of course, otherwise – thanks to Tennyson – we might all be speaking German now.