Henry ‘Blowers’ Blofeld putting on a show for his ‘dear old things’

Blofeld and Baxter

Blofeld and Baxter - Credit: Archant

Ever wanted to know what goes on behind the scenes on Test Match Special? Peter Baxter and Henry Blofeld will spill the beans at Cheltenham’s Everyman Theatre later this month. Cricket fan Sue Limb got Blowers on the blower.

Henry Blofeld

Henry Blofeld - Credit: Archant

Sometimes icy but always blossomy, April brings the opening overs of the cricket season: touring West Indian teams have been seen taking to the field in gloves and mufflers. I’ve been a cricket fan since 1961, when I got a schoolgirl crush on Richie Benaud, the visiting Aussie captain. It’s an odd feeling when your teenage heartthrob becomes an octogenarian, but these things happen.

My favourite pairing on TMS is Henry Blofeld with Phil Tufnell: it’s almost like eavesdropping on a toff’s day out with his valet. Although Blowers quips: “The trouble is, people can’t tell us apart.”

TMS has always been democratic: jovial Etonians such as Brian Johnston and Blowers, and rough diamonds such as Tufnell and Fred Trueman. Johnston was so oily, and sour old Trueman so vinegary, that when they shared the mike it was like a wonderful salad dressing. And then of course there was the mellifluous Hampshire purr of John Arlott, the most poetic of commentators.

I’ll never forget his commentary on David Gower’s debut. “What a princely entry!” he growled. And when Goldilocks Gower hit his first ball for four, Arlott continued, “And if that doesn’t make him feel better he’s a very odd young man indeed.” This year is the 100th anniversary of Arlott’s birth, and the first anniversary of the death of Christopher Martin-Jenkins: both sadly missed on TMS.

Blowers joined the TMS team in 1972, and took his place in this glorious pantheon of English eccentrics. But in recent years he has developed a whole new enterprise: evenings of laughter and reminiscence in theatres up and down the land.

“I’ve played twice at The Everyman,” Blowers told me. “In fact, my very first show was at The Everyman.” He loves the idyllic Cheltenham College cricket ground too, where our Cheltenham Cricket Festival takes place every July (14-27 this year: brush the cobwebs off your picnic hampers!)

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Blowers’s great charm is his carefree attitude, an infectious joie de vivre which seems effortless, though he admits that, though he has performed on stage hundreds of times, a live theatre evening keeps him on his toes. “Because, though there may only be a couple of hundred people there, you can see them, not like TMS, where two million might be listening, but you can’t see them.”

TMS has changed since he first picked up the microphone. “It’s more conversational and friendly now: ad lib broadcasting, really.” This gives Blowers the chance to share his glimpses of pigeons, buses, and ladies in pink dresses, all of which adds to the festive atmosphere.

English cricket is going through a challenging time at the moment, after our thrashing Down Under, but Blowers is optimistic that things will improve. “There’s no magic wand, but good young players will come along, of course they will, and we’ll recover.”

One day cricket and Twenty20, however, are suffering from the greedy intrusion of big business, though Blowers acknowledges that cricket “has always been the poor relation of major sports – perhaps because it never crossed the Atlantic.” However, the financial excesses of the IPL and the huge international betting industry which has mushroomed in recent years, does not meet with his approval. “The current Winner Takes All approach is not the happiest of philosophies,” he observes sharply.

However, Blowers remains the happiest of entertainers, and he promises that you don’t need to know anything about cricket to enjoy his show. “It’s all about laughter,” he says. “We don’t laugh enough.” Wonderful stories about legendary characters; jokes; secrets revealed; memories of high jinks in the TMS box: how can you possibly resist? Although you might just have to bring your own chocolate cake.


Blowers and Baxter: Memories of Test Match Special

Everyman Theatre, Cheltenham, April 26.

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