Martin Chandler |
Author: Pearson, Harry
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Rating: 4 stars
Harry Pearson has written a number of books, but only three on cricket before this one. Two of these previous titles have won awards including one, an excellent biography by Learie Constantine, which I reviewed here. I haven’t read the other beloved book yet, Slipless to Settlebut can also attest to the quality of the third party, Trundersa tribute to the game’s great mid-pace bowlers.
The rest of Pearson’s work appears to be books on the subjects of football or travel, and he had a long career as a newspaper columnist and writer to accompany the books. This time around he has returned to writing cricket and his native Yorkshire, although given the splendid title he found it is obvious.
As for what type of book First summer wine is it covers a couple of genres. The starting point could be to say that this is a triple biography of this great triumvirate of Yorkshire all-rounders George Hirst, Wilfred Rhodes and Schofield Haigh, but at the same time it is sort of a a history of Yorkshire cricket between 1891 (when Hirst made his debut) and 1930 (when Rhodes finally quit his first-class career).
Throughout the book, the main subjects are referred to by their colloquial names, so it is ‘George Herbert’, ‘Wilfred’ and ‘Schof’, rather than Hirst, Rhodes and Haigh. The result is an affectionate and very readable portrait of three very good cricketers and interesting men. It has nothing to do with the full Rhodes biography that came out recently, but maybe for some it will be a stepping stone to it. Somewhat surprisingly, particularly in the case of the former, neither Hirst nor Haigh has been the subject of a full biography before.
As good a writer as a writer can be, they will always struggle, certainly in a non-fiction setting, if their research isn’t good enough. As a result of the task he undertakes, there’s a good chance that Pearson will come loose there, but I doubt he did, given that he managed to avoid three particular pitfalls for which I kept my eyes open.
Any detailed examination of Rhodes’ role in the history of Yorkshire cricket demands a mention of his predecessor, Bobby Peel, who in turn raises the question of the cause of Peel’s sacking by Yorkshire in 1897. Unlike a number of accounts, Lord Hawke did not apprehend Peel. urinate on the field and Pearson lays out precisely what really happened. Similarly, the events behind Herbert Sutcliffe’s appointment as Yorkshire captain, and his subsequent withdrawal from accepting the offer, are often misunderstood.
For the reality behind the stories of Peel and Sutcliffe, we have much to thank for the painstaking research of Irving Rosenwater. Not Arthur Gilligan, a former England and Sussex skipper who is often pilloried for his fascist beliefs. Gilligan finds his way into Rhodes history because of his leadership of the Ashes party from 1924/25, which was led by another man with fascist leanings, Frederick Toone, a longtime Yorkshire secretary and a man with whom Rhodes did not didn’t have a good relationship. . Pearson, unlike many writers, draws an important distinction between the British Union of Fascists and the organization of which Gilligan and Toone were members, the short-lived British Fascists, which Pearson quite appropriately describes as little more than an adult version of the Boy Scouts.
The research may not be perfect though, although that’s not an ‘accusation’. Pearson writes, in the context of the historical we will have them in singles partnership between Hirst and Rhodes in 1902 that the tension at the Oval was such that a member of the Surrey flag was chewing on the handle of his umbrella. That one is a story I had only heard before in the context of the famous 1882 Oval Test that started the legend of the Ashes, though that’s not to say it didn’t happen again twenty years later.
First summer wine is a book that I have no doubt will be there or thereabouts when the various 2022 Sportsbook Awards are presented. There are two reasons for this belief. The first is the simple fact that, like Pearson’s previous books, this one is beautifully written. The second is, in its own way, a little more prosaic. By being neither (complete biographies or complete history), Pearson is free to skate over the dullest moments his subjects vomit on, and on the other hand becomes discursive when, as he often does , he meets men or moments in his career that fascinate him, even if they have only a limited relationship with his main themes. The fascinating chapter, The problem with Mr. To oneis the best example.