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Solid and Dependable
on 11 June 2012
I start by declaring that I am a fan of CMJ. It was a very sad start to 2013 to learn of his death from cancer. His gentle, amiable style, his love of his family and the game of cricket are all features of this book which now stands as a memory of the man.
My overriding impression of CMJ from this book is of a thoroughly decent man. It is easy in the modern era to deride some of the qualities he espouses but I share his view on matters such as the importance of grammar.
I also found myself agreeing with many of his observations about broadcasting and I echo his sentiments that the surrender of BBC Radio Sport to the god of Premiership Football is very sad. It always seemed to me that information about live sport (like the latest cricket scores - but it could equally apply to tennis or golf or horse racing) should be given prominence ahead of the fact that a football player will miss a forthcoming game because of some minor injury. The intrusion of the "expert summariser" into commentary often makes it like listening to two people having a chat - and the number of times this results in the commentator having to interrupt to tell us that he just failed to describe a goal to us is astonishing. And so with cricket. Summarisers used to proffer their opinion at the end of each over and leave the commentator to paint the picture. Whilst I would not suggest, especially in an era of fewer overs per day, a return to such an approach a greater degree of restraint from the expert would be welcome.
CMJ laments the decline in the reporting of the County Game. So do I - but there is a faint glimmer of hope on the horizon. The use of the additional BBC Channel Five Live Sports Extra seems to have increased and I was able recently to spend a car journey listening to a decent commentary on Somerset v Durham.
The art of the short report is also under threat. I did a spell of about five years of freelance cricket reporting for the BBC. My producer (also a freelance) gave me a simple brief for the 30 or 60 second reports which were a staple diet of the station's coverage. It's simple he said. Score In, sum up highlights since last report, any special highlights for new listeners and score out. So upon receiving cue the ideal was to say "Yorkshire are now 100 for 3 off 24 overs in reply to Kent's 256 all out". In fact one learned that the cross over to the ground didn't always work smoothly so it was best to insert a few words which didn't matter if they were lost in the ether. So "Welcome back to sunny Headingly where Yorkshire are ..." was the best technique. And then when you've finished describing the latest action hand back with the score so that listeners who missed it at the beginning now have it. I have lost count of the number of times I have shouted (useless I know) at a reporter who launches into a description of the two wickets which have fallen in the last half hour but doesn't tell me the score. Just tell me the score! I can probably work out as well as the reporter what it means in the context of the game.
But I digress. The book is an enjoyable dip into a long career including some interesting insights into the behind the scenes activity in both BBC radio and major newspapers. Both have their share of backbiting and unpleasant characters. There are also brief vignettes about the various countries in the world that CMJ has visited to watch and report upon cricket. But the thing which comes across most strongly in this book is his devotion to his wife and family and his fatherly pride in the achievements of his children.
So it's a decent book by a thoroughly decent chap.
I was tempted to downgrade my rating to three stars because of some appalling proof reading errors. I may be wrong about this but I get the impression that the book may have been dictated perhaps due to the illness. But I can't believe that a man of the erudition of CMJ would spell comatose as comitose (p246) or write "but I strong mind" rather than "a strong mind" (p340). There are at least three other similar howlers. As I say I can readily forgive CMJ for this if it is a consequence of his illness but the publishers have no excuse - and even without employing a proof reader a basic spell check on the manuscript would have picked up comitose immediately.