Tuesday, 6 April 2010

He was an Englishman

The death of Sir Alec Bedser will have provoked great sadness amongst many over the Easter weekend, in particular those of my father’s generation who can remember his cricketing heroics against the Australians in various titanic Ashes battles in the late 40s and 50s.

I am unfortunately too young to remember, my recollections sadly limited to his later years when he seemed to embody something which seems increasingly lost. A former colleague of mine was once described by a mutual friend as, “the sort of chap who could walk into any bar in any city in the world and the regulars would immediately know he was an Englishman.” The same could be said of Bedser.

I almost met him once. I had arranged to play 36 holes of golf at West Hill Golf Club in Surrey, one of the great triumvirate of Surrey courses along with Woking and Worplesdon. This part of Surrey always seems lost in a timewarp to me, stuck in a 1930s world of narrow country lanes, sub-post offices and warm beer. All three golf clubs are much the same.

At lunch we adjourned to the bar for a sandwich. Whilst my playing partner ordered I glanced around the single storey clubhouse and my eyes alighted on Bedser, sitting beneath his portrait, playing bridge on a wooden card table with his twin brother Eric, whilst sipping from a glass of claret. To this day, I cannot think of a more quintessentially English scene. I half expected to hear the distant roar of a Spitfire and the wireless sparking into life with Neville Chamerlain’s fateful words, “I have to tell you now that no such undertaking has been received, and that consequently this country is at war with Germany”.

I wanted to go over there and tell him that my father still talks about the 1953 Ashes series in which he took 39 wickets to regain the urn for the first time in 20 years since the infamous Bodyline tour, but I didn’t. Who was I, a mere mortal, to interrupt the deliberations of a cricketing God?

My friend and I resumed our match and, once finished, we went back into the clubhouse for a quick drink. Sir Alec had gone, home for dinner, something traditionally English presumably, like roast beef and Yorkshire pudding.

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