Full name Norman Alan Stanley Gibson
Born May 28, 1923, Sheffield
Died April 10, 1997, Taunton (aged 73 years 317 days)
Other Commentator, Journalist, Author
Education Taunton School; Oxford University
Alan Gibson was one of the most remarkable men ever to broadcast or write about cricket. He was president of the Oxford Union and gained a first in history. Perhaps no one has brought more literacy or classical knowledge to the reporting of any game. Men with his background expect to become cabinet ministers at least, and Gibson often seemed conscious of this; a sense of failure may explain the demons that regularly afflicted him. He came from an unmoneyed background - his father was a Baptist preacher - and joined BBC West Region in 1948 in search of security. It became clear that he was a natural broadcaster, with a honeyed voice, a wonderful sense of cadence, a turn of phrase and an eye for the telling detail. In 1962 he was finally promoted to Test Match Special. When Gibson commentated on the same match as John Arlott, listeners were given a stream of description, wit, and both general and cricketing erudition that remains unsurpassed. Unfortunately, Gibson had the same weakness as Arlott without the same capacity to conceal it. Finally, the incidents of drunkenness on air became too reckless, and he was dropped - without ever being told why. He did, however, have a second flowering as his county match reports in The Times attained cult status. He described his experience at or going to the cricket with occasional, tangential references to the actual game. There was generally some disastrous experience to report from Didcot Station, where he usually had to change trains. There was the mysterious GRIP (The Glorious Red-headed Imperturbable Pamela), the barmaid in the Hammond Bar at Bristol. And he baffled Peter Lees, who ran the press bar at Lord's, by rechristening him Bardolph. The overall result was usually uproarious. He was, however, capable of ignoring some peripheral event like a century or a hat-trick; and as the years went by, humourless sub-editors lost patience.
Despite his taste for drink - perhaps a reaction against his Nonconformist background - Gibson was not a clubbable man. He rarely went into press boxes, and would sit alone, fending off bores, writing his copy in fountain pen while nursing a gigantic whisky, cleverly diluted so that it looked like a half of lager. Eventually, after his second marriage had broken down, he drifted into a nursing home, and in the last years the shadows took over. Much of his life - Didcot might have been a metaphor - was a source of torment as well as humour. He had a spell in a psychiatric hospital, which he wrote about in his autobiography A Mingled Yarn. His history, The Cricket Captains of England, was a wonderful read. He was a Liberal candidate in the 1959 election and remained a Baptist lay preacher. Gibson spoke at Sir Neville Cardus's memorial service in 1975 and read from William Blake:
Joy and woe are woven fine
A clothing for the soul divine
Under every grief and pine
Runs a thread of silken twine.
It perhaps summed up Alan Gibson's own life better than Sir Neville's.
Wisden Cricketers' Almanack