England news April 16, 2013

CMJ remembered at St Paul's memorial

Two thousand eminent cricketers, long-standing colleagues and mere devotees of Test Match Special came together to honour the career of lengendary broadcaster and journalist

It was rather more than a warm-up act for Lady Thatcher's funeral. The service to celebrate Christopher Martin-Jenkins' long and distinguished career as a broadcaster and writer, but all too short a life, was held on what, for a change, could be termed a spring day. Some 2,000 eminent cricketers, long-standing colleagues and mere devotees of Test Match Special went to St Paul's and then, some of them, on to a reception at Lord's. Who else can have been honoured at two such cathedrals on one day?

The Dean, David Ison, conducted the hour-long service, supported by - among other clergy - Canon Andrew Wingfield Digby, aggressive fast bowler turned England chaplain. Sir Tim Rice spoke of Martin-Jenkins' MCC presidency and his love of the game; Jonathan Agnew of his outstanding ability as a broadcaster and Peter Nott, the former Bishop of Norwich, of the faith of the young Cambridge under-graduate. CMJ, who died on New Year's Day at the age of 67, never lost that faith.

Everywhere you looked, there was a famous face. Rice, indeed, will be returning for Lady Thatcher's service, which will most certainly not feature clips in which the featured commentator is impersonating a Dalek. John Snow lopped in to the great cathedral, still looking fit enough to take the new ball. Derek Underwood was his vivacious self in the Long Room Bar later when told of a sighting of Alan Knott in troubled Cyprus. J.S.E. Price, he of the curving long run, similarly looked untouched by the passing years. Richard Hutton, whose link with CMJ was through The Cricketer as well as having played for England, held court in the Long Room. Any number of MCC administrators and officials swirled around.

CMJ's family, of course, took a proper part in the order of service. James Martin-Jenkins, not so tall as his father or brother Robin but instantly recognisable when he began to speak, delivered John Betjeman's 'Seaside Golf' in tribute to CMJ's second passion, culminating in that great line "And splendour, splendour everywhere." This might as well have been a poem written from the deckchairs at Hove. Robin recited 'Forefathers' by Edmund Blunden:

'On the green they watched their sons
Playing all too dark to see.'

It was not hard to conjure up the image of CMJ, sitting on a bench on some rustic ground in Sussex, keeping a paternal eye on his sons' progress at the wicket while gloaming descended. Lucy, his daughter, whose marriage last year her father was able to attend, was present. Daughters-in-law and grandchildren abounded. Judy, Christopher's widow, looked characteristically serene and elegant in a deep blue suit and black hat.

The music - Dvorak, Mozart and Elgar beforehand - and the choir were, it need hardly be said, commensurate with the traditions of Christian worship that has been offered to God for more than 1,400 years on this very site. All to honour "a true Christian gentleman" as Nott called him. CMJ's faith survived the fact that he was, apparently, "not the most outwardly pious of students after years of school chapel."

Graeme Walker, one of CMJ's old teachers at Marlborough College, arrived early and recalled how his pupil had overcome dyslexia as a boy - doubtless through the determination he displayed throughout his career. Agnew, in his tribute, reckoned that no-one else had gained a more extensive experience of cricket commentary nor written more words on the game. "His words created a beautifully detailed and perfectly framed snapshot."

CMJ, Agnew said, was described perfectly by his friend Mike Selvey as having been "cricket's greatest friend." There is a tendency in such tributes to state that the coverage of cricket will never quite be the same again - Colin Cowdrey said as much of CMJ's mentor, E.W. Swanton - but somehow, in this setting, and having listened to CMJ's descriptions of Geoff Boycott and Sachin Tendulkar reaching centuries, this rang true.

There was the odd solemn note and not quite so many tales of hapless use of mobiles and television zappers as appeared in the many obituaries. Rice, a trustee of MCC at the time of CMJ's presidency, felt that the role, honorary but increasingly arduous amid the quicker pace of life that is to be observed even in the pavilion at Lord's, had taken too much out of him towards the end of his life when the club's redevelopment plans were becoming de-railed. "Christopher was a gentle, considerate man of charm, impeccable manners and shambolic in terms of anything electronic."

It was telling, Rice believed, that the favourite player of CMJ's youth was not some heavy run-scorer in the 1950s but Tom Graveney, who, before he returned triumphantly to the England side in 1966 was not an established Test cricketer. "Tom's grace, elegance and art were what Christopher wished to emulate."

As a broadcaster, which was the talent for which he will be primarily remembered, CMJ, according to Rice, "represented a brilliant balance between tradition and the inevitability of change. He was always honest." And Rice finished his address with an alliteration which he felt his distant cousin would have enjoyed: "Countless cricketers cherish Christopher."

Test, club and village players felt that very way as they filed out into the sunshine on what, it should be noted, was not a day that would have kept anyone from attending a fixture in the county championship which CMJ did so much to promote.