1945-2013 January 1, 2013

A doyen of cricket with a comic touch

Vic Marks
The voice synonymous with the English summer will no longer speak. Those who shared commentary and press boxes with CMJ will feel his loss particularly

Far too prematurely we have lost the doyen of cricket correspondents. Over four decades Christopher Martin-Jenkins held three of the most coveted posts in his profession. He was the BBC's man from 1973-1991 (with a hiatus from 1980-85). Then he was correspondent for the Daily Telegraph from 1991-99 and for the Times from 1999-2008. All the while he was broadcasting so felicitously for Test Match Special. After all that he was appointed president of the MCC in 2010, a most prestigious post, rarely handed to someone who has not played first-class cricket, and one that was to give him great joy and a little heartache.

All of which qualified him for doyen status. CMJ was a consummate broadcaster. His clipped, precise tones soon became synonymous with the English summer, as did those similes, whose end could be so hard to predict - often he was not quite sure where they were heading himself. He was brilliant on the radio: clear, distinctive, and always at ease in front of a microphone, even if he had only just burst into the commentary box seconds before picking it up.

And when he wrote you could hear his voice. For many he was not only the voice of cricket but also the pen. On tour he would be engulfed by doting readers of the Telegraph or the Times and the Cricketer, and he would always give them the time of day, while some of his colleagues fled for cover. He would also be the first to welcome strangers or nervous teenagers on work experience in the commentary box.

Yet not many doyens have been a source of such hilarity. CMJ was often a catalyst for laughter, both wittingly and, perhaps not as often as we first thought, unwittingly. He was a superb speaker after dinner and a fine mimic. A slightly scurrilous story in the hands - or on the lips - of the perfectly polite, God-fearing English gentleman, educated at Marlborough and Cambridge University, somehow had an added piquancy.

There are countless anecdotes about CMJ and they are usually true. While cricket followers loved him, computers hated him and rebelled in his presence. It was a frequent occurrence for his employers to have to ship reinforcement laptops to any corner of the globe in which CMJ was operating. At home I once watched him buy an emergency replacement on the spur of the moment as he walked down the high street to the first day of Test cricket in Cardiff - at Marks & Spencer. He never ceased to amaze.

CMJ hated to swear. So when the ball obstinately decided to remain at the bottom of a deep, deep bunker another swish of the club would be followed by a yelp of "Fishcakes" or "Fotheringay-Thomas"

It is true that on a golf course in Jamaica he tried to ring his office with the TV remote control he had picked up on his way out of his hotel room. Even when he recognised his mistake he seemed disgruntled that the device did not get him through to London.

Then there was the golf club incident in Barbados, where CMJ borrowed a rather fine set of clubs from a generous host. He duly propped them up on the back of a mini-moke and, encouraged by his erratic driving, they surreptitiously fell out of the bag, one by one into the streets of Bridgetown. The following day on air there was the inevitable but unavailing appeal for anyone who happened to come across any stray golf clubs on the city's streets to return them to CMJ at the Kensington Oval.

Golf was important to CMJ. He revelled in the challenge and he could hit the ball a long way after intense and deliberate preparation. He was great fun to play with and against, partly because he was so competitive (it's not much fun trying to beat someone who doesn't care). He was known to play a second or even third provisional ball. A disobedient drive or putt would trigger a rich and individual vocabulary. CMJ hated to swear. So when the ball obstinately decided to remain at the bottom of a deep, deep bunker, another swish of the club would be followed by a yelp of "Fishcakes" or "Fotheringay-Thomas".

The only problem was getting him to the tee on time. CMJ did not like to be early for anything. That would inevitably mean that time was being wasted. And he hated to waste a second; he was always busy, writing articles, books and postcards to a demanding deadline. His fear of being early had one predictable consequence: he was often late, usually with a cast-iron explanation. He once described to me how he would set off in his car for The Oval from West Sussex with no time to spare and with a bowl of cornflakes, liberally sprinkled with milk, pinioned between his knees.

His devotion to the game was absolute; his judgement - as with every correspondent - was never flawless. He had a sentimental attachment to anybody who bowled out of the back of the hand, which sometimes blurred his objectivity, especially if that legspinner happened to come from Sussex, his home county.

CMJ followed his son Robin's career at Sussex as intensely as any father. "I'd like to put him in my England ODI squad in the Times," he once confided to me. "I really can't do that, I suppose." He paused for a moment before adding, "But you could put him in yours." How stoically - and professionally - he disguised his angst on air when Sussex had the impudence to make his son 12th man for a Lord's final; how justly proud he was of Robin's stalwart service for the county over a decade.

CMJ instinctively knew his stuff after so many decades soaking up the game. The last time I saw him, in November as England's tour of India was about to start in earnest, he declared: "They must play Panesar as well as Swann in the first Test. But they won't!" (They didn't; England lost in Ahmedabad but had the sense to rectify their error asap.) By then he was riddled with cancer. But he still cared passionately about what was going on in the cricket world.

And the cricket world cared about him. You will all mourn the doyen and the epitome of an English gentleman. Those of us lucky enough to work alongside him will also remember a warm, generous, slightly manic companion, who loved the game and sought to protect it like no other. It is wretched to contemplate a press box or a commentary box without him.

Vic Marks is cricket correspondent of the Observer and has been a summariser on Test Match Special for more than 20 years

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • here2rock on January 4, 2013, 14:10 GMT

    A great voice will echo in my heart forever, RIP.

  • SouthPaw on January 4, 2013, 12:27 GMT

    One by one, the voices fade away - first AWG, now CMJ. :(

  • dummy4fb on January 4, 2013, 10:32 GMT

    I spend 6 years in England. Most summer weekends we were driving. My wife would never complain if i had TMS on the Radio. We both loved CMJ and Blowers.

    Sorry to hear CMJ's demise. I would rather hear CMJ on Radio than watch cricket on telly. His reviews on Times we a must read.

  • krishna_j on January 3, 2013, 18:04 GMT

    my most vivid memories of CMJ on BBC test match special was him being on the air when Sandeep Patil raced from 80 to 104 hitting Bob Willis for 6 fours in an over - it was so vivid and exciting and almost live(we didnt have live UK cricket coverage in India in 1982) - the tV highlights was quite drab by contrast - CMJ's tour books of the 70's were also quite vivid and gems - e revelled during the 87 bicentenary test at Lords and was also instrumental in getting the great Graeme Pollock into the commentary box for a rare guest appearance (apartheid still ruled) - he will be sorely missed - only Tony Cozier survives

  • stumpedlloyd on January 2, 2013, 19:24 GMT

    This is such sad, sad news. I grew up listening to CMJ on the BBC from the 1970s and there was something calming, always reassuring, about hearing his voice come over the airwaves. You will be sorely missed, CMJ! I will think of him every time I listen to Test Match Special. My deepest sympathies to his family and friends. There will never be another like him.

  • dummy4fb on January 2, 2013, 15:27 GMT

    In the obituaries and tributes to CMJ one aspect of his career has been surprisingly omitted, his resolute objection foreign players being employed by England. Here are a few of his complaints about such selections:

    August 1990 Radio 2 Sportsdesk (in a tone of profound complaint): "The selectors seem to be obsessed with West Indian born pace bowlers."

    May 23rd 1994 Daily Telegraph "... we shall not have a consistently successful England team...until we produce more Goughs; that is to say English born, English bred products of English schools"

    They [Southern African born England caps] tried their hardest as every England player does, and were more competitive than most. But were they trying to succeed in their cricket careers on behalf of England? Or were they trying to make England win at cricket? (CMJ Daily Telegraph 10/7/1994

  • Silverbails on January 2, 2013, 12:38 GMT

    So, so sad NOT to hear those dulcit tones on TMS anymore. You always knew that you'd get excellent coverage with CMJ, no matter who was playing, or where. Sadly, the Major is no more, and his wonderful batty and daft ways will no longer be there to keep me entertained. As with Jhonners wonderful cakes on TMS, another of the great characters has now been lost from the game, with all those wonderful on-air eccentricities which always make TMS a joy to listen to, particularly during a wet and windy English weekend. RIP CMJ; we'll certainly miss u!!

  • MrsBoycottsPinny on January 2, 2013, 11:55 GMT

    Greig and now CMJ. My childhood moorings lost in the space of 6 days. I am sure many other cricket lovers of my generation will be feeling the same. And it doesn't feel good.

  • Hooves on January 2, 2013, 11:26 GMT

    I met him breifly in the Milverton village pub not far from Taunton. He was using a B&B there whilst working at the Taunton ground. I play for Milverton cricket club in the West Somerset league and was lucky enough to have 5 minutes of his time, and made him laugh for most of it, by telling him i open the the bowling for the MCC (Milverton cricket club) at the MCG (Milverton Cricket Ground). He was an absolute gentleman and it is a sad sad festive cricket season to loose CMJ and Tony Greig at the same time. Summers, for this generation, will never be the same.