Dry, yes, but certainly not dour
I must confess to a sense of trepidation in being asked to review this book. Bill Frindall's on-air style as the BBC's Test Match Special scorer has a required taste; his dry, laconic wit and insistence on correcting messers Blofeld and Agnew on any anomalies in their commentary takes his role as the "straight man" to hitherto unseen levels.
Happily, albeit 309 pages later, my opinion had changed. His somewhat boorish banter with his TMS colleagues is nowhere to be seen in this his first autobiography. In fact, quite the opposite; he is engaging, charming and it is mostly a thoroughly interesting read.
Making his debut in the TMS box in 1966, the impression of Frindall is of a man born to work with numbers, statistics and so forth. Yet in the first 80 pages or so, it is his playing career which receives the biggest attention. We learn that it was his father, who is spoken of in endearingly cherished tones, who introduced him to cricket, where most days the pair (like many father-son teams) would play on the back lawn and "naughtily, on a remote putting green on Epsom Downs".
If Frindall senior was the central figure in a young Bill's life, the RAF (and, later, John Arlott) became his substitute father-figure during the 1950s where, seemingly, very little work was done where at all possible. "...life in the RAF was a delightfully cushy number indeed. Members of the station cricket teams could even have their boots and pads whitened by delivering them to the sports section".
For readers not overly enamoured with the "art" of scoring, Bearders (known throughout as Bill, Sir William, Bearders or Frindalius) fortunately only spends a single chapter detailing the history behind some of the scoring world's legends. But in fact, it's an enlightening read. Did you know, for example, that his scoring method - the linear system - is based on John Atkinson Pendlington (1861-1914)? Or that in 1972, Frindall devised an adapted version of "the Pendlington" which is now in use by first-class teams around the world? In an age besotted with speed; the internet; with words such as "verdana" and "qwerty", the old-fashioned and painstaking manual process of scoring seems kitsch. But I quite like it, again, in fact; his love of its art translates itself strongly in the book, something which at times comes across as a chore over the airwaves in the TMS box.
John Arlott, the "Voice of Cricket from 1946 until 1980" receives an entire chapter which, while not to be missed, is nevertheless a touch too syrupy for an autobiography. Clearly (and understandably), Arlott played a significant role in Frindall's life and indeed helped shape him as a man - they met two years after Frindall senior died - not to mention his career. However, the common thread of his love for Arlott is a shared thirst of the red liquid. Barely a sentence goes by that Arlott's love of wine isn't mockingly mentioned; there's almost a sense of pride, relish and jealousy that Arlott had such a capacity, and it becomes rather weary. Nevertheless, as anyone who enjoys a bottle of wine or ten will testify, drink has a habit of fuelling good humour and the pair evidently spent countless days - Frindall under Arlott's drunken wing - tasting and enjoying the grapes of France and Australia.
Of great interest are the chapters devoted to his colleagues. Arlott apart, Brian Johnston, Christopher Martin-Jenkins, Jonathan Agnew, Shilpa Patel (production assistant to Peter Baxter with "a varies and fashionable wardrobe) all receive notable mention. Indeed, while Arlott and Johnners had a decidedly acrimonious relationship - recorded at length by the author - Frindall and Johnners had no such problems. In one particularly amusing anecdote, he transcribes a commentary stint between himself, Johnners and Fred Trueman when wearing an Arabian headdress (ghutra an iqal).
Humour, then, is the common thread running through the book. Devoted to cricket and to his colleagues, it was a welcome revelation into a man whose often grumpy interjections on the radio portray someone ill at ease with his lot. Quite the opposite. Frindall, or Frindalius as Allott nicknamed him, has a hidden and infectiously witty side to him which, oddly, is almost like welcoming a new member aboard TMS. Cheers.
Will Luke is editorial assistant of Cricinfo