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
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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

  • POSTED BY FreddyForPrimeMinister on | January 4, 2013, 1:12 GMT

    Even as a young lad, CMJ was one of my favourite TMS commentators. I think it was his voice, allied to such a calm, unflappable understanding of the game which was only enhanced by the fact that he knew that he himself was never good enough to play Test Cricket and therefore he was much more restrained in any criticism of a player. (Mark Nicholas is another who also points out that a player "might be disappointed with his shot selection" rather than exclaiming what an awful shot the batsman played!) I would put CMJ and his wonderful, lyrical commentary up there with John Arlott, Jim Laker and Richie Benaud... just hearing their voices made you think of glorious summer days and the crack of leather on willow... RIP CMJ - with many, many thanks.

  • POSTED BY LoveCric1975 on | January 2, 2013, 0:29 GMT

    A GREAT voice will never be heard again. Listening to TMS on LW198 used to become so much absorbing and interesting whenever CMJ took the mike. His narration would bring every single delivery every single delivery vividly live to the listener. No offence to blowers but on many occasions one had to painfully wait to find out what happens next and continuously had to hear corrections whenever poor old blowers would mix up players. I always used to be glad when CMJ would come back on. His voice was always CRISP and clear, his tone always so full of confidence and authority, his mindset always so unclouded and on the ball. An individual always in complete control of the job in hand. As a cricket lover I feel saddened at

  • POSTED BY on | January 1, 2013, 22:20 GMT

    I used to know his voice on test match special in Ashes and India's series in England back in 1960's when I will hear it on Radio in India as student late in the evening (post lunch sessions in England). In recent years test match special of CMJ while watching the game live made extra enjoyment, particularly his analysis of the game. His voice will be dearly missed.

  • POSTED BY on | January 1, 2013, 22:10 GMT

    Very sad to hear of CMJs passing. Although famous for TMS, I will always recall his TV commentary during the 1981 Leeds test especially during the Botham / Dilley onslaught. A true gentleman and superb broadcaster and writer. RIP CMJ.

  • POSTED BY cloudmess on | January 1, 2013, 21:15 GMT

    Summers will not be the same without CMJ. He was the antithesis of the modern abrasive commentator, who feel they have to throw their weight around to make an impression. He and Vic Marks on air at the same time was radio commentary at its very finest.

  • POSTED BY whoster on | January 1, 2013, 21:01 GMT

    That's a lovely tribute, Vic. Some enjoyable and amusing insights into CMJ's character, as well as listing his wonderful achievements around the game. He always came across to me as a pleasantly-mannered headmaster-type figure from a gentler era, and I always had a sense that Blighty could never in danger when CMJ spoke his calming words! What I especially liked about his TMS commentaries was how utterly impartial he was, but how he was also passionate enough to struggle keeping disappointment out of his voice if, for example, England suffered an inexcusable batting collapse. His temporary TV commentary from Headingley '81 is truly legendary. Alternating with Richie Benaud, I reckon you could get a book out of their descriptive gems during that match. CMJ stood for the wonderful old school virtues of etiquette and fair play, and you knew that the good health and spirit of the game was his uppermost concern. Great to hear Vic give us confirmation of what a nice person he was.

  • POSTED BY here2rock on | January 4, 2013, 14:10 GMT

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

  • POSTED BY SouthPaw on | January 4, 2013, 12:27 GMT

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

  • POSTED BY 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.

  • POSTED BY 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

  • POSTED BY FreddyForPrimeMinister on | January 4, 2013, 1:12 GMT

    Even as a young lad, CMJ was one of my favourite TMS commentators. I think it was his voice, allied to such a calm, unflappable understanding of the game which was only enhanced by the fact that he knew that he himself was never good enough to play Test Cricket and therefore he was much more restrained in any criticism of a player. (Mark Nicholas is another who also points out that a player "might be disappointed with his shot selection" rather than exclaiming what an awful shot the batsman played!) I would put CMJ and his wonderful, lyrical commentary up there with John Arlott, Jim Laker and Richie Benaud... just hearing their voices made you think of glorious summer days and the crack of leather on willow... RIP CMJ - with many, many thanks.

  • POSTED BY LoveCric1975 on | January 2, 2013, 0:29 GMT

    A GREAT voice will never be heard again. Listening to TMS on LW198 used to become so much absorbing and interesting whenever CMJ took the mike. His narration would bring every single delivery every single delivery vividly live to the listener. No offence to blowers but on many occasions one had to painfully wait to find out what happens next and continuously had to hear corrections whenever poor old blowers would mix up players. I always used to be glad when CMJ would come back on. His voice was always CRISP and clear, his tone always so full of confidence and authority, his mindset always so unclouded and on the ball. An individual always in complete control of the job in hand. As a cricket lover I feel saddened at

  • POSTED BY on | January 1, 2013, 22:20 GMT

    I used to know his voice on test match special in Ashes and India's series in England back in 1960's when I will hear it on Radio in India as student late in the evening (post lunch sessions in England). In recent years test match special of CMJ while watching the game live made extra enjoyment, particularly his analysis of the game. His voice will be dearly missed.

  • POSTED BY on | January 1, 2013, 22:10 GMT

    Very sad to hear of CMJs passing. Although famous for TMS, I will always recall his TV commentary during the 1981 Leeds test especially during the Botham / Dilley onslaught. A true gentleman and superb broadcaster and writer. RIP CMJ.

  • POSTED BY cloudmess on | January 1, 2013, 21:15 GMT

    Summers will not be the same without CMJ. He was the antithesis of the modern abrasive commentator, who feel they have to throw their weight around to make an impression. He and Vic Marks on air at the same time was radio commentary at its very finest.

  • POSTED BY whoster on | January 1, 2013, 21:01 GMT

    That's a lovely tribute, Vic. Some enjoyable and amusing insights into CMJ's character, as well as listing his wonderful achievements around the game. He always came across to me as a pleasantly-mannered headmaster-type figure from a gentler era, and I always had a sense that Blighty could never in danger when CMJ spoke his calming words! What I especially liked about his TMS commentaries was how utterly impartial he was, but how he was also passionate enough to struggle keeping disappointment out of his voice if, for example, England suffered an inexcusable batting collapse. His temporary TV commentary from Headingley '81 is truly legendary. Alternating with Richie Benaud, I reckon you could get a book out of their descriptive gems during that match. CMJ stood for the wonderful old school virtues of etiquette and fair play, and you knew that the good health and spirit of the game was his uppermost concern. Great to hear Vic give us confirmation of what a nice person he was.

  • POSTED BY here2rock on | January 4, 2013, 14:10 GMT

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

  • POSTED BY SouthPaw on | January 4, 2013, 12:27 GMT

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

  • POSTED BY 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.

  • POSTED BY 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

  • POSTED BY 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.

  • POSTED BY 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

  • POSTED BY 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!!

  • POSTED BY Dr.Vindaloo 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.

  • POSTED BY 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.

  • POSTED BY javed.agrawala on | January 2, 2013, 8:19 GMT

    RIP Christopher Martin Jenkins. You will be gravely missed by all ardent cricket lovers for your effusive style and vivid descriptions.

    Blessed with a wonderfully expressive voice he will always be remembered as an iconic cricket commentator. These last few days have been terrible for lovers of the game with first Tony's and now his departure. Somehow cricket is, at least temporarily, losing its known identification!

  • POSTED BY Beertjie on | January 2, 2013, 6:57 GMT

    @DocScrumpy on (January 01 2013, 22:00 PM GMT) Perhaps a half-truth. Those types could never compare to Arlott but he at least appreciated Marqusee's critique of the English game.

  • POSTED BY Advin on | January 2, 2013, 6:23 GMT

    I remember the centenary test played between Australia and England in 1977.By a remarkable coincidence,the margin of Australia's win was exactly the same as in the first ever test match in 1877. My distinct memory of that match was the brilliance by which 5 consecutive fours by a batsmen on test debut was described. The batsmen : David Hookes.The bowler:Tony Greig.The commentator: Christopher Martin Jenkins. All the three of them now sadly dead.RIP.

  • POSTED BY Nutcutlet on | January 2, 2013, 5:36 GMT

    A lovely tribute, Vic. Thank you for sharing so many hilarious & touching anecdotes concerning CM-J. We were privileged to have him enrich our lives for hours on end. He will be much missed.

  • POSTED BY on | January 2, 2013, 4:27 GMT

    CMJ's book Assault on the Ashes is one ofthe most enjoyable cricket books I've ever read. It covers the England tour of Australia 1974-75 and the unveiling and the Lillee and Thomson partnership. Still a great read now and my signed copy is still on my bookshelf at home.

  • POSTED BY Rising_Edge1234 on | January 2, 2013, 2:15 GMT

    Another great commentator gone. RIP CMJ. Cricket is richer on the other side.

  • POSTED BY on | January 2, 2013, 0:00 GMT

    CMJ RIP have spent many hours listening to him on TMS and enjoyed every minute.. thoughts to all his family.

  • POSTED BY on | January 1, 2013, 23:36 GMT

    Made many an enjoyable afternoons listening for me. Sad day for cricket

  • POSTED BY Chris_P on | January 1, 2013, 22:39 GMT

    Nice touch, Vic. He was a tribute to cricket. Well played CMJ.

  • POSTED BY on | January 1, 2013, 22:00 GMT

    Sorry, but he was an opinionated bore, who made me want to switch the sound off for 20 minutes whenever he was on.

  • POSTED BY Rural_Cricketer on | January 1, 2013, 21:37 GMT

    CMJ was proof that you need not be an ex-international player to make the game come alive, both in print and on the air.

    A great tribute from the Crumpled Bard of the Mendips, one I am not ashamed to say brought a lump to the throat and a tear to the eye.

    Somehow beating the Aussies will not be the same without CMJ to describe it. Evenings at the Oval will no longer be quite so golder

  • POSTED BY philipsidney on | January 1, 2013, 21:04 GMT

    Very, very saddened to learn of the loss of CMJ.

    Not having known of his illness, it came as a shock... to me he was, still, the young contemporary - and equal - of Arlott and Johnners.

    Respected and liked by all.

  • POSTED BY on | January 1, 2013, 20:48 GMT

    So sad to lose two wondferful crickrt commrntators so quickly I ernjoyed CMJ and will mis him.

  • POSTED BY on | January 1, 2013, 20:48 GMT

    Lovely piece, very sad and doubly so after Tony Greig's passing just a few days before.

  • POSTED BY Robster1 on | January 1, 2013, 20:41 GMT

    What a good, emotive article - how sad losing those two Sussex giants of Greig and CMJ in just a few days and at far too young an age. Thanks so much for making TMS such a pleasure.

  • POSTED BY lodd on | January 1, 2013, 20:37 GMT

    terribly sad time, Victor. A truly wonderful companion and gent . They just don't make 'em like that anymore. Bumble

  • POSTED BY Stumay on | January 1, 2013, 19:34 GMT

    CMJ and Tony Greig passing away in the space of a few mere days has left me with the feeling that God has got a simply wonderful commentary duo for this summer's Ashes series.

  • POSTED BY on | January 1, 2013, 19:22 GMT

    So sad. R.I.P. Christopher Martin-Jenkins. A true English gentleman of cricket. A wonderful journalist and the heart of Test Match Special.The understated and wry tones of his insightful commentary from cricket grounds around the world could never be surpassed. Farewell C.M.J.Something of the best spirit and virtues of cricket was held up by you. A long slow summers afternoon,will be emptier without your erudite and dulcite tones trundling out of the wireless.........though the spirit of you will be present I'm sure.

  • POSTED BY on | January 1, 2013, 19:13 GMT

    Thank you Victor. Brought a slight tear to the eye.

    RIP CMJ.

  • POSTED BY btglynn on | January 1, 2013, 19:05 GMT

    Hard to take in the space of a few days, losing two of the most famous voices on commentating in the space of a few days. TMS is going to be not quite the same.

  • POSTED BY on | January 1, 2013, 18:49 GMT

    Excellent writing. With both CMJ and Tong Greig passing, it's not a very hapy new year for cricket.

  • POSTED BY on | January 1, 2013, 18:44 GMT

    Such wonderful words. I can't believe CMJ has gone and I will never hear his dulcet tones on TMS again. I had the pleasure of meeting him briefly at the inaugural MCC Gala dinner. A polite and true gentleman who had a kind word for everyone who wanted to speak to him.

  • POSTED BY on | January 1, 2013, 18:44 GMT

    Such wonderful words. I can't believe CMJ has gone and I will never hear his dulcet tones on TMS again. I had the pleasure of meeting him briefly at the inaugural MCC Gala dinner. A polite and true gentleman who had a kind word for everyone who wanted to speak to him.

  • POSTED BY on | January 1, 2013, 18:49 GMT

    Excellent writing. With both CMJ and Tong Greig passing, it's not a very hapy new year for cricket.

  • POSTED BY btglynn on | January 1, 2013, 19:05 GMT

    Hard to take in the space of a few days, losing two of the most famous voices on commentating in the space of a few days. TMS is going to be not quite the same.

  • POSTED BY on | January 1, 2013, 19:13 GMT

    Thank you Victor. Brought a slight tear to the eye.

    RIP CMJ.

  • POSTED BY on | January 1, 2013, 19:22 GMT

    So sad. R.I.P. Christopher Martin-Jenkins. A true English gentleman of cricket. A wonderful journalist and the heart of Test Match Special.The understated and wry tones of his insightful commentary from cricket grounds around the world could never be surpassed. Farewell C.M.J.Something of the best spirit and virtues of cricket was held up by you. A long slow summers afternoon,will be emptier without your erudite and dulcite tones trundling out of the wireless.........though the spirit of you will be present I'm sure.

  • POSTED BY Stumay on | January 1, 2013, 19:34 GMT

    CMJ and Tony Greig passing away in the space of a few mere days has left me with the feeling that God has got a simply wonderful commentary duo for this summer's Ashes series.

  • POSTED BY lodd on | January 1, 2013, 20:37 GMT

    terribly sad time, Victor. A truly wonderful companion and gent . They just don't make 'em like that anymore. Bumble

  • POSTED BY Robster1 on | January 1, 2013, 20:41 GMT

    What a good, emotive article - how sad losing those two Sussex giants of Greig and CMJ in just a few days and at far too young an age. Thanks so much for making TMS such a pleasure.

  • POSTED BY on | January 1, 2013, 20:48 GMT

    Lovely piece, very sad and doubly so after Tony Greig's passing just a few days before.

  • POSTED BY on | January 1, 2013, 20:48 GMT

    So sad to lose two wondferful crickrt commrntators so quickly I ernjoyed CMJ and will mis him.