A portrait of 'Gubby', 1987

Sir George Allen

J. J. Warr

Sir George Oswald Browning Allen was born in Sydney, Australia, on July 31, 1902, being very much in the tradition of England captains who were not born in England. To name only some, Sir Pelham Warner was born in Trinidad, FR Brown in Peru, DB Carr in Germany, ER Dexter in Italy, and MC Cowdrey and DR Jardine in India. Gubby, aged six, was brought to England with his brother and sister to be educated, and the family remained here ever after. His contribution to the national game of cricket has been immense, of which the award of the CBE followed in 1986 by a knighthood in the Queen's Birthday Honours is a clear recognition. Most people thought his knighthood was long overdue, but it did make him the last man in a hat-trick, following his grandfather and father.

However, there are other aspects of his life to demonstrate that cricket has not been his sole preoccupation. A highly successful stockbroker in peacetime, he also rose to the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel in military intelligence in the War Office in the Second World War, specialising in all aspects of German ground-to-air defences and particularly their siting; not unlike deciding on the field placing in a Test match. He saved many casualties among bomber pilots by his skill and knowledge and was awarded the Legion of Merit by the Americans.

One of the more colourful incidents of his military career occurred before he was posted to the War Office: when he was serving in the control room at Hawkinge during the Dunkirk evacuation. On hearing that his brother had been seriously wounded, he obtained permission to fly to break the news to their mother, who was living near Eton, at Datchet, and the aircraft, carrying Belgian markings, landed on the playing-fields of Eton as the nearest and most convenient place. Although they had the consent of Fighter Command to return to Hawkinge, before that happened, as Gubby found on his return from Datchet, the plane was surrounded by the Eton Home Guard under the command of Corporal Lord Porchester, now the Queen's racing manager. And even though Gubby went to Eton and was in the XI for three years, the intrepid patrol arrested him as a German spy, making him the only England cricket captain to suffer such a fate.

The incident did nothing to diminish Gubby's interest in racing, which was nurtured by all the great Newmarket trainers who regularly went to Fenner's to see the cricket. He has also known many of the leading politicians, both domestically and internationally. The foreword to the book, Gubby Allen: Man of Cricket, was written by a former Prime Minister and close friend in Lord Home of the Hirsel, and pride of place in Gubby's St John's Wood home is a suitable inscribed photograph of another personal friend, Sir Robert Menzies of Australia.

The game of cricket has been a linchpin in his life, however, and it was his own sister, Lady Dickson, who remarked that as a perpetual bachelor Gubby was married to cricket. Whilst Gubby does not deny this, he is adamant that when Sir Pelham Warner proposed him first for the Middlesex committee and then the MCC cricket committee, he was very reluctant to accept. That notwithstanding, his first-class playing career stretched to more than 30 years, and it was only by liberal use of elastoplast and embrocation that he was still playing in the 1950s. Indeed, in those days when he took the field he resembled the mummified figures of the great Pharoahs of Egypt. He is an authority on every muscle in the human body, having pulled most of them in his time. He has had five operations on his hips and it is said that he got so expert that he did the last two himself. Jim Swanton, his Boswell in Gubby Allen: Man of Cricket, once jokingly described him as a hypochondriacal megalomaniac and Gubby did not dissent.

Returning to his first-class career, there were four great highlights. In 1929 he took all ten wickets against Lancashire for Middlesex at Lord's, which has remained a unique feat in county cricket at Lord's to this day. It was only a late fitness test on the Friday that enabled him to play, and as he was delayed in the office on the Saturday, working for Debenham's, he did not take the new ball. His final figures were ten for 40 and eight of them were clean bowled. Next would be his partnership with Les Ames of 246 in two and three quarter hours against New Zealand at Lord's in 1931: it remains a world record for the eighth cricket in a Test match and is the oldest such record to remain unbroken. Going in when England were 190 for seven, Gubby drove with power and, without making a mistake, finished with 122, his first and only Test century and still the highest innings by someone batting at number nine for England.

Then came his two tours of Australia, in 1932-33 and, as captain, in 1936-37. On the bodyline tour he emerged as a white knight, which was the image presented in the recent Australian television serial. There is a considerable grain of truth in that assessment, but it was spoilt by the totally inaccurate characterisation of people like P. G. H. Fender, who was depicted as a banjo playing buffoon, and Sir Pelham Warner, as a whisky-swilling nonentity: two images as far from the truth as it is possible to imagine. Gubby is also shown as disagreeing with Douglas Jardine on the field, which is something he never did nor would ever have contemplated. He refused to bowl bodyline-- a decision which was made in the dressing-room-- but Gubby remained a firm friend of Jardine for the whole of Jardine's life.

The 1936-37 tour with Gubby as captain saw Bradman as something of an ogre. He had had marvellous tours of England in 1930 and 1934, and the memory of him in 1930 must have been one of the reasons why in 1932-33 Jardine was prepared to stretch the spirit and ethics of the game to breaking-point in order to snuff him out. As it turned out, with England bowling in an orthodox manner, the 1936-37 tour was one of the most exciting in the history of the Ashes. It also produced one of the most famous remarks in cricket. Gubby intended to console R. W. V. Robins when, in the second innings of the third Test, he dropped Bradman at 24 off Gubby's bowling: Oh forget it, old boy, it will probably cost us the rubber but what the hell. Robbie recalled that remark endlessly, but always with amusement and not rancour.

The lifelong friendship between Gubby and Robbie is an interesting study in contrasts. RWV was ebullient, volatile, totally unpredictable and much given to instant opinions followed by instant decisions, many of which carried a diplomatic backlash. GOA, on the other hand, prefers to weigh things up with great care and achieve his objectives by logical arguement and with just a dash of lobbying. They had a close relationship as players, and I recall with particular pleasure the time when Gubby was a regular visitor as a batsman to the perfect wicket at Fenner's to play for the Free Foresters in the early 1950s. He was usually a scorer of a century in one innings or the other, and R.W.V. used to mock him, saying how easy it was to flog undergraduates round Fenner's. He added that if he played himself he would score 50 batting with a walking-stick. Gubby challenged him to turn out and try his luck using a proper bat. He did, and was bowled first ball in each innings: an Imperial pair! The late OJ Wait bowled him in the first innings and I was the bowler in the second. The joke was enjoyed by all parties except for the same batsman who was on a hat-trick in both innings.

Distinguished as his playing career has been, it is in the administration and think-tanks of the game that Gubby has had his greatest influence. Despite his initial reluctance, he was elected to the MCC committee in 1935 and was at the time ten year younger than any other member of that committee. Subsequently he has been the Club's President, Treasurer and one of its Trustees, serving in one form or another for 51 years. He has been a distinguished chairman of selectors but does emphasise that silk purses cannot be made out of sows' ears: good selectors and good captains are only as good as the material they can choose and the players who play under them. He has held more offices in cricket than anyone in living memory, including being President of the Umpires' Association for more than 25 years. To him, though, his contribution to coaching the young has given him as much satisfaction as anything else. With HS Altham he wrote The MCC Cricket Coaching Book in 1952. It has remained the bible of coaching and has sold 100,000 copies.

Golf, in his spare time, has always been an abiding passion, and even in his eighties he is still making adjustments to his swing in search of perfection. His early tutor was Leonard Crawley, who had possibly one of the finest golf swings of all time. His lowest golf handicap has been four and, even now, one of his bad shots can produce a stream of verbal criticism of himself which would cause even Freddie Trueman to blush. Over the years he has derived immense pleasure from head to head confrontations with his friends, rather than seeking to put his name on trophies or golf club walls, while among his friends in the County Cricketers' Golf Society there is a term for the world's worst golfer; it is Gubby's foursome partner. He can be seen at his beloved Berkshire or Sandwich outdoing Nigel Mansell at the wheel of his golf buggy, still hitting the ball straight but sacrificing length for accuracy, which is a polite way of saying that he doesn't hit it as far as he used to.

Jim Swanton has pointed out in the book how many cricket crises Sir George has lived through, and they were summed up by Prince Philip in his telegram to the President of MCC on the occasion of Gubby's 80th birthday celebration at Lord's: No man has done more for MCC and for cricket over a long period when things have been far from easy. He deserves all the tributes he is bound to get. Philip.

Gubby spoke at the 150th MCC Anniversary Dinner in 1937 and it is hoped that he will do the same at the 200th in 1987. Like all great sportsmen, he identifies the one key moment of luck or fate which launched him on his career. In his case it was in 1922. Having had no success in the Freshmen's match at Cambridge, he was invited to play for Middlesex against the University and took six for 13 which, needless to say, got him into the University side. One of his victims was Hubert Ashton, the Cambridgecaptain, bowled by a trimmer, which might have helped his cause. For some reason he has never been one of Wisden's Cricketers of the Year, but I suppose that is because he has been more sparing with his activities on the field than off.

© John Wisden & Co