Christopher Martin-Jenkins 1945-2013

A bank of happy memories

James Martin-Jenkins


Broadcaster and journalist Christopher Martin-Jenkins poses outside Buckingham Palace after receiving his MBE, London, May 28, 2009
CMJ outside Buckingham Palace with his MBE medal, 2009 © PA Photos
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Players/Officials: Christopher Martin-Jenkins
Teams: England

"Any relation?" It's a question I've been asked almost daily, it seems, for nearly 40 years. "Yes," I reply; and gladly, too. For being the "son of" was never a heavy burden. Rather, life with CMJ was invariably fun and interesting; it was also unusual, privileged, and - needless to say - dominated by cricket.

Many of the qualities highlighted by his colleagues in tributes following his death were equally evident at home. He was hard-working, conscientious to a fault, and always in a rush - less because he was disorganised, more because he took on too many commitments in his eagerness not to let people down. He was a good mimic and even better joke-teller; competitive; enthusiastic; devoted to my mother; and absolutely - though never unthinkingly - committed to cricket and its well-being. He also enjoyed many of life's other refined pleasures, especially classical music, decent wine (less so food), the natural world, and good literature, without ever becoming an expert, or pretending to be. He was punctilious about grammar and properly pronounced vowels. But he was not a snob - anything but. He was liberal, fair and decent, plus God-fearing (increasingly so), thoughtful and kind.

For so accomplished a public performer, he was rather shy in social situations, and far from garrulous. Perhaps that's not unusual. But his job - and therefore my childhood - certainly was. Most of my friends had a dad who worked in an office and came home every evening, or at least at the weekend, and certainly at Christmas. I didn't. Most families went on summer holidays, too. Save for a few days in Devon snatched between Tests, we didn't.

Then again, most children didn't hear or see their dad on radio or TV on a regular basis, as my siblings and I did. And my access to a game I was born to love was a rare treat indeed. What fun it was to accompany dad to a match - to Chelmsford, say, or Southampton or Hove - standing as still as a statue in the back of the commentary box, or playing cricket on the outfield in the tea break, or being introduced to and getting autographs from my playing heroes, then watching and waiting (there was always a lot of waiting), while he recorded or wrote his report of the day's play. We were normally the last to leave the ground, often well after dusk.

Then there was touring with the England team as a child, sometimes for several weeks. Who else can boast of learning to walk in Australia and to swim in India, of being thrown into a pool by Ian Botham, of standing in the commentary box as England won the Ashes at the MCG in 1986-87 and the one-day series at the WACA that followed, then returning to Melbourne in 1992 to witness Wasim Akram blow away England and win Pakistan a World Cup final? I can, and more. I batted against Trevor Bailey on the beach in Barbados, then met two of the Three Ws at a cocktail party the next evening. And I bowled to Sir Len Hutton in his garden.

So I have a lot to thank him for. And a bank of happy memories - shared, I hope, by my children, who are old enough, just, to remember him as the concerned and caring grandfather he was. (The modern world's ready supply of video and other archives, plus my father's excellent autobiography, will help them fill in the gaps.) They may recall his near obsession with golf, which he took up too late in life to have been as good as he would have liked, and the practice putting green he installed at home in an attempt - vain, it transpired - to improve his short game. They may also recall his ongoing battle - equally in vain - with the many rabbits that used to attack his beloved lawn.

What's likely to be my enduring feeling? Pride - when he wrote well or spoke eloquently, when he stuck to his guns on an unfashionable point, when people laughed, nodded vigorously in agreement, or exclaimed to me, as so many have: "Don't you look and sound exactly like him!"

I didn't always agree with everything he said, and rarely sought his advice on matters outside sport, but how fortunate to be able to wake every day and read or listen to what the old man had to say. It saved on phone bills, anyway. And yes, he may have had a wonderful collection of faux swear words, but he did occasionally swear in private, and with the proper words too - mostly at the rabbits...

© John Wisden & Co.