November 2007

Boys' own hero who became a mate

Sid Waddell
Sid Waddell on his favourite cricketer, Fred Trueman, a man he worshipped and ended up working with on television

Sid Waddell grew up worshipping Fred Trueman and ended up working with him on television



Fred in full flow © The Cricketer International

I became a fan of Frederick Sewards Trueman in the 1950s because he seemed to have jumped out from the pages of the boys' comics I devoured, with their tall tales of sporting derring do. Fred was cut from the same cloth as Wilson of the Wizard who, playing for Stoneshire at the age of 217, bowled a ball that smashed the sightscreen to smithereens. Like Fred, Wilson was well muscled but lithe, the black hair chopped as if by a blind barber with a chin that jutted out like a chunk of granite.

There was no tradition of cricket in the Waddell mining family who lived in the Ashington area of east Northumberland. At school I was hopeless with the bat and wild with the ball. However, I was fast and a good thrower, so I made the 1st XI as a fielder. My dad, Bob, and I used to watch the Test matches on a flickering black-and- white telly with the curtains drawn. Bob, who had done every tough and dirty job in the pit and by the early 1950s was a specialist roof puller-down, had heard that Fred was of mining stock. "That Fred used to work as a putter down the pit, humping full tubs on and off the way. No wonder he's got shoulders like a dray horse," was my dad's opinion.

When I first met Fred at Yorkshire TV in 1972, he confirmed the view that putting was hard graft. He also told a typically wry story about what had happened to the tiny terrace cottage in the hamlet of Scotch Springs where he had been born. "No chance of me getting a blue plaque put up to honour me name. T'ouse were flattened to extend the bloody pit heap!"

Watching Fred bowl on telly - hair flapping, brow knotted, shirt-tail dangling - made such a vivid impression on me during my first year at Cambridge University in 1959 that I tried cricket again. In the nets the skipper of the college casual XI said my bowling action was "just like Fred's" and so he opened with me against Histon village. I spat, scowled, raced in and was hit all over the place by a young Popeye-armed oik called Ernie. I lasted one over.

Watching Fred bowl on telly - hair flapping, brow knotted, shirt-tail dangling - made such a vivid impression on me during my first year at Cambridge University in 1959 that I tried cricket again

Four years later I was in a working men's club in Geordieland, watching England play West Indies at Edgbaston on telly. The place was full of miners, half of them "black pint men" - lads still in their working muck, having a jar before going home. I have never known an atmosphere like it: dozens of pints of Federation Special stood unsipped, and cheese and pickles crozzled on trays as Fred put the Windies to the sword, taking 6 for 4 in 24 balls to win the match. As he sweated to eke ever more effort out of that mighty frame and bent his back to what John Arlott called "the cocked trigger", we roared him on so hard that the steward's wife thought we were fighting.

Fred Trueman and the Indoor League pub-games show were a match made in showbiz heaven, and between 1972 and 1976 the show drew audiences of eight million. The support acts were arm-wrestlers and shove ha'penny players but the cream of the crop were Alan Evans, Leighton Rees and the darters. Fred, resplendent in wool cardy with suede panels and puffing a bendy pipe, was in his element. As producer of the show I was so chuffed the way the legend mingled with the tattooed, boozy giants of arrows. But when it came to recording the links using an autocue, Fred was a disaster. It didn't help that he had just launched himself as a stand-up comedian at the Fiesta club in Stockton and celebrated a standing ovation till 3am. Seven hours and three black coffees later he faced the cameras. Imagine his shock when I walked in with an eightpack of Newcy Brown.

"What's that, Sidney?" asked the great man, chops sagging in his pale face.

"Continuity," I replied. "You're drinking on tape and we have to match it."

He did his level best but was re-pissed by noon and we had to call it a day. But not before Fred felled us with laughter. He was just getting the hang of the autocue, when this line, about an arm wrestler who dressed in tight leather, rolled: "Here he is, Mark Sinclair-Scott, the Narcissus of the Knotted Knuckles." Due to a few blobs on the typing and Fred's fragile state, it came out as "the nancy boy with the knotted knuckles." Over the next three years he kept us entertained royally. He told me of how he and his boyhood mates got hold of hard balls for his bowling practice.



'Like Fred, Wilson was well muscled but lithe, the black hair chopped as if by a blind barber with a chin that jutted out like a chunk of granite' © Getty Images

"We'd go to the fair and I'd pay to chuck wooden balls at coconuts. First two goes I'd fling the balls right over the shy for my pals to collect. The bloke on the stall never twigged."

Mind you, FS was not the only character in the Trueman clan. My wife Irene and I attended Fred's 50th birthday bash at his house at Gargrave. Fred's mum had a jar or two, then announced she was ready for home. "Tek a bottle home wi' yer, mother," cried Fred. There was a clink from the kitchen and suddenly Fred looked out of the window. "Bloody Hell!" he cried. He raced out of the room. We looked out the window and there was this little woman humping a magnum of gin. Fred wrestled it from her and came back inside. "Gets a bit thirsty, me old mum," he said.

Fred rightly became a sporting legend but it was my privilege to know him as a good mate who never forgot his roots as a pit yacker.

The voice of darts on television, Sid Waddell is the author of over 11 books