Conviction costs Boycott outlet for unique voice (12 November 1998)

12 November 1998

Conviction costs Boycott outlet for unique voice

Simon Hughes on a fastidious and awkward character

DICKIE Bird was umpiring once at Headingley when Geoffrey Boycott appeared on the pavilion balcony in civvies. He had retired from first-class cricket a few years before. "That man Boycott's got millions y'know and when he dies they'll bury all the money with him," Bird said. "And I'll be the first to go and dig it up."

The upholding of Boycott's guilty verdict in his girlfriend-beating case, announced on Tuesday, means he may not now be worth as much as Dickie imagined. Added to his substantial court costs, various lucrative media contracts are likely to be consigned to the wastebin.

The Sun, that distingushed pillar of moral values, jettisoned him yesterday, the BBC are unlikely to employ him in the near future, nor are Sky or Channel 4. He faces a period in the broadcasting wilderness.

Love him or hate him, Boycott had no peers as a commentator, both in what he said and how he behaved. His precis of situations or incidents were brilliant, even if he tended to repeat himself. He was a thorough professional, delivering his famous pitch inspections and match analyses in one take, without autocue or crib sheets. His observations were articulate and often funny.

But it was his time off-mike that revealed most about him as a person. He was fastidious with a capital F. He always arrived immaculately dressed, often delivered to the door by his regular companion Ann Wyatt, who was then left to her own devices while he worked.

I once saw her standing in a Chanel suit in the dingy members bar at Northampton drinking tea out of a polystyrene cup. Meanwhile Boycott would be carefully hanging up his jacket and hat in the commentary box and turning his sleeveless sweaters inside out before folding them over the back of a chair. He forensically labelled his water glass and brought his own foam shield for the microphone.

He had few friends in cricket. Many current players disliked him for his outspokenness, and fellow commentators like Richie Benaud, David Gower and Tony Lewis endured rather than enjoyed his company and Gower once stamped on his precious straw hat he found him so infuriating.

Boycott never socialised with any of the commentators or production staff, and would constantly haggle over money. He had special rates for mileage, apparently double the norm, and compiled scrupulous expense invoices, including claims for such items as "porters' fees".

When not commentating, Boycott lingered around the box pontificating, and was usually quite approachable, even though his language was punctuated by expletives. He became positively animated whenever an attractive woman appeared, often complimenting their dress or figure.

In several years working with him I can only remember him losing his temper once - with a rather inflexible young stage manager - and he never seemed capable of violence.

He did, however, occasionally overstep the mark. His outburst against England coach David Lloyd during the Oval Test against Sri Lanka, which led to an aggrieved confrontation behind the BBC studio, was a case in point.

Then, as now, he would have declared he had done nothing wrong, but this intransigence - his hallmark as a player - is finally costing him his livelihood. After the phenomenal success of Dickie Bird's autobiography, it may ultimately be the umpire who ends up quids in.

Source :: Electronic Telegraph (http://www.telegraph.co.uk)