Bob Nixon - Obituary

Bob Nixon earned a considerable reputation in South Africa, as well as in his own country, as a cricket broadcaster when matches played in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) were syndicated by the Rhodesian Broadcasting Corporation

Wisden Cricinfo
Bob Nixon earned a considerable reputation in South Africa, as well as in his own country, as a cricket broadcaster when matches played in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) were syndicated by the Rhodesian Broadcasting Corporation. He was in the very top flight of broadcasters and his commentary also reached many thousands of listeners outside Africa, especially those in Europe who listened to Radio RSA, the overseas service of the SABC. In those days short-wave radio was the only way for followers of South African and Rhodesian cricket, in England especially, to hear news of Currie Cup and other first-class matches.
His broadcasting career started in 1965 when Worcestershire toured Rhodesia, and he also did rugby commentary for a year, but gave it up because he did not have the time. A very versatile person, he also worked on stage, radio and TV for many years, acting as host to two long-running programmes and also won the Best Actor award in 1964.
He had two major highlights in his broadcasting career. The first was when he was live on air for the famous walkoff by Eastern Province in Bulawayo in November 1972, while the second came in February 1976 when Rhodesia, largely thanks to a magnificent innings by Jack Heron, beat Eastern Province - also at Bulawayo - with just two balls to be bowled. The remarkable thing about that game was that both the RBC and SABC news services were held back for over six minutes for the end of this pulsating match, until Paddy Clift hit the four that gave Rhodesia victory.
Nixon regarded his greatest match as being Rhodesia v Western Province at Newlands in March 1972. His commentaries were going direct to Salisbury (now Harare) by landline, much to the consternation of the locals clustered around the commentary box, complete with radios, trying to pick up the commentary. On the final morning Mike Procter produced the most terrifying spell of fast bowling Nixon had ever seen, taking five wickets for nine runs in 65 balls, frightening the home batsmen to death to bring victory by seven wickets.
Prior to commentating he initially worked as the commentator's scorer - "After the Secretary of the Matabeleland Cricket Union approached me because he was desperate - why else?" With his Scots blood it seemed to him to be a "gift from the gods" to have the best seat in the ground, a free lunch, being with two of the best broadcasters he had known, and being paid for what he wanted to do. On the appointed day, with some trepidation, he introduced himself to John Parry and Mervyn Hamilton with the news he was their scorer.
During the following three days John Parry, then director-general of broadcasting, asked Nixon if he had given any thought to taking up commentating himself, as "he seemed to have a reasonable command of the English language". He said he would, and eight days later covered a Logan Cup match. Fifteen minutes before he was due to go on air the heavens opened, and as every other sports venue was also rained off he was called to give a summary of the morning's play at least seven times in the afternoon. He returned home "miserable, convinced that my chance had gone", but later that evening Parry phoned back saying he liked what he had heard. Bob Nixon's broadcasting career was launched.
After Rhodesia's independence in 1980 he was back in the "great wild world of cricket". After a one-day game against West Indies he received a phone call from Paddy Feeny of the BBC World Service's Saturday Special sports programme, saying they wanted reports on all future games between Zimbabwe and any touring teams. He subsequently commentated in England on BBC Radio as a member of the World Cup commentary team, sharing the microphone with John Arlott, Brian Johnston, Peter Parfitt and Fred Trueman, among others. In South Africa and Rhodesia he commentated with the likes of Charles Fortune, Michael Toms, Frank Richmond and Austin Wilmot, and was also proud of the fact he introduced Robin Jackman to broadcasting. He commentated at grounds all over the world, with Lord's giving him special pleasure.
Nixon played league cricket in Johannesburg as a student, and later for the Stragglers Cricket Club. In 1983 he won a by-election to become the Independent MP for Bulawayo South, in the process becoming the first white MP to be elected to parliament since UDI from outside the Rhodesia Front party.
Born in Tanganyika, Nixon and his sister were sent to England for their education, as was the wont of colonial servants. He was educated at Malsis Preparatory School in Yorkshire, and then at Surrey's Epsom College until 1940, when he and his sister returned to Tanganyika, after which he attended Plumtree School in Southern Rhodesia. He volunteered for war service and saw action in Italy with the 6th South African Armoured Division. In November 1954 he went to Bulawayo to set up his dental practice after qualifying as a dental surgeon from the University of the Witwatersrand in 1953.
After retiring from dentistry and 22 years of broadcasting in Zimbabwe Nixon moved to Stowmarket in England in March 1986, where he again broadcast on cricket matches for BBC Radio and also provided ball-by-ball commentary on all Essex's matches live over the telephone. He also started a business making architects' models, which he undertook during the winter months, and was also an accomplished amateur photographer whose photos appeared in the Benson & Hedges Cricket Year book. He left England for Somerset West in 1992 to be nearer his family, and successfully overcame a quintuple bypass operation in June 1997 in Cape Town, from which he recovered pretty well, allowing him to play golf and travel.
Two weeks before his death he was admitted to hospital with cardiac failure and subsequently suffered renal failure and died in the Vergelegen Mediclinic, Somerset West. He is survived by his wife Clare, daughter Diana and sister Norma in Cape Town, son Robin in Bulawayo, two grand-daughters and a sister-in-law in the USA. His other daughter, Carol, was killed in a motor accident in July 1977.
Robin Jackman paid the following tribute to Bob Nixon: "It was in 1978 that my broadcasting career began. I was playing for Rhodesia [as it then was] in the Currie Cup, when teams were only allowed one overseas player. For this particular game I had been overlooked for a batsman, and accepted an invitation from Bob to join him in the commentary box for RBC [Rhodesian Broadcasting Corporation]. Since then I have been privileged to work for many organisations worldwide for both radio and television.
"When asked who has had an influence on my broadcasting career, the three people I mention are Bob and Richie Benaud, and Trevor Quirk, who taught me so much with the SABC. Bob was the first to guide me in microphone technique, interaction with my co-commentator and voice-projection. Without his assistance, I am sure that I would have found my audition with the BBC a few years later a much tougher assignment.
"I have always been of the opinion that a good commentator must be mindful of being a guest in the listener's home as opposed to an intruder. This was always the case with Bob. A gentle voice that belonged to a gentle man and, as it so happens, a gentleman. He was a dedicated family man who, to my knowledge, never had a bad word to say about anyone. His love for the game of cricket was clear to all who listened to him. The game and many people around the world have lost a true friend."