On August 12, 1927 John Robinson, an estate agent, was hanged at Pentonville for the murder of Minnie Bonati, a 36-year-old prostitute whom he had struck with a coal scuttle and suffocated before dismembering her body and putting the parts in a large trunk he then left at Charing Cross railway station. The barrister who had unsuccessfully defended Bonati at the Old Bailey in July was otherwise occupied on the eve of his former client's execution; he was making 55 for Somerset against Middlesex at Clarence Park, Weston-super-Mare. His name was Malcolm Douglas Lyon but many people called him Dar.
One of Lyon's fellow amateurs in the team against Middlesex was Guy Earle, with whose wife he had conducted an affair, a matter which apparently caused the cuckold less concern than it prompted amongst Somerset's committee. Nor does it seem to have been recorded what Beverley Hamilton Lyon, the famous Gloucestershire captain, thought of his elder brother's colourful lifestyle; perhaps he considered it vaguely typical for a man who viewed normality much as the bull regards the matador. Dar would later stand for election as a Liberal MP in Bury St Edmunds, write a cricket film script entitled Ashes and be appointed a magistrate in Gambia in 1932. In any case Bev had been preoccupied with the task of taking a group of fine Gloucestershire cricketers and turning them into the team that would twice finish runners-up in the County Championship.
If much of this sounds like something from the pages of Patrick Hamilton or Evelyn Waugh, one fact may restore the reader to the relative normality of English cricket between the wars: there were many shrewd judges who thought Dar Lyon should have been selected for England as a batsman and Bev could have made a fine captain of the Test side.
Certainly if the two brothers could have generated the same amount of energy in a common cause as they sparked when playing against each other in West Country derbies, the results might have been spectacular. In 1930 Dar was dropped at mid-off by Tom Goddard when he had made only two in the game against Gloucestershire at Taunton and went on to make 210. Bev's "normally laughing eyes flashed in annoyance" writes David Foot, but the Gloucestershire skipper replied with a century of his own and his side won the match by eight wickets.
Four years earlier Dar's rebellious sense of fun had been prominent when he found himself bowling to his brother straight after tea on the second day at Taunton. He delivered a doughnut. Dar took three of his eight first-class wickets in that game and was far more frequently to be found behind the stumps, where, according to RC Robertson-Glasgow (Crusoe), "his keeping varied from the brilliant to the blandly inattentive. He objected to wide inswingers on the leg side, and, as the ball sped to the flower-border in front of the Taunton pavilion, he would remark casually: 'Tut, tut; there go four more gerania.'"
Their father's judgement ensured that the Lyon brothers would play on the same side in only two first-class matches. Both went to Rugby School but Dar, who was nearly four years older, went to Cambridge University whereas Bev attended Oxford and played against his brother in the 1922 Varsity match. Their choice of first-class counties had nothing to do with mere preference. The boys' father, Jeremiah, a Bristol-based businessman, was persuaded by John Daniell, the Somerset skipper, that he should toss a coin to decide which West Country counties his sons should represent. (The idea they might play for the same team seems to have been discounted early on.) The consensus was that Somerset got the more talented batsman whereas Gloucestershire had the services of the better skipper. But both brothers had a mortal dread of dull play and were far ahead of their time in proposing that some one-day cricket should take place.
"I have repeatedly suggested in the Press and elsewhere that a knock-out competition between the counties willing to enter should be held," wrote Dar in Cricket (1932), perhaps the most bizarre instructional book ever published, "not instead of the county championship proper (for the time being), but to be played concurrently for a cup which I should only be too happy to present."
The chances of the authorities ever pursuing Dar Lyon's idea in the 1930s or allowing him to sponsor a new competition were nil. His ability as a batsman was immediately apparent when he made a century against Worcestershire on his championship debut while still a freshman at Cambridge; his talent and fearlessness were even clearer when he took a century off an Australian attack that included Clarrie Grimmett at Taunton in 1926. Yet neither the county he represented nor his irreverent relationship with authority helped his case for Test selection. He was "an England batsman whom England never used… next to Hammond and Woolley he was the finest driver of his day," enthused Crusoe, who warmed to Dar's humour while acknowledging its impact: "His wisecracks played sharply around Marylebone," he wrote. "The late Lord Harris, I know, appreciated them. The head selector did not. There was a frivolous telegram which he could not forgive."
Maybe Dar needed a captain as shrewd as Bev to guide his career. A total of 7290 runs at an average of 29.27 seems a faint reflection of his talent. Perhaps both brothers were born three decades before their time. Certainly as amateurs they could have done without the irritating need to make a living, whether in the law courts or the world of business. That priority was never more galling to Bev than in 1930 when work caused him to miss the last five matches of a season in which Gloucestershire had a wonderful chance of winning their first title.
Lyon's players did not betray the trust of an absent skipper whom even the truculent Charlie Parker respected. Under Jim Seabrook they won four of their last five matches but still finished three points behind Lancashire despite winning 15 matches to the champions' 10. It was a season in which five points were awarded for first-innings lead and only a miserable eight for a win. Under almost any other system used in the history of the County Championship, Gloucestershire would have finished top though that was really no consolation to Bev nor was his being chosen as one of Wisden's Cricketers of the Year. His team were runners-up again the following season but Brian Sellers had by then restored what Bradford and Sheffield saw as the natural order of things. Yorkshire won the title by the length of Scarborough prom.
Yet the absence of major honours and Test selection could not sully Bev's achievement in transforming the way Gloucestershire's cricketers conducted themselves on and off the field. He was very loyal to his players and insisted on having a drink with them after a match. Four days after Australia had regained the Ashes at The Oval in 1930 he led Gloucestershire to a one-run victory against the tourists at Bristol in a game watched on the last day by 18,000 spectators. Even in pre-war England, such triumphs momentarily blurred the differences between between amateurs and professionals and there were times when Bev sought to discard the distinction altogether.
Although he generally showed a little more tact than his brother when dealing with English cricket's establishment, he once told all his players to assemble in the Long Room so that they could walk out onto the Lord's outfield as one team. Gloucestershire's paid players were turned back so Bev and his fellow amateurs went to join them instead and the eleven men all went out through the professionals' gate. The players remembered such things just as they valued their captain's willingness to field close to the wicket to Parker and Goddard. When Bev decided to declare an innings closed in order to press for a win, his pros may have shaken their heads but they still followed the skipper.
"After a cursory glance at the value of the pound sterling in Paris and what poor Mr Stanley Baldwin said in the House about the debt settlement with the Yanks, you will get up and shave"
Dar Lyon in Cricket
"The complexities of cricket excited his shrewd, restless mind and he seemed to be permanently bubbling with ideas," wrote the Gloucestershire historian, Grahame Parker. "He had that rare ability which makes a team greater than the sum of its parts… His clever use of the material available to him, his infectious cavalier approach to the game, transmitted his own supreme self-confidence to the team and their cricket. No doubt some of the professionals would have their misgivings and no doubt Charlie Parker would have stated his in most forceful terms, but Bev Lyon had the style that could charm the larks from the sky."
It was a shame Bev did not write a book about captaincy although maybe he reckoned it would be impossible to follow his brother's Cricket. In fact Dar had earlier published a novel A Village Match and After in 1929 but it fades from the memory when compared with the collection of aphorisms, observations and advice that make up the second book.
The first chapter seeks to establish the supremacy of cricket. Lyon declares that it is "harder to reach the front rank as a batsman than to become, for example, a scratch golfer or a first-class lawn tennis, football, racquets, or polo player. He even ranks the games in order of difficulty. Cricket is first, billiards fourth, soccer sixth and squash ninth. Lawn tennis in thirteenth, below ludo and spillikins.
When the skills of cricket are considered Dar intersperses practical advice, much of it sound enough, with pictures of how to play strokes and how not to play them. There are carefully posed photographs of defensive shots but also a comically ungainly one of the result when a right-handed batsman fails to move his left leg towards the pitch of the ball.
There are also lifestyle hints and an imaginative reconstruction of a cricketer's routine on the day of a match: "Being by now an ardent cricket fan and consequently dead from the neck up, you will, I fear, open your paper at the sports page hoping to read that Yorkshire were beaten the day before and that the ignorant reporter who was covering your own game has revealed that the ball that dismissed you for the lowest score known to the scorers was quite unplayable… After a cursory glance at the value of the pound sterling in Paris and what poor Mr Stanley Baldwin said in the House about the debt settlement with the Yanks, you will get up and shave."
The book ends with a chapter on the crisis in first-class cricket. Dar praises the club and village game before noting that the county game has "fallen upon bad times." He suggests solutions, none of which would be tried for at least thirty years.
By the time Cricket was published Dar was preparing for his new life in Africa. In 1941 he had a new wife, too, having divorced Guy Earle's former spouse and married Doreen Healey, a collier examiner's daughter from Cheltenham who was nineteen years younger than her husband. There had been one more full year of county cricket with Somerset in 1938 but after the war he served a magistrate in Kenya and then as Chief Justice in the Seychelles from 1948 to 1957. Even endowed with colonial authority he found windmills to charge and enemies to confront.
Bev's appearances for Gloucestershire had been intermittent after he gave up the captaincy in 1934. The two brothers retired to Sussex and died within six years of each other, Dar in St Leonards-on-Sea in 1964 and Bev in Balcombe in 1970. You might think their deaths were the only conventional thing about their adult lives.