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4 January 1997
Cricketing knight takes pride in unbreakable partnership
ARISING to find himself Sir Alec Victor Bedser one morning this week hasn`t made a scrap of difference to him. "I don`t expect we`ll change," said his twin brother, Eric, the elder by 10 minutes, who has lived with sport`s newest knight of the realm for 78 years, writes Sue Mott.
They were separated briefly when Alec made his first cricket tour of Australia with England in 1946-47, but a bookmaker paid Eric`s passage by cargo boat and the brothers were reunited. They probably shook hands. "Mum and Dad weren`t emotional people. We`re the same," said Alec. "Take life as it is and get on with it."
He had come down the garden path that afternoon and apologised for leading us indoors the back way. The front door is kept sternly locked as a precaution against burglars, although what tomfool wrong-doer would risk the wrath of the mighty arm that took 236 Test wickets for England, or his brother`s for that matter, which once knocked 167 for Surrey against Notts, is scarcely possible to imagine. They are 6ft 3in, stoic, formidable, identical.
"Can anybody tell you apart?" I wondered. "Well, I don`t have any trouble," said Alec.
Their home, comfortable, quintessentially male, with two sprigs of holly over a portrait of young Alec their concession to Christmas, was built by their own strong hands. "Dad laid every brick. We did the labouring." But their labour of love, Alec`s in particular, was cricket. He can show you the ball with which he took 11 wickets against India on his debut at Lord`s in June 1946, a magnificent, sweeping picture of himself in the square at the Sydney Cricket Ground presented by the grateful citizens of Woking, a statue of himself in full-bowl by the sculptor David Wynne.
"He`s done the Queen and the Prince of Wales," said the model, a fierce patriot, proudly.
"And The Beatles," said Eric.
"He started with fish," said Alec.
"Animals," said Eric.
The garden is given over to vegetables, the scullery to golf clubs and the conversation to cricket and the kind of old-world courtesy you imagine went out with Denis Compton`s Brylcreem. And much is owed to twins` parents, Florence and Arthur, who brought two such strapping boys into the world (Eric weighed 7lb when he was born, Alec 6lb 12oz), and then inculcated them with a sense of sibling loyalty which has lasted a lifetime.
"We were brought up in a cottage half a mile away, down at the Bleak," said Alec, meaning the Bleak House pub on the outside edge of Woking, where the young twins were forbidden to loiter, this being deemed the height of vulgarity by their working-class parents. So they crossed the road to the common and played cricket.
They didn`t always steer clear of the hostelries in later life. It so happens that my Aunt Bea remembers well them coming into the Kingfield Arms in Woking most evenings, the very models of contentment and comportment, to avail themselves of her sandwiches. "A bottle of Guinness and two glasses," they`d say, while my incorrigible Uncle George, the publican, regaled them with jokes.
They were local heroes, starring for Surrey for 20 years. But the gratitude was mutual. Ask Alec for the greatest moment of his professional life, one that spans all those years of county cricket, 51 Tests and a record 23 years as an England selector, and he replies, without hesitation: "When we got that letter from the Oval asking us to join the playing staff for Surrey. That was the thing that meant so much to both of us." They were 19.
They had left school at 14 to work as office boys in a solicitors` office. "Mum and Dad didn`t want us to follow him into the building trade. In those days you lost so many days to the weather and then you didn`t get paid. Dad used to get the sack from one job on a Friday night and have to cycle all round Woking on a Saturday morning to find another job for Monday. It was another world."
By comparison, professional cricket was a Mecca of stability. "Two pound we got when we started, two pound in the summer, one in the winter. To earn a bit more in the winter Surrey gave us the job of shifting an earth bank down at the Vauxhall End. Eric and I and a chap called McIntyre, who also played for England afterwards, worked that winter pick and shovelling that earth banking 30 feet forwards. It took us four months. We used to leave here at six o`clock in the morning, get the workman`s train up to London and we moved it - by hand. Oh, they`d get a machine now. But it made you strong, made your back strong."
That was 1938. By 1939 they had gone to war. "We stayed together all the war. The elder brother could claim the younger in the Air Force so Eric, being 10 minutes older, claimed me. When any post- ing came, there was always the note: "One not to proceed without the other." And so it remained.
They went to France together, were rescued from Dunkirk together in a cross-Channel steamer, landed in North Africa together, went through Italy together and finished up in Austria together in 1946. "We were lucky. It was a great education. You went as a boy and came out a man," said Alec
THE one, the only, area in which they diverged was on the cricket pitch where Eric bowled off-spinners for Surrey and became a useful all-rounder while Alec made the leap to international cricket with his masterly medium-fast bowling, in-swingers and legcutters a speciality. Was Eric ever jealous? "No, no," said Alec, "we were never jealous of each other. We share everything. Money, everything. We could wear each other`s clothes. We don`t but we can. They fit. We basically buy two of everything.
"It`s great to have someone as a companion you can trust. Someone not envious. Someone who doesn`t want what you`ve got. The whole thing is just a good way to live." Was neither of them ever close to being married? "Oh, I don`t know. Might have been. It`s a long time ago," said Alec. "Suffice to say, we`ve never been married."
"I changed to off-spinners," explained Eric, "because I thought there was more chance of us playing in the same side. I had a Test trial. You all hope to play for England, don`t you?" But despite the very real possibility of self-sacrifice on his part, there is no festering rancour to be seen. Instead he volunteers the information that since his brother`s knighthood was announced there have been 17 phone calls from Australia alone, one from the Prime Minister, John Howard.
The Bedsers have a great affinity with Australia. "What used to happen in those days on tour, the pubs used to close at six and we`d play until six. So what old Keith Miller, Arthur Morris and Ray Lindwall used to do was get a keg of beer in their dressingroom, put a stack of ice on it and a few of us who were their mates used to go in and drink it. Then we`d have a meal and go to bed. If you`d bowled all day - I bowled in Adelaide when it was 104 degrees - you lost a lot of fluid. You`d got to put it back. It doesn`t affect you, beer! It fostered good relations. Great mates we were. Arthur Morris phoned me this morning. Said: `Well done. Fully deserved. About time too.` "
Alec surveys the modern ailments of cricket and being a knight of courteous, conservative and cautious inclination does not quite say what he means. But the inference is clear.
"I mean, when they talk about pressures today, I never really understand that word because when I started playing after the war I didn`t see any pressures. There was no pressure about money, because you didn`t get any. If you want to draw a comparison - not that I mind, don`t get me wrong - Alec Stewart`s 32, with a lovely home now, motor cars, everything. When I was 32 I had a push bike. We lived in that house on the Bleak and we didn`t have a bathroom until I was 31."
He disagrees with Ian Botham`s concept of a powerful supremo to run English cricket on the grounds that "you cannot possibly be everywhere at once and there are so many players who are much of a muchness, one fellow might have his favourites." He also disapproves of the modern "manager". "Once you`ve picked the side the manager is the captain. Finished. The captain should control what`s going to happen. If he spends hours talking to his team, that`s up to him but a good captain never did."
Sir Alec is, of course, a conspicuous member of the old school, when chaps spent eight months getting to and from Australia, loved every second of it and didn`t get any grief from the wife. "They were all blokes together, weren`t they? Some used to go away with girls but they didn`t flaunt it around. They went up the fire escape, then they`d go out and get a hundred the next day. But you`re coming back to standards, aren`t you? No one questions anything now."
The cultural revolution put paid to all that. It was fully 20 years ago that he, by now the esteemed chairman of selectors, found himself at the portals of an England hotel on tour as the fast bowler arrived. Alec gazed at the man aghast. "My god," he gasped, "he`s got a teddy bear under his arm."
Source :: Electronic Telegraph (https://www.telegraph.co.uk)