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Essays

John Woodcock and Wisden

Pub lunch, choc ice, dog walk

Graeme Wright
John Woodcock sits next to photographers behind the boundary  •  Adrian Murrell/Getty Images

John Woodcock sits next to photographers behind the boundary  •  Adrian Murrell/Getty Images

It's well enough documented how John Woodcock came to be Wisden editor after chatting to Kirsty Ennever, managing editor of the Almanack's publisher, Queen Anne Press, at a wedding reception in the Long Room at Lord's. Less known is that some years earlier, when managing editor of QAP myself, I gave Kirsty her first job out of university. Fate or not, the coincidence was certainly serendipitous.
John and I weren't starting from scratch when it came to putting a book together. John (always John, never "Wooders") had just finished a stint as assistant editor on Jim Swanton's authoritative Barclays World of Cricket. "His hand was everywhere," EWS wrote appreciatively in his introduction. And the evidence was everywhere on my first visit to The Old Curacy in Longparish, with proofs and photos spread across the dining-room table, soon to be replaced by Wisden articles, match reports and printers' proofs.
Editing and producing books was what I did, and I had worked with Norman Preston on two Wisdens before his death in March 1980. Christine Forrest, a neighbour, had helped with these, and was into the swing of the Almanack's idiosyncrasies, style and work cycle. I would sometimes describe my early relationship with John as resembling that between cabinet minister and departmental civil servant, only more complicated. My first responsibility was to QAP, and later John Wisden, keeping the book within budget, to its page extent and on schedule. But with John's prime commitment being to The Times, he had asked that I also be his assistant editor. In that sense, I had a responsibility to him and the Almanack's content.
We, including Christine, had to be a team. It helped that we all became the best of friends. Given the three of us had work ties other than Wisden, we needed a division of duties, and trust in each other's abilities. John would give the book its authority, and be Wisden's man-at-large. He commissioned and edited the main articles, Test reports and the county and tour reviews. He chose the Five Cricketers of the Year, and of course he wrote the Notes. Christine and I handled the rest: the subbing and checking, the proofreading and, on a rolling basis, passing pages for press.
Neither John nor I had the ego to impose ourselves on the book's structure, but we agreed we wanted to improve its literary quality. He came into his own here. A wonderful writer himself, he was also a fine judge of a writer; it was all the same to him whether that person appeared in tabloids or broadsheets. Younger journalists were chuffed to be asked to write for Wisden. What is surprising now is how infrequently Christine and I met up with John: three times a year on average. Otherwise, in that pre-internet age, we got by on phone and post.
But those visits to Longparish became special: the ritual of a pub lunch at John's local, the choc ice back at The Old Curacy and, work over for the day, walking his dog, Yorker mostly, along the river bank. Amazing we got any Wisden done, but we did, and had fun doing it. There was good gossip as well, not that any made it into Wisden. After John died, a friend sent me an email of sympathy: "He was someone you always mentioned as a good friend you respected and admired." And when I recollect the years we worked together, that sums it up.
Graeme Wright edited eight editions of Wisden, in two stints, between 1987 and 2002.