Thousands more enjoying the game through his writing, 1965

Neville Cardus

The Birthday Honours List of 1964 included the award of the C.B.E. to Mr. Neville Cardus for services to music and cricket. It was the first -- and, some may feel, belated -- official recognition of the modest man who, for almost fifty years, has written with sympathy and integrity about the two chief interests -- indeed, enthusiasms -- of his life. Throughout that time his work has never become jaded, but has unfailingly reflected the happiness of one who always felt privileged, even grateful, to earn his living from his pleasures.

The honour was acclaimed in the two spheres where he has long been accorded affection as a man, and respect as a writer. It would be short-sighted for cricketers to overlook Mr. Cardus's work on music. Few are qualified to compare his writings on the two subjects: in any case, the comparison would be pointless. It may be said, however, that while his standing in the world of music is high, in the field of cricket it is unique.

The form of musical criticism had already been shaped, by such men as Shaw, Newman, Langford, Hanslick and Professor Dent, before Mr. Cardus came to it. On the other hand, by innovation and influence, he virtually created modern cricket-writing. In doing so, he led thousands of people to greater enjoyment of the game.

Today he may be regarded as just one of a number of imaginative cricket-writers; but he appears so only to those who do not recall the immense novelty and impact of his writing when it first reached the public in the nineteen-twenties.

Before then there had been much competent cricket-reporting, informed, sound in judgment, pleasant in manner. But the Cardus of the years shortly after the First World War first brought to it the qualities of personalization, literary allusion and imagery. By such methods as presenting the contest between bowler and batsman as a clash not only of skills but of characters, he created something near to a mythology of the game.

His early writing has been described, not always with complimentary intent, as romantic. That is the essence of his appeal. To the enthusiast, cricket is romantic: and in Mr. Cardus's reports, the ordinary spectator saw his romantic and heroic feelings put into words for the first time.

Every modern cricket-writer with any pretensions to style owes half that he is to Neville Cardus, if only in the stern realism of making such an approach acceptable to editors. The consciously literary method can lead to lush and imprecise writing and, in the cases of some of Mr. Cardus's imitators, that has happened. His own work, however, always has a ballast of practicality, humanity and humour.

There was no cricket at his Board School, but on strips of waste land near his childhood home in the Rusholme suburb of Manchester, he learnt enough of the game to become assistant coach at Shrewsbury School. Though he does not labour technical points, he never loses sight of the basic principles. He is, too, sufficiently self-critical to relish the reaction to one of his high-flown passages of that earthy Lancashire cricketer and character, Richard Tyldesley: "Ah'd like to bowl at bugger soom da-ay." Thus, his unerring touch constantly saved him from the pitfall of extravagance, by balancing rich imagery with the earthiness of the genuine common tongue.

No cricketer of whom he ever wrote trod a more remarkable path from a humble upbringing to success than this man who achieved more than he would have dared to regard as ambition, but which must have seemed to him so remote as to be beyond dreams.

Nothing in his wide-ranging and relishable Autobiography is more vivid than the description of his childhood in the house of his grandfather who retired from the police force as a result of a series of blows -- the bumps from which gleamed ever afterwards on his scalp -- from the jemmy of no less a celebrity than Charles Peace.

The grandmother took in washing: her three buxom daughters, one of them Neville Cardus's mother, laundered and ironed: the grandfather delivered the wash by pony-cart, except in the case of rush orders, which the young Cardus took in a perambulator.

Once, as music critic of The Manchester Guardian, he was given dinner by the Chairman of the Hallé Concerts Society and, as he leant back and drew on one of his host's cigars, he could think: "What a world! I have delivered his washing."

He was ten years old when he earned his first money -- as a pavement artist. He left school at thirteen with little more education than the ability to read and write: but he had discovered Dickens -- and the urge to read. "I went alone on Saturday evenings to the Free Library, not in the spirit of a good boy stirred upward and on by visions of an improving kind: I revelled in it all."

By the time he was fourteen he had sold newspapers, pushed a builder's hand-cart, boiled type in a printing works and sold chocolate (and avidly watched the performance) in a Manchester theatre. But already Cardus the writer was beginning to take shape.

He had been to Old Trafford and seen A.C. MacLaren and R.H. Spooner, two of the players from whom he gained so much pleasure, and whom he repaid with a measure of immortality in his writing. In his own words: "I spent sixteen years of my youth mainly in books and music and in the sixpenny galleries of theatres. The men on the cricket field were mixed up with the heroes of books and plays." This is why a Cardus quotation is always unforced: it springs from a mind not stocked by formal education but by enthusiastic reading.

He settled as a clerk in an insurance office, living in a lodging house, reading voraciously and attending free lectures at the University, until he reached the age of twenty-one and a salary of a pound a week. In 1912 he applied for a post at Shrewsbury School (Shastbury of some of his most charming essays) as assistant to the cricket professional, Attewell (William of The Summer Game).

To his surprise he was engaged. He bowledjust well enough--once, in desperation, just fast enough -- to keep his job until the day the headmaster, Dr. C.A. Alington, finding his unlikely-looking young cricket pro reading Euripides, made him his secretary.

During this time Cardus's first musical criticism was published -- in the old Daily Citizen. When Alington left Shrewsbury, Cardus went back to Manchester -- his poor eyesight alone precluded him from war service -- and wrote, with slight hope, to ask for work as a clerk in The Guardian office.

That remarkable man and editor, C. P. Scott, saw the letter and took Cardus as his secretary. A year later he was put on the staff of the paper as a reporter and, by 1917, had worked his way up to edit the Miscellany and to be number two to C.E. Montague, the paper's dramatic critic.

By yet another odd circumstance, he fell ill in 1919; and afterwards the News Editor, W.P. Crozier, suggested he might be amused to combine convalescence with cricket reporting at Old Trafford. The outcome was instantly successful. By the beginning of the next season he was The Manchester Guardian's cricket correspondent, under the pen-name Cricketer, which, during the next twenty years, he made increasingly famous. To his added delight he was also made assistant, and eventually successor, to Samuel Langford, the paper's music critic.

The Guardian's circulation and payment rates were small by comparison with those of the London papers. There was no doubt, however, that Neville Cardus was one of the rare cricket writers who positively sold newspapers: and he might have multiplied both his salary and his circulation considerably if he had accepted any of the offers to join a larger paper.

He refused them for the reason which distinguished him both as man and writer -- he was completely happy with his work and with the traditions and atmosphere of The Guardian: and, granted the variety afforded by a summer touring the cricket grounds, happy with Manchester, too.

He could not help but realise the impact of his work: he observed the opportunity to publish in book form and he knew the book world well enough to approach, quite astutely, Grant Richards, whose open-minded attitude to fresh types of writing made him one of the most successful publishers of new work and rising writers of the period. Yet Cardus's letters to him were so deferential as to suggest a complete lack of self-confidence in his own work.

Richards, however, was enthusiastic. The result was A Cricketer's Book, published in 1922. It began with The Greatest Test Match an account of the last day of England-Australia at The Oval in 1882, still the most vivid reconstruction of a cricket match ever written. There followed a series of those evocative essays in which great players were presented larger, but credibly so, than life, and closed with accounts of the Test series of 1921 and some thoughts on Australian cricket. This book was a landmark in cricket-writing.

Over the next eight years he published Days in the Sun, The Summer Game and Cricket, in the English Heritage series, and established his reputation widely and firmly. The last of these is slight in size but it is wide -- almost majestic -- in scope, and posterity could yet esteem it as the finest of his cricket books. It completed his reputation as the most widely accepted writer the game had known. His achievement could be defined as giving cricket the first sustained writing it had known of the type usually described as appreciation.

By now he had many imitators but no peer, if only for the reason that, driven by the urge that possesses every worthwhile writer, he never stood still. He broke fresh ground with Australian Summer, a book-length account of the 1936-37 M.C.C. tour of Australia. Then, in 1940, he left The Guardian for Australia, attracted by a fresh challenge, to deliver an hour-long broadcast each week on music, which he did for the remarkable period of seven years. He also covered music for The Sydney Morning Herald and addressed himself to writing his autobiography by hand.

This was one more successful departure: the Autobiography is expansive, richly human, poignant and humorous: but for the fact that its cricket content was not acceptable to the American reading public, it would have been a world best-seller.

A selection of his work was made by Rupert Hart-Davis under the title The Essential Neville Cardus in a series which, with Hemingway, Mary Webb, Joyce and Jefferies, reached a literary level never before attained by a cricket writer.

Although he had contentedly devoted himself to music for some years, the sailing of the Australian side for England in 1948 proved irresistible. He returned to report that tour and to become The Guardian's London music critic.

Meanwhile he wrote for The Sunday Times for a year, over a considerable period for World Sports and, from May, 1960, he has written a monthly essay for The Playfair Cricket Magazine. Still, too, usually on the occasion of the death of one of the players of earlier days, he contributes on cricket to The Guardian.

Of recent years, too, he has written regularly in Wisden -- with mellow and dignified nostalgia about old comrades like George Gunn, Charlie Macartney and Hubert Preston: with genuine appreciation of what is for him the younger generation in Sir Leonard Hutton, Godfrey Evans, Cyril Washbrook; of current influences; and, with genuine historic sweep, of Lancashire cricket and "Six Giants of the Wisden Century".

In the post-war period he produced a series of books on music -- Ten Composers, Talking of Music, studies of Sir Thomas Beecham and Mahler, and edited a book about Kathleen Ferrier.

Nowadays, rising seventy-seven, he covers chosen events in European music and watches cricket for pleasure. Though his last collection of cricket essays, The Playfair Cardus, revealed fresh facets of style, he probably is content to be judged on his already published work.

Some critics, though amiably disposed, have, nevertheless, done him the injustice of failing to observe his development. There are times when he blushes for what he regards as the excesses of his youth. His essential qualities, as a man, observer and recorder are, of course, constant: but his genuine artistic sensibility, if only that, dictated change in his style. The later Cardus is not to be categorised as better or worse than the early Cardus: but it does him less than justice not to recognise it as different.

Let us take two examples of the change: thirty years ago, in Good Days, which some critics regard as his best book, he concluded a study of A.C. Maclaren with this paragraph: "He was the noblest Roman of them all. The last impression in my memory of him is the best. I saw him batting in a match just before the (1914) war; he was coming to the end of his sway as a great batsman. And on a bad wicket he was knocked about by a vile fast bowler, hit all over the body. Yet every now and then one of the old imperious strokes shot grandeur over the field. There he stood, a fallible MacLaren, riddled through and through, but glorious still. I thought of Turner's 'The Fighting Temaraire' as MacLaren batted a scarred innings that day, and at last returned to the pavilion with the sky of his career red with a sun that was going down."

Lately his essay on Sir Leonard Hutton in The Playfair Cardus contained: "Technically his batsmanship was as soundly based and studied as any since Jack Hobbs. He played very close to the line of the ball, so much over it that he sometimes suggested, by the slope of his shoulders, the concentration of the student. Even in his beautiful cover drives -- and none have been more beautifully poised than his -- his head and eyes were inclined downward, and the bat's swing seldom went beyond the front leg before the ball was struck. Like every master he played 'late', so late that he could check the movement of any stroke at the last split second, if the ball suddenly 'did' something contrary to the eyes' and instinct's first promptings."

Comparisons would be pointless: not better, nor worse, but different -- with the difference that thirty years make in any man's mind. There was a period when he felt his writings on music were more important than those on cricket. Perhaps he was temporarily, if understandably, disenchanted. Mozart and Beethoven do not change: cricket does.

Few cricket-followers past middle age have ever been content that the players they watch then are so good as those of thirty years earlier. Perhaps indeed, Mr. Cardus was right: perhaps cricket is not what it was in 1930, or 1920 or 1900. But he has written as felicitously of Denis Compton, Richie Benaud, Neil Harvey, Sir Leonard Hutton and Keith Miller as he once did of Frank Woolley, Ted McDonald, Archie Maclaren or Reggie Spooner -- or nearly so.

Moreover, without professional compulsion, he has returned to watching cricket. Much of his erstwhile diffidence has evaporated: indeed, he as developed into a conversationalist and a salty raconteur, irresistible on such of his old theme characters as George Gunn, Walter Brearley, Harry Makepeace and Maurice Tate. He may be found taking coffee and talk at Lord's or the Oval half an hour or so before play begins: and he occasionally holds modest court on the little triangle of grass behind the Warner Stand.

He has many friends and still not a few imitators. He is courteous to them all: and, apparently effortlessly, he can observe a cricket match and turn a phrase with any of them. He has made a contribution to cricket which no one can ever duplicate.

It may be true that cricket was always an art, but no one until Neville Cardus presented it as an art with all an artist's perception. Because of him, thousands of people enjoy watching the game more than they would have done if he had not lived and written. He has said that his recipe was laid down by C. E. Montague: "To bring to the day's diet of sights and sounds the wine of your own temperament."

  • A CRICKETER'S BOOK: Grant Richards, 1922. 256 pp.
  • THE CLUB CRICKETER [by Cricketer of The Manchester Guardian]: Manchester Guardian: N. D., 1922. 54 pp.
  • DAYS IN THE SUN: Grant Richards, 1924. 263 pp.
  • LANCASHIRE COUNTY CRICKET CLUB SOUVENIR [by Cricketer]: Manchester Guardian and Lancashire C.C.C.: 1924. 40 pp.
  • AUSTRALIA v. ENGLAND 1877-1926 [by Cricketer] Manchester Guardian: 1926. 48 pp.
  • THE SUMMER GAME: Grant Richards and Humphrey Toulmin: 1929. 255 pp.
  • DAYS IN THE SUN: Cape ( Travellers' Library): 1929. Selection from A Cricketer's Book and Days in the Sun, revised.
  • CRICKET: Longmans, Green: 1930. 177 pp.
  • IDLE THOUGHTS ON CRICKET: A Broadcast Talk Printed for the Members of the Ditchling Cricket Club by G. T. Meynell: 1934. 6 pp.
  • GOOD DAYS: Cape, 1934. 288 pp.
  • THE AUSTRALIANS IN ENGLAND 1934 [by Cricketer] Manchester Guardian: 20 pp.
  • AUSTRALIAN SUMMER: Cape, 1937. 250 pp.
  • THE AUSTRALIANS IN ENGLAND 1938: Manchester Guardian. 32 pp.
  • ENGLISH CRICKET: Collins, 1945. 48 pp. Britain in Pictures series.
  • TEN COMPOSERS: Cape, 1945. 166 pp.
  • AUTOBIOGRAPHY: Collins, 1947. 288 pp.
  • THE ASHES: Sporting Record, 1948. 49 pp.
  • THE ESSENTIAL NEVILLE CARDUS: selected with an introduction by Rupert Hart-Davis: Cape, 1949. 316 pp. (contains accounts of Test Matches of 1938 reprinted from The Manchester Guardian and not elsewhere published in book form).
  • SECOND INNINGS: Collins, 1950. 250 pp.
  • CRICKET ALL THE YEAR: Collins, 1925. 222 pp.
  • KATHLEEN FERRIER: Hamish Hamilton, 1954. 128 pp. A symposium edited and introduced by Neville Cardus.
  • CLOSE OF PLAY: Collins, 1956. 192 pp.
  • TALKING OF MUSIC: Collins, 1959. 320 pp.
  • SIR THOMAS BEECHAM: Collins, 1962. 128 pp.
  • THE PLAYFAIR CARDUS: Dickens Press, 1963. 160 pp.
  • MAHLER: THE MAN AND HIS MUSIC: Gollancz, 1965. Vol. 1, 192 pp.

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