200 not out for ground with a history of firsts

As Lord’s celebrates it 200th anniversary this summer, the SJA’s PHILIP BARKER has published a book on Lord’s Firsts. Here, he details some of the broadcasting and cricket writing firsts to occur at Headquarters

Amid all the celebrations of the 200 years since Thomas Lord transported the turf to his third and final ground off the St John’s Wood Road, the BBC’s flagship cricket programme also has cause to raise a glass this summer.

Our colleagues' facilities at Lord's is far improved from 1934, when Howard Marshall had to broadcast from the Tavern
Our colleagues’ facilities at Lord’s is far improved from 1934, when Howard Marshall had to broadcast from the Tavern

When SJA Broadcaster of the Year Alison Mitchell and her Test Match Special colleagues take their places for the first Test, it will be 80 years to the week since the first ball by ball commentary on an international at Lord’s.

The man who undertook that first broadcast in 1934 was Howard Marshall, a former rugby player with a superb broadcasting voice.

But whereas commentators in later years would occupy a prime position behind the bowler’s arm, back in 1934 the all-powerful MCC committee decided that the BBC could have “the use of a room in the hotel”. By hotel, they meant the Tavern. They decided to charge 25 guineas as a facility fee. They were beaten down to 20 guineas and Marshall duly took up his position in the Tavern for the second England v Australia Test.

“The engineers were very helpful. They were always ready to fetch me a glass of beer or a cup of tea, or get the bowling figures from the scorers,” Marshall recalled.

No mention of the cakes which the current TMS team now shamelessly solicit from an enthusiastic listening public .

Cake or no, Marshall’s basic broadcasting technique has stood the test of time. “You chat as you would do to a friend who is interested in cricket,” he told Radio Times readers that first season.

EW Swanton paid Marshall the ultimate accolade. “It was he who did most to create the style of the Test ball-by-ball commentary,” Jim Swanton said.

The 1934 Test has gone down in history as “Verity’s match”, after Hedley Verity of Yorkshire exploited a drying wicket. He took 14 wickets on the final day as the Aussies crumbled. It made it a very testing task, even for the capable Marshall, to keep up in the commentary box.

His solo effort earned many plaudits but at least for the next Test at Old Trafford, the BBC made sure Marshall had a scorer, a member of the groundstaff called Arthur Wrigley who became a fixture in Test matches.

When war came five years later, cricket at Lord’s continued and so did the broadcasts. The BBC even put out a team to play at Lord’s. The line-up included football commentator Raymond Glendenning.

Former Middlesex and England captain Plum Warner, founder of the Cricketer, was also tried as a commentator but the powers that be described his style as “melancholy”.

After the war, a new recruit appeared in the commentary box for the first time. His day job was as a poetry producer but in the following 34 years, John Arlott became synonymous with the broadcasting of Test cricket on the radio.

“For me it was a seventh heaven to be watching cricket and talking about it and being paid for it,” Arlott said.

The TMS commentary box was by now ensconced high in the Lord’s Pavilion.

In 1975, Arlott was on the air during the second Test against Australia when the first Lord’s streaker appeared. So unfamiliar was this phenomenon in NW8 that when the runner, naked except for his trainers appeared, Trevor Bailey prompted that it was “a freaker”.

Without breaking stride, Arlott described the historic moment with his customary skill. “And it’s masculine…”

Five years later, television news crews risked life and limb as they clambered on to a ledge outside the radio commentary box in the Pavilion to film Arlott’s final stint as a Test match commentator. He had chosen his moment well: it was the last afternoon of the Centenary Test against Australia.

Arlott’s farewell was stylish, simple and unsentimental. “And after Trevor Bailey it will be Christopher Martin Jenkins,” were his final words of commentary.

As Arlott finished speaking, announcer Alan Curtis informed the crowd of this momentous moment and a torrent of applause erupted around the ground.

Down on the field, even batsmen Geoffrey Boycott and David Gower joined in .

BBC commentator Howard Marshall was so celebrated he even appeared on a cigarette card in the 1930s
BBC commentator Howard Marshall was so celebrated he even appeared on a cigarette card in the 1930s

Brian Johnston was the other grandee of the Lord’s commentary box in those days. “Johnners” actually lived in St John’s Wood .

When John Paul Getty “discovered” cricket, it also became clear that he and “Johnners” shared another passion. The Australian television soap, Neighbours.

A fine all-round broadcaster, Johnston recorded his 733rd and final episode of Down Your Way on the ground. He stopped after that number of programmes in deference to his predecessor as presenter, Franklin Englemann.

Johnners’ great sparring partner, Jonathan Agnew, a former SJA Broadcaster of the Year, took over as the BBC cricket correspondent and also reported archery at the ground at the 2012 Olympics. He described the Olympic event as, “Lord’s, but not as we know it.”

Aggers will be back in his usual seat for the two Tests this summer, against Sri Lanka and later India. The TMS box incidentally is the only place where a window may be opened in the otherwise hermetically sealed Lord’s Media Centre.


  • An explosion nearly delayed the opening of the present Lord’s ground in 1814.
  • MCC v Hertfordshire was the first “Grand Match “ on the current ground. The fixture will be repeated on June 22
  • Lord’s routinely staged “hopping” races in the 19th century.
  • The first overseas team to play at Lord’s was Ireland in 1858. They beat the MCC by an innings “on a mudpatch”.
  • The first Australians to visit Lord’s were a team of Aboriginals in 1868. After the cricket, they entertained members with boomerang throwing.
  • American teams played baseball and cricket at Lord’s in 1874.
  • England beat Australia in the first Test match played at Lord’s in 1884.
  • Middlesex captain and Lord’s stalwart Pelham Warner founded The Cricketer magazine in 1921.
  • Barker bookEngland’s women played at Lord’s for the first time in 1976. They beat Australia in a one-day international televised by the BBC. England captain Rachael Heyhoe-Flint worked in sports journalism and was one of 10 to be made honorary members when women were admitted in 1999.
  • The Media Centre opened in time for the 1999 World Cup. Before that, the written press were accommodated in the Warner Stand where, at one stage, there were only two telephone lines
  • Gary Lineker played for MCC against Germany at the ground in 1992. He borrowed David Gower’s bat, was dismissed for a single and quipped, “I always score one against the Germans.”
  • The late Christopher Martin-Jenkins was the last full-time cricket journalist elected MCC President in 2010.
  • During the 2012 Olympic Games, the press box and broadcast positions were on the members’ balcony in the Pavilion.



Mon Sep 8: SJA Autumn Golf Day, Muswell Hill GC – non-members very welcome