Missing Peter Laker and his pranks in the press box

PAT GIBSON, the chairman of the Cricket Writers’ Club, remembers with affection Peter Laker, the former Mirror writer, who died last week

Press boxes are not what they used to be. The thought came forcibly to mind with the news that Peter Laker, the former cricket correspondent of the Daily Mirror, had died at his Somerset home last week at the age of 87.

cricket ballThey were places of fun and laughter as well as work in the days before mobile phones and laptops, blogs and tweets, and Peter was the leading prankster until the time came to roll himself a fag and settle down to write a colourful back-page lead plus a well-informed, well-constructed match report of 1,000 words or more.

He certainly knew his cricket, having played two County Championship matches for Sussex as a right-hand batsman and leg-spin bowler in 1948 and 1949 and hundreds, probably thousands, more for Lewes Priory Cricket Club where he was still turning out, alongside his grandson, in his seventies.

He had moved to Lewes, where he also played football for the local club, in the 1930s when his parents took over the Pelham Arms. He was a consummate all-round sportsman, well-versed in all the pub games like darts and dominoes, shove ha’penny and crib, which served him well on those long overseas tours during his 25 years as the Mirror’s correspondent.

It was as a practical joker, however, that those of us who were in the press box in the 1970s and 1980s remember him with warmth, affection -and the occasional shudder.

Wendy Wimbush, the long-serving Cricket Writers’ Club treasurer, who was there as a scorer and statistician, recalls the pranks he played, often in collusion with Basil Easterbrook, his partner in crime, who once declared a Surrey innings closed by waving a piece of paper out of the press box window after sharpening his pencil on it.

“No doubt he and Basil are already plotting their next trick,” she said, remembering how Jack Fingleton, the old Australia batsman who wrote for the Sunday Times, and Dick Williamson, the Yorkshire freelance, would look around for Peter, suspecting another hoax whenever the phone rang at the back of the box.

Fingo , who was once summoned downstairs to meet “a lady admirer” only to find it was Laker in disguise, did take revenge by getting Peter out of bed in the early hours of the morning with a call from Australia and the greeting: “Is that you, Laker, you bastard?”

He was not the only victim to use that expression. When Cornhill were sponsoring Test cricket, they used to stimulate the creative juices by serving a glass or two of wine as writing-up time was approaching.

One day Peter , noticing that John Arlott was still enjoying his customary afternoon nap, swapped the vintage claret he always had at his elbow for a glass of the sponsor’s product. John woke up with a start, took a swig, spat out the inferior wine and bellowed: “Where’s that bloody Laker?”

Another time, Peter rang Williamson, pretending to be a council official from Bradford handling a complaint from a neighbour that Dick had left a stinking sack of fish heads in his garden. Laker was a picture of innocence as Dick raged at the accusation.

As a rare woman in the press box, Wendy was a natural target and assumed that Peter was up to his old tricks when he approached her as she was enjoying an ice cream during the tea interval on a sunny day at The Oval.

“Oh Wimbers,” he said, “you’d better get upstairs as quick as you can. Somebody has knocked a glass of wine over your scoresheets.”

A likely story, she thought, as she dashed upstairs expecting to see his beaming face as she fell for yet another of his jokes. Only this time it was true. The sloping desks in the old press box had claimed another victim and she had to borrow a hair drier from the office to rescue the now pale pink papers.

As she says: “Far off times and far off memories of some wonderful people.”


Mon Mar 24: SJA British Sports Journalism Awards, Grand Connaught Rooms, London
Thu Apr 10: SJA annual meeting, Old Cock Tavern, Fleet Street
Mon Apr 14: SJA Spring Golf Day: Croham Hurst GC, Surrey. Booking details to be announced