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Leslie Thomas John Arlott OBE (25 February 1914 – 14 December 1991) was an English journalist, author and cricket commentator for the BBC's Test Match Special. He was also a poet, wine connoisseur and former police officer in Hampshire. Known for his poetic phraseology, Arlott was a popular figure in the world of cricket commentary, he was noted for his "wonderful gift for evoking cricketing moments" by the BBC.[1]




Early life

Arlott was born in 1914, at Cemetery Lodge, Chapel Hill, Basingstoke in Hampshire and spent his early years living in the lodging of a local cemetery superintendent.[1] He attended a local school in 1920, aged six, and expressed an early interest in the local cricket matches.[2] In 1926 he watched England and Australia play at The Oval, becoming a fan of Jack Hobbs, and later watched Sussex face Lancashire.[2]

In 1938 Arlott made a brief appearance as 12th man for Hampshire during a match against Worcestershire.[2] In 1980 he was asked whether playing first-class cricket would have assisted his role as a cricket writer, to which he replied "My word, I know what the problems are. I've failed at everything."[3]

In 1939, upon the outbreak of the Second World War, Arlott became a member of the Southampton Police, which later merged with other forces to become the Hampshire Constabulary.[1] He progressed to the rank of sergeant, while stationed at Southampton.



On VE Day, 1945, he made a public address to George VI which attracted the attention of the BBC,[2] and of John Betjeman, who became a mentor for Arlott's poetic ambitions.[1] Arlott immediately joined the BBC as the Overseas Literary Producer.

He was asked to commentate on the warm-up games of India's tour of England in 1946.[2] Arlott's commentary "went down very well in India" and he was thus awarded the entire tour to commentate on, including the Test matches. He experienced some resentment from his colleagues in the commentary box at first – clashing with EW Swanton – however, he rapidly found his niche.[2][3]

Test Match Special

Prior to 1957, BBC radio covered every home Test match, with Arlott normally one of the commentators, but it did not broadcast uninterrupted ball-by-ball commentary. Test Match Special (TMS) was launched on 30 May 1957, providing a full ball-by-ball Test Match commentary service on the medium wave service of the BBC Third Programme. The first match covered was the first Test between England and the West Indies at Edgbaston. The commentators were John Arlott, Rex Alston and E. W. Swanton, with Ken Ablack from the West Indies.[4] When he retired after the Centenary Test against Australia at Lords in September 1980, he was the longest serving TMS commentator (since equalled by Brian Johnston in 1993 and subsequently exceeded by Christopher Martin-Jenkins).[citation needed]

Television commentary

Arlott undertook some BBC television cricket commentary, primarily on the Sunday League in the 1970s. These John Player Sunday League limited over fixtures were 40 overs a side, and were usually played between 2.00pm and 6.30pm. Arlott commentated on the first 20 overs of each innings with Jim Laker usually covering the last 20. He also briefly wrote, directed and narrated a topical local series for the BBC called ABC of the South in the 1960s but radio was his true metier.

His final Test

Arlott commentated on his final Test at Lord's in 1980, between England and Australia during the Centenary Test. Following an announcement to the crowd, a standing ovation occurred involving both the spectators and the players of both teams, which continued when he presented the Man of the Match award to Kim Hughes.[1][2]

Working abroad

In 1948, he travelled to South Africa and openly voiced his distaste for the country's apartheid policy.[1][2] When completing an immigration form, which required him to declare his race, he wrote "human".[5] Upon returning to England, he became an ardent supporter of Basil D'Oliveira in the latter's efforts to come and play in England.[2] D'Oliveira would later come from Cape Town to play for Worcestershire.[1] Arlott also visited Australia across the winter of 1954-55, where Len Hutton retained The Ashes, however Arlott otherwise commentated exclusively in England.[2]

Writing and journalism

Arlott was a stylish writer, contributing regularly as a journalist and also writing the occasional hymn. As his interest in wine developed he wrote a couple of books on that subject, he also wrote poetry, considering his best poem to be the one dedicated to Sir Jack Hobbs on the latter's 70th birthday.[citation needed]

His career in journalism began with the Evening News in 1950. In 1955 he switched to the News Chronicle, where he stayed until the paper folded in 1960. He began reporting football matches for The Observer in 1958. He also wrote occasional articles for The Times.[6]

Arlott joined The Guardian in 1968 as chief cricket correspondent, where he would stay until 1980.[2] He was also asked to comment on football matches. He was assigned at his own request to cover the Manchester United v Red Star Belgrade European Cup match in Yugoslavia. At the last minute their chief soccer correspondent Donny Davies pulled rank and decided to go instead. The aircraft bringing back the team, officials and press crashed in what became known as the Munich Air Disaster.[7]

Well-versed in cricket history, Arlott was often viewed as a leading authority, especially on the literature of the game. He wrote annual reviews of the year's cricket books for Wisden for every year from 1950 until 1992, except for 1979 and 1980. He also wrote a well received appreciation of Neville Cardus for the 1965 edition.[2] He wrote articles on cricket art and history for the encyclopaedia Barclays World of Cricket.[2]

He had many books published, including: Of Period and Place, a book of poetry (1944); Indian Summer (1946); Concerning Cricket (1949); Maurice Tate (1951); Test Match Diary (1953); Vintage Summer (1967); Fred - Portrait of a Fast Bowler (1971); A Hundred Years of County Cricket (1973); John Arlott's book of cricketers (1979); Jack Hobbs: Profile of the Master (1981) and Basingstoke Boy : The Autobiography (1989). A Word From Arlott and Arlott In Conversation were published in 1983 and 1984 respectively as collections of his commentaries and writings.


Arlott was a Liberal in his politics. He unsuccessfully stood as Liberal candidate for Epping in 1955 and 1959.

Presidency of the Cricketers' Association

He was an advocate of county cricket and its players. He became President of the Cricketers' Association in 1968, which aimed to raise salaries and improve the conditions of employment of the county cricketer. Wisden noted that "democratic views and wise counsel earned him much respect in the cricket world and among the players. His moderation and tact helped in some tight corners, notably at the time of the Packer Affair, when he strove to keep the Cricketers' Association neutral."[2]


He was appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire in the 1970 New Year Honours.[8] He was made a life member of the MCC in 1980.[2] His contribution to British radio is commemorated in The Radio Academy's Hall of Fame.

Commentating style

Arlott was a popular commentator partly due to his gift for poetic phraseology. The BBC commented that "the style of commentary owed much to the poet in John. He would relish the phrases he used to describe what he saw and leave his colleagues wishing they could have thought of them,"[1] while Wisden wrote: "it is his unique gift for cricket commentary which will bring him lasting fame... His commentary technique was strongly influenced by his poetic sense. With the economy of a poet he could describe a piece of play without fuss or over-elaboration, being always conscious of its rhythm and mindful of its background. He was never repetitive or monotonous, except for effect. The listener's imagination was given free rein."[2]

One comment often noted was made in 1975, to describe a shot by Clive Lloyd as "the stroke of a man knocking a thistle top off with a walking stick."[1] On England's 1948-9 tour to South Africa, the England captain George Mann was bowled by his namesake Tufty Mann. Arlott memorably described it as "a case of Mann's inhumanity to Mann".[9]

He also had the advantage of a distinctive voice. Frank Keating wrote of his "articulate, leisurely, confiding countryman's burr". Keating also compared his stature as a radio journalist with Richard Dimbleby and Alastair Cooke.[10]

The Master's Club

John Arlott had become a friend of Sir Jack Hobbs. His admiration and respect led him to arrange a lunch to mark his birthday on 16 December. The first lunch was held in 1953 at the Wellington Restaurant, next door to Sir Jack's sports shop in Fleet Street, and was attended by Kenneth Adam (BBC) and Frank Lee (Somerset) in addition to Sir Jack and Arlott. It became an annual event, with an expanding guest list, and a few years later was formalised as the Master's Club. Additional club meetings were held as well as the annual birthday lunch.

Membership of the club increased over the years, and the annual lunch was eventually moved to the Committee Room at The Oval.[11] Despite the death of all of the original members, the club continues to meet for lunch every year on, or close to, Sir Jack's birthday. The lunch always consists of Sir Jack’s favourite meal: tomato soup, roast lamb and apple pie.[12]

Personal life

Arlott was married three times. First to Dawn Rees (married 1940-divorced 1958) - there were two sons, Jim (1944–1965) and Tim (born 1950). Secondly to Valerie France (married 1959 - died 1976) - one son Robert, (born 1963) and finally to Patricia Hoare (1977–1991) who survived him.

Arlott's son Jim was killed in a car accident on New Year's Eve 1965, driving home late at night from Southampton in a sports car which Arlott had helped him acquire. Arlott always wore a black tie in remembrance of his son.[13]

On retirement, Arlott moved to The Vines on Alderney in the Channel Islands, where his health deteriorated due to chronic bronchitis. He died in his sleep in the early morning on Saturday, December 14, 1991. He was buried on Alderney - engraved on his headstone in the cemetery were two lines from one of his own poems "So clear you see those timeless things, that, like a bird, the vision sings."[citation needed]

Anne, Princess Royal, as President of the Rural Housing Trust, gave a Reception at Buckingham Palace on February 10, 1993, to launch the John Arlott Memorial Trust in conjunction with the National Playing Fields Association. The idea of remembering Arlott by creating a fund to provide affordable village housing and recreational areas in some of England's 8,000 villages came from Moira Constable, chief executive of the Rural Housing Trust. It is now a national charity chaired by newscaster Sir Trevor McDonald. It contributes towards projects to improve the quality of village life, in particular it aims to create affordable housing and recreational facilities. The annual charity dinner is sponsored by the Rioja Wine Exporters Group.[citation needed]

A family authorised Biography of Arlott, by David Rayvern Allen, was published in 1993 and won the The Cricket Society Jubilee Literary Award. A second biography, John Arlott, A Memoir, written by his son Tim Arlott, was published in 1994.


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i "John Arlott, Legend of Test Match Special". BBC News Online. BBC. June 2, 2003. Retrieved 2009-07-29. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p "Profile: John Arlott". Wisden Cricketer's Almanack obituary. CricInfo. Retrieved 2009-07-29. 
  3. ^ a b Hopps, David (2000). A century of great cricket quotations. Robson. pp. 290. ISBN 1861053460. 
  4. ^ Martin-Jenkins, Christopher (1990). Ball by Ball: The Story of Cricket Broadcasting. Grafton Books. p. 182. ISBN 0246135689. 
  5. ^ Wooldridge, Ian (December 17, 1999). "How Dolly changed course of history". The Daily Mail. Retrieved 2009-07-29. 
  6. ^ Allen, David Rayvern (editor) (1984). Arlott on Cricket. William Collins (Willow books). p. x. ISBN 0006370071. 
  7. ^ Basingstoke Boy.The Autobiography John Arlott 1990 pages 279-280
  8. ^ London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 44999, p. 10, 30 December 1969. Retrieved on 9 September 2009.
  9. ^ Martin-Jenkins, Christopher (1990). Ball by Ball: The Story of Cricket Broadcasting. Grafton Books. p. 97. ISBN 0246135689. 
  10. ^ Barclay's World of Cricket - 2nd Edition. Collins Publishers. 1980. p. 136. ISBN 0002163497. 
  11. ^ Allen, David Rayvern (editor) (1984), Arlott on Cricket, William Collins (Willow books), pp 32-4, ISBN 0006370071.
  12. ^ Wisden Cricketers' Alamanack, 2000 edition, "Five Cricketers of the Century: Jack Hobbs", p12.
  13. ^ Gibson, Alan (1985). Growing up with Cricket. George Allen & Unwin. p. 171. ISBN 004796099X. 

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Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

Leslie Thomas John Arlott (25 February 191414 December 1991) was an English journalist, author and cricket commentator for the BBC's Test Match Special.


  • Cricket is the most senior, widespread and deeply rooted of English games.
    • Quoted in The Guardian Book of Cricket (1986)

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