Thursday, February 17, 2011

Winter Reads III - Thanks Johnners by Jonathon Agnew

'There are very few people who can reach out in the way Brian did and touch you, the individual listener,’ says Agnew. ‘It’s a tremendous skill. I think Terry Wogan is another one who has it. That’s what Brian brought to Test Match Special: intimacy.’

After my last book on the historical rise of the World Series Cricket, and before that cricket amongst a dictatorship to pick up and read the recently released story of Brian Johnson and the Test Match Special team was a turn in a different direction.

In tribute to his friend and broadcasting mentor, Agnew has written a relaxing and amusing read on his friend in, Thanks, Johnners. Like TMS, it is funny, fluid and conversational. It describes Johnston’s life, including the heart-rending story of how, at the age of 10, he watched his father drown during a family holiday to Cornwall, and the wartime heroism that led to Johnston being awarded the Military Cross. It also finds space for a potted history of Agnew’s own career as both cricketer and commentator, and his trenchant views on the sport’s burning issues: match-fixing; umpiring referrals; Twenty20.

This book is a easy going read, one for sitting down and breezing a few chapters at a time, and the back story on the rise of TMS is spliced between the story of Brian Johnson. I’m not usually a fan of books on non-cricketing people as I’m more inclined to enjoy the story from a player’s point of view, yet to hear the heart warming stories on discussions of cricket within the broadcasting box is a reminder that the simple things in cricket still remain.

There is an entire chapter dedicated to the legendary incident in 1991 when Johnston and Agnew were undone by the most famous fit of giggles in broadcasting history. Johnston was describing a curious dismissal in which Ian Botham’s inner thigh had brushed his stumps, dislodging a bail. ‘He just didn’t quite get his leg over,’ claimed Agnew mischievously. Cue Johnston, a lover of schoolboy innuendo. Erupting into uncontrollable laughter, listeners were similarly afflicted; motorists had to pull on to the hard shoulder to wipe away the tears.

Johnston died in 1994, aged 81. But during his lengthy innings on TMS – he took guard in 1970 and was still at the crease in the summer of 1993 – he was the programme’s ‘heartbeat’. He certainly knew his cricket, but, as a radio man with decades of experience as a reporter and broadcaster, his primary gift to TMS was as a communicator.