It was ‘The Don’!

Mel Davies

Recently, while watching a television documentary, I found myself thinking back to the early 1930's. The title of the programme was 'Bradman: reflections on the legend' – the legendary cricketer Don Bradman, of course. Now my father was what is referred to as a 'cricket tragic'. He had two passions – his award winning garden and cricket. I often think how proud he would have been had he known that one day his great-grandson would wear the baggy green.

One of my earliest memories is of my Father sitting up well into the night, and sometimes all night, hunched over our crackling radio and puffing on his beloved pipe as he listened to the broadcast of the Test matches from England, or 'home', as my Yorkshire born-and-bred mother would have said. The radio was then called a 'wireless” and possession of a 'set' was quite a status symbol. Ours was housed in a decorative, highly polished wood veneer cabinet standing a little more than waist high (on a 'shorty' like me, anyway) which occupied pride of place in the sitting room next to my Father's padded armchair. Who back in the 1930's would have guessed that today I can go to watch the cricket holding a radio in the palm of my hand.

As a small child it had seemed to me that there must be something really extraordinary happening to demand such rapt attention from my Father. I didn't know what it was but, being the little nosey-parker that I was, I decided not to miss out. Often I would sneak out of bed and hide behind the sitting room door listening to the mellow, fruity tones of the announcer, the regular 'thwack” (of willow on leather), the latter often greeted by my Father muttering “great shot” or less frequently 'blast!' I was always eventually discovered and bundled back to bed, although very occasionally Father would persuade Mother to let me sit on his lap and listen for a little while – if it wasn't school the next day, of course.

We now know that these broadcasts were what came to be called the 'simulated Tests', with the realistic sound of bat on ball, plus appropriate crowd noises, coming not from the hallowed home of cricket, Lords, London, but from a broadcast studio in Sydney, NSW, Australia. Telegrams arrived from England thick and fast with such messages as 'Ball driven firmly between first and second slip – four – brings up Bradman's century' Someone in the Sydney studio would strike the end of a pencil on a wooden board to simulate the sound of the bat striking the ball and a recording of claps, cheers (or groans) and general crowd noise would be played. This would be put to air and the announcer, drawing on his knowledge of the game and familiarity with the venue, would deliver the news and fill in time until the next telegram arrived by chatting and creating word-pictures for his listeners. Clumsy as the procedure may seem to us in our technologically sophisticated world, believe me, it was convincing at the time.

Another childhood memory which has always remained with me is of being taken by my Father to a big open-air place crowded with people. (I was the tomboy daughter and my Father's shadow – I think he saw me as the son he never had.). I would have been six years old at the time, and unable to fully understand what was going on. However, I'd been given a usually forbidden treat – a bright pink all-day-sucker – and promised an ice-cream if I was 'good' so, perched on my Father's shoulders (to escape the crush of the immense crowd, later estimated to have been in the vicinity of a hundred and twenty thousand people) I licked contentedly.

Suddenly, there was a roar of voices. Everyone turned towards a gate opening on to a large grassy space. A pathway was being cleared through the crowd. What was about to happen? I'd been taken to the circus a few weeks earlier and perhaps I might have thought that the clowns were about to appear – or the pretty lady on a white horse – or even the elephant. Then a small man dressed in white and waving what looked like a fence paling aloft came trotting through the gate and the crowd grew even wilder. I can remember wondering what the fuss was all about. I went back to licking my all-day-sucker. My Father told me years later that at this stage I announced in a very clear voice that I wanted to go to the toilet. He also told me who that man had been.

The year was 1932, and the small man dressed all in white had been Don Bradman, marching out to face the Poms, as the English were irreverently called in those days. And here he was again on my television screen, in 2004, trotting through that very gate on to the Sydney Cricket Ground. I looked for myself sitting on Father's shoulders, sucking a lollypop. I wasn't in sight, but I remember being there.