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Henry Blofeld: 78 Retired, Market Drayton Festival Centre - review

Entertainment | Published:

Henry Blofeld, who has broadcast cricket commentary live to an audience of a hundred million, faced an admittedly smaller but no less enthusiastic crowd in a packed-out Festival Centre.

Blowers with local fans Stuart Holloway and Lynda Jones

“Thank you very much indeed, you dear old things,” he said, using his familiar catch phrase in response to welcoming applause.

After two cosy hours packed with Blofeld’s entertaining recollections and humorous anecdotes, the audience’s sentiment was likewise “Thank you very much indeed you Dear Old Thing.”

Blowers (as he was nicknamed by colleagues) is doing his Farewell Tour, which he calls ’78 Retired’, and promoting his latest bestselling book ‘Over and Out’.

Cricket terminology and tales permeate the talk, which he delivers mostly from an armchair.

It’s a splendid wing-backed Chesterfield with shiny studs running up the arms and though it was borrowed for the occasion from our local Beds to Go, it looks like they’ve grown up together.

“The best things in life are wonderful,” Blowers declared in his plummy old-Etonian voice, “But they do tend to make you fat, drunk, or pregnant.” Or laugh, of course.

Henry Blofeld with festival centre chairman Geoff Vernon

The hallmark of his cricket commentary was contextual chatter full of the wonderful things in life – and these were often the mundane brought alive through acute observation and humour between balls and between overs.

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He talked about pigeons, buses at the Oval, builders’ cranes at Lords that actually moved.

His put-downs, too, brought a smile: “Ashley Giles trundles in to bowl rather like a wheelie bin.”

The first half of ‘78 Retired’ was built around affectionate tributes to Blofeld’s early colleagues on BBC Radio 4’s Test Match Special, John Arlott and Brian Johnston.

Many other celebrities featured in passing, including Ian Fleming (who was at Eton with Blofeld, and used his name for one of his arch-villains) and Noel Coward (who taught him how to make the perfect Martini – “Pour a lot of gin into a glass and wave it in the general direction of Italy”).

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The second half focussed more on Blofeld’s personal experience.

He gave an amusing account of covering the first Test in Zimbabwe, when he was intimidated at the point of a gun by a guard in front of the world’s press corps.

He was ‘saved’ by none other than President Robert Mugabe, who lived overlooking the ground.

In the following live interview, Mugabe showed zero interest in cricket - though he finally warmed when Blofeld noticed an adjacent tennis court and switched subject.

Then came a more recent recollection of his farewell tribute from fellow broadcasters, players and cricketers at Lords after his last of almost 800 Test match commentaries.

Blowers spoke movingly of leaving the dressing room from which he himself had “slogged a hundred” in his youth; of walking through the same door as W.G. Grace; even, with raised eyebrows but not displeasure, of a colleague saying he looked like “a cross between Winston Churchill and Dame Edna.”

By John Hargreaves

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