To mark the twentieth anniversary of his death, last night the BBC screened John Arlott in conversation with Mike Brearley. It was filmed in 1984, four years after Arlott's retirement and the year after Brearley's, at Arlott's home on Alderney.
It took a sentence for Arlott to get to the heart of the matter, the centre of his life. Brearley first asked him why he had chosen Alderney. 'Well,' said Arlott in a voice rising up over the hot coals in his chest, 'the tempo here is magnificent'. Not for him a description of the views or the of the peace and quiet, but instead that connection he felt to the cadences of the place.
That was present in everything Arlott did, in the rhythm of his sentences, both spoken and written; the melancholic beats of his verse, the rise and fall of his commentary. The way that he could almost conduct a passage of Test cricket was Arlott's true talent as a speaker - 'in through the eyes, out through the mouth' as he put it - his internal sense of the rhythm of the over, and the session, and of the day and the match, all building symphonically. He confessed at one point that his favourite moments in Test matches were batting collapses, and again noted the way they produced their own momentum, fed by the noise of the crowd.
Not saying anything helped to produce that rhythm too. When he spoke to Brearley about his parents, or about the son he lost in a car accident, he paused for long periods and the camera held his face, which bore all of the iniquities of age. Its stillness, which he struggled to maintain, conveyed everything that words could not. 'No...' he said eventually. 'Let's talk about something else'.
He told Brealey that he'd had a lucky life, the son of a cemetery keeper who became a poet, author, broadcaster, friend of Dylan Thomas and Betjamin, Hobbs and Botham. 'Well, lucky in some ways...' and the camera held that face again.
They do0n't make 'em like him any more, and they don't make many programmes like this, either. You can see it here on the BBC iplayer, if you're within range. It's worth it.
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