Thursday 15 December 2011

Ceaseless time

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.


diogenes said...

thanks for that...what a voice! The thoughts on South Africa and D'Oliveira: some things do change for the better after all.

John Halliwell said...

Thank you for this, OB. I missed the broadcast but downloaded it via your link. I’ve watched it, and now have 30 days to watch it again, and perhaps again, before it expires. I found it fascinating and moving, particularly when J A talked about his family and the debt he owed them; the silences were very telling and I greatly admired Brearley’s ability to live as long as was necessary with those silences when many interviewers of less courage, and less acute sensitivity to the needs of their interviewee, might have blundered in unable to bear those agonised moments of unspoken recollection.

Reverse Swept Radio said...

It's an extraordinary interview - both for Arlott's honesty and Brearley's intelligent questioning.

Banished To A Pompous Land said...

Which range alas I am not longer in. Which is galling considering the many many years I did pay the buggers their licence fee.

Arlott was an extraordinary man and represents that kind of cricket writing that no other sport has or likely now ever will produce.