Chocolate cake, pork pie and the greatest of cricketing contests

Yet our relationship with these cricket commentators, summarisers and analysts
is an aural one, at some times a means to a greater understanding of the
most multi-layered of sports, and at others a source of comforting patter
when the conversation turns to trivia as rain stops play. This is an
institution of BBC radio and it is an experience altogether different to
being stood in the box, where the audience’s gifts of chocolate cake are
piling up, beside a vast pork pie gilded green to replicate a cricket pitch
and decorated with figurines of fielders, bowlers and batsmen. A rather
vicious looking Swiss Army knife is at hand to divide up the rations.

It is perhaps the most important day in the English cricketing calendar, the
Saturday of a Lord’s test during an Ashes tour. Henry “Blowers” Blofeld is
on air, dressed with appropriate formality for such an occasion. His early
observations on the scene before him are unlikely to be of great help to
those listeners seeking to decipher the complexities of the game. “It’s a
lovely morning,” says Blowers. “The clouds are over the sun at the moment, a
tiny little bit of a breeze, the flags just working a bit on top of the
grandstand, the trees behind the stands not really very busy, the leaves
just moving politely, as if to say hello rather than anything more than
that? And here is Onions once more, up to Hilfenhaus and he bowls?”

He has already set about the chocolate cake, which arrived from a listener
called Marlene, who implored the TMS team to share it with their television
colleagues from Sky and Channel 4. “I’ve had an early morning dabble into
one of them and it’s absolutely delicious,” Blowers informs the audience. “I
don’t think there’s any way we are going to give it to anyone else in this
media area, we are going to scoff the whole lot our

selves.” Down on the grass below, the greatest contest in cricket continues to
unfold. Most TMS listeners are entirely comfortable with this approach to a
programme that has been on air since 1957.

The broadcasting mix has been carefully selected, the alternating commentators
– Jonathan “Aggers” Agnew, Blofeld, and Christopher Martin-Jenkins –
complementing such summarisers as the former Australian captain Ian
Chappell, the former England spinner Phil “Tuffers” Tufnell and the
notoriously grumpy Yorkshire icon Geoffrey Boycott (sadly not working today).

Sat on the end of the long desk is the former England scorer Malcolm “Ashtray”
Ashton, sat behind a wall of cricketing almanacs, a laptop loaded with
relevant data, and a set of coloured pens, ranging from red for wickets to
green for the umpires use of a television replay.

At the back of the booth stands Adam Mountford, the TMS producer for the past
two years, is sifting through emails and texts from listeners while
uploading pictures on to a photostream on the website Flickr. The
fascination with new media might jar with old school listeners, but not
Blowers who, somewhat alarmingly, can be heard espousing the joys of instant
messaging: “Twitterberry, it’s terribly exciting, it really is.”

Mountford inherited TMS from Peter Baxter, who ran the programme for 34 years.
“It’s exciting but also daunting, to take over from someone who took the
programme through some great years, with John Arlott and Brian Johnston,” he
says, referring to the much-missed “Johnners”, perhaps the most famous of
all TMS commentators.

The new producer has attracted some criticism for his modernising, with one
TMS presenter Mike Selvey leaving the show last summer after complaining
about the “laddish” style of younger commentators such as Mark Pougatch and
Arlo White, who Mountford has championed. He insists that he is not trying
to change the formula. “I was inheriting a programme loved by millions of
listeners of different generations and backgrounds,” he says. “There’s
absolutely no need to change the

programme. I just felt there was a need for just a little refresh. So I’ve had
one new summariser come in which is Phil Tufnell, other than that it’s quite
similar in terms of the personnel.”

Perhaps he was stung by last year’s criticisms. For the Lord’s test he has his
top team on duty. Certainly there is no doubting the love for the programme,
with stars such as Russell Crowe, and today’s guest David Mitchell, the
Channel 4 comedian, agreeing to come on and talk cricket with Aggers. The
guests have been booked by Shilpa Patel, the BBC’s formidable cricket
organiser, a hidden star of TMS and a ball of energy behind the scenes.

As Mountford points out, the half-hour View from the Boundary segment is one
of the longest interviews on British radio. Aggers admits he has little time
for preparation and relies on the easy conversational style that is the
hallmark of his commentary. “I don’t watch any television at all, so I’ve
never seen him before,” he says. “It’s a challenge to talk to someone you’ve
never met before for half an hour, live on the radio with nowhere else to

A former Leicestershire and England fast bowler, he says he understands the
game better now than he ever did as a player. “You are looking at a game
utterly objectively and you can see errors more easily.” TMS commentary has
taught him a “new way of appreciating cricket” and he says his job is made
easier by his belief that the audience wishes him well. “There’s no ‘I hope
he screws it up.’ They have it on because they want to listen to you and
that’s a nice place to be because you are not trying to win anybody over.”

Blowers, 69, has been on the team for 37 years. He makes no apology for his
endless descriptions of “buses and pigeons and helicopters” whenever he
diverts his gaze from the field of play. “If you look at a picture, a framed
picture, you look mostly at the centre of the picture, but if it wasn’t for

drawn at the edges and the mount and the frame it wouldn’t be a composite

A theatre performer who has performed his one-man show 100 times in the past
year, few realise Blofeld (whose family name was used by Ian Fleming for the
bad guy in the Bond movies) was once a talented young cricketer himself,
scoring a first-class century at Lord’s as a 16-year-old, before disaster
struck. “In my last half at Eton I bicycled into a bus – bad odds – and
spent 28 days unconscious. That really fucked my cricket.” Blowers!

As for the new boy, Tuffers, he’s just glad to be a part of it all. “I
remember as a boy sitting in a traffic jam going down to Brighton in the
summer with the radio on and the windows open and the likes of Holding and
Marshall playing,” recalls the irrepressible former star of I’m A
Celebrity?Get Me Out of Here! “This is probably one of the main places that
I learned me cricket. I’m honoured to be here.” Aren’t we all.

Test Match Special has ball by ball coverage of the Ashes series on BBC
Radio 5 Live Sports Extra and Radio 4 LW continuing with the Third Test at
Edgbaston on Thursday

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