Sunday, 8 February 2015

The grand old Duke of Norfolk and the MCC tour of Australia in 1962-63

From the memoirs of the cricketer Ian Wooldridge.
It was the first time that most of us had met the portly, florid aristocrat...we hardly knew what to expect: he hadn't exactly sprung to mind as a front-running candidate for the job. It was a black-tie affair, of course, and none of us dared get drunk. Eventually, over the port, the Duke rose, cleared his throat and delivered himself of a sentence I shall treasure till the end of my days:
he said,
"I wish this to be an entirely informal tour. You will merely address me as 'Sir'". 
Wikipedia fills in the background to the Duke's appointment
The announcement that the Duke would manage the MCC cricket team in Australia in 1962–63 came as a complete surprise. He was a keen cricketer, who was President of the MCC in 1956-57 and was still a member of its powerful committee. He had managed his own tour of the West Indies with a Duke of Norfolk's XI in 1956-67, which had included the England players Tom GraveneyJohn WarrDoug Wright and Willie Watson, and would organise another in 1969-70. His father the 15th Duke had built the picturesque Arundel Castle Cricket Ground and the Duke hosted matches against touring teams there from 1954, a tradition continued by his wife Lavinia, Duchess of Norfolk after his death in 1975. He was not a good cricketer, even at village green level, and it was customary to let him get off the mark before he returned to the pavilion. At Arundel the umpire was his own butler, who when he was out would diplomatically announce "His Grace is not in". The Duke was chosen after a chance remark while having drinks after a MCC Committee meeting. Billy Griffith was the prime candidate to manage the tour, but he had just been appointed the Secretary of the MCC and needed to remain at Lord's to oversee the change from the old divisions between amateurs and professionals that had been decided that autumn. The Duke offered his services when it was mentioned that the new captain Ted Dexter would be difficult to control. Like Dexter the Duke was a keen follower of horse-racing, and as President of Sussex County Cricket Club he was often at Hove and Arundel and had appointed Dexter county captain. When his appointment was announced it was joked that only a duke could manage "Lord Ted". In those days the MCC tour was seen as a social event.

In England the 1950s were intended to be a return to the 1930s and the early 1960s were a continuation of this. The 1960s social revolution only got underway in about 1964. My grandmother and her sisters and my father, working class people with not a lot of money, all maintained that England was a much better place before the war and especially before the 1960s. It was wrong of them, as  my mother once pointed out, to poison my mind against my own era but they did. 

Nevertheless, I was convinced that they were probably mistaken about the 1930s having been better. In the 1930s, as they themselves repeatedly said, there had been real poverty in England ('There's no poverty today'). So I thought, before I came to live in Romania in 1998. Romania in 1998 had the same standard of living as in England in 1959 and many other things in common. It felt like the 1950s here and I came to see why my parents regretted the 1960s. 

The 1962-63 MCC tour reminds me of Belloc's immortal lines

For the hoary social curse 

Gets hoarier and hoarier, 

And it stinks a trifle worse 

Than in the days of Queen Victoria, 

When they married and gave in marriage, 

And danced at the County Hall, 

And some of them kept a carriage. 


But, pace Belloc, I still regret the passing of a cohesive, homogeneous, repressed England united by class distinction, jokes in common, a sense of patriotism and what Maurice Cowling called 
England's real religion, low-key respectability.
I hope and believe that that England has not completely passed, despite the politicians. 


  1. England was still civilised in 1962. In a few years everything changed.

  2. I think the England you write of is quite resilient actually.

    I suspect that most of England has now quietly decided that we have to somehow get the Muslims to leave the country, and are now equally quietly trying to think of the least nasty way to do it.


    1. ....for instance.

    2. I thought in the 70s it was dead but I was probably wrong

    3. Well the 70s was really a time of revolution. Future historians might describe it as a kind of slow-motion version of one of the 19th-century bourgeois revolutions - almost a classic class struggle. It went to and fro, and still is doing.
      Some future historian might relabel 1945-to-2015 as the "70-year struggle" or something.
      It's not clear yet who won. Will there be another proper Restoration like 1660, or will the country change in the left-wing direction?

  3. Last week I was at a dinner with the Duchess of Norfolk. At some point, we all had to briefly introduce ourselves to the other guests round the table. When her turn came, she simply started off…”Hello, I am Georgie…”. How times have changed!