Henry Blofeld: 78 Retired – Review – Hull Truck Theatre
By Karl Hornsey, October 2018
Henry Blofeld has earned his place in the pantheon of iconic sports commentators, so much so that his retirement from another national institution, Test Match Special, brought an outpouring of emotion and platitudes when it was announced last year. What he has also earned is the chance for this swansong theatre tour that allows him the chance to reel his way through a potted history of his career in and out of the commentary box. And he certainly didn’t disappoint the sold-out audience at Hull Truck Theatre with a selection of tales and thoughts that would fill the best part of the afternoon session of a Test match.
Of course, anyone who has enjoyed the great man’s company on TMS down the years knows what to expect. Anecdotes of jolly japes in far flung places, encounters with an array of extraordinary people from not only the world of cricket, but those of film, entertainment and royalty, and plenty of self-deprecating humour.
This monologue delivers in spades. It does, however, take a bit of getting used to. Having seen the likes of Aggers and Boycott on stage together, and indeed watched clips of Blofeld with his stage sidekick Graeme Swann (out of action at the moment and entertaining the masses on ‘Strictly’), the concept of one man launching into his life story throws one off a little to begin with. But, as he moves effortlessly from one tale to another, some in part from his most recent book Over and Out (which incidentally is well worth getting your hands on), it’s easy to lose yourself in that distinctive voice and revel in a life well-lived and thoroughly enjoyed.
“Fulsome and hearty”
Much of the first half is dedicated to two of Blofeld’s predecessors in the TMS box – John Arlott and Brian Johnston. Johnners, who transformed the show into one loved today by those whose interest in the actual cricket is fleeting at best, receives the bulk of Blofeld’s adulation. The audience gain a real sense of how the TMS baton has been passed on down the years through the safe hands of Arlott, Johnners and Blowers, to current incumbent Jonathan Agnew, and how the world would be a much poorer place had any of them not prospered in the confines of commentary boxes around the world. Never one to downplay who he is or where he came from, Blofeld is fulsome and hearty in his praise of others, especially these two titans of the airwaves.
The second half features further tales of how TMS has allowed Blowers opportunities that simply wouldn’t have existed otherwise, including a freakish and downright surreal interview with then-Zimbabwe president Robert Mugabe, some of his more baffling encounters with Australians and a number of logistical challenges touring the sub-continent.
It’s not all larks though, as he talks quite movingly about the moment he realised the time to hang up his microphone was nigh, making sure that the cricketing world was always only going to laugh with and not at him, and knowing, like any of the finest entertainers, precisely the right time to leave the fray. All of which, My Dear Old Thing, makes for a very fine evening’s entertainment indeed.