July 09, 2020
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Voice Overs

A new biography of the master

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Voice Overs
outlookindia.com
-0001-11-30T00:00:00+0553
Brian Johnston
By Tim Heald
Mandarin Rs 330; Pages 300
IT'S a good thing 'The Voice' left for the "great pavilion in the sky" before political correctness crept into Test Match Special (TMS). Else, Johnners' bawdy gift of the glib, which enabled him to call his wife Radio 4 "because she has nothing on after midnight", would have let loose all hell.

Visualise in this day of War and PC, a BBC commentator informing millions of cricket fanatics—large chunks of them women—that "the bowler's Holding, the batsman's Willey". Or that "Neil Harvey is at leg slip with his legs wide apart, waiting for a tickle". Or that chivalrous he, just threw a cake of soap to a girl drifting out to the sea. Why? "To wash her back, of course."

School reports said the boy born with the silver spoon in his mouth "talked too much". A fortune-teller predicted a life in the entertainment world. In the end, Johnston, golden tongue firmly in cheek, did both. The humour, largely suggestive, was always school boyish, and never too crude as to say "everytime I see F you see K" (a crime for which one commentator paid heavily).

Johnston should be a lesson for myopic TV networks, which think only former cricketers are sure-draws. When Rain Stopped Play (Johnners' eponymous book of anecdotes), easy conviviality took over. Purists squirmed at the non-cricketing powwows, but they couldn't deny its popularity.

As John Arlott once said, Johnston had "cracked the simple secret of broadcasting into a mike as though it were sitting at ease on a deck chair besides him rather than addressing it coolly and nervously".

Johnners would wait till his co-commentators gorged themselves on the cakes that came in before announcing they were ready to make weighty remarks. Or he would ask, "tell me, so-and-so, what do you think of such-and-such?" when they were off air.

Tim Heald packs the vintage and more, but since it's an authorised biography, a non-TMS-phile will have to wade through reams of routine to come across the ribald that made Johnston, Johnners.

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