Cricketing Non-Fiction

Cricketing Biographies – James Philip

Sir Stanley Jackson captained Harrow School, Cambridge University and England in a golden epoch of English cricket. It is no bad thing to place the man and his age in perspective before the telling of his story. Our subject played his cricket in an age lost to us forever, an age wreathed in legend. F.S. Jackson was prodigiously talented in everything he chose to do; not only was he one of the game’s finest all-rounders he was a businessman and soldier who later went on to be chairman of the Tory party and Governor of Bengal, where he survived an assassination attempt in 1932.
Lord Hawke was captain of Cambridge University, Yorkshire, and England in a time when, as A.A. Thomson observed, ‘there were giants in the land’. His era is now lost to us, shrouded by the fog of war and by economic and social revolutions that would beggar the Victorian imagination. That despite everything English cricket not only survives in its traditional form, but thrives, is in no small measure the enduring achievement of three men, three eminent Victorians who devoted the greater part of their lives to cricket, and who largely determined the form in which it has come down to later generations: W.G. Grace, Lord Harris, and Lord Hawke.

James D. Coldham Series – edited by James Philip

My father, James D. Coldham, died in January 1987 at the sadly, young age of only sixty-three.  However, he had packed a lot into his life.  He was of that Second World War generation that emerged from 1945 with new hope and a realisation of how precious life was.

Dad had served in Burma and returned home in 1946 aged twenty-two with his love of cricket re-doubled and a determination – after the dislocation of the war years – to get on with life!

He found a niche working for the Crown Agents, married, brought up a family and along the way he became a well-liked, and greatly respected leading authority on the game of cricket, its history and cricketana in general.

He was a real cricket historian, fascinated by and ever curious about absolutely every aspect of the game.  A founding member of the Cricket Society and the Association of Cricket Statisticians, at E.W. ‘Jim’ Swanton’s invitation he sat on the M.C.C.’s Arts and Library Committee, built up an extensive collection of cricketana (when I was a boy I naively assumed that everybody had a complete set of Wisdens!), and he researched, and collaborated with others on great projects like E.W. Padwick’s Bibliography of Cricket, with Christopher Martin Jenkins on his The Complete Who’s Who of Test Cricketers and dozens of other books, essays and articles too numerous detail in this short piece.

In amongst it all he wrote two full-length books for publication, several monographs and a wealth of articles, essays, tributes, reviews, obituaries and notes.

Between 1970 and 1984 Dad was editor of the Cricket Society Journal, a task I think he took on with some trepidation but which he quickly grew into and that became the thing that sustained him through several years during which his health began to decline.

I do not think it is any exaggeration to say that those years were probably the happiest of his life.  In those days to stick one’s head around the door of his cricket book-lined study at the family home, Anmer, in Woking, was to peer into another world.  In that room cricket ruled!

It was a mystery to me why Dad wrote so few books but as often happens; when one buries oneself in another’s work in the way I have in the last year one gets a new perspective on well, practically everything.

For Dad ‘the work’ was research, investigating in what could be very nearly forensic detail the minutiae of past lives, old stories and basically, exploring every last tantalising nugget of each myth, legend and tall tale in order to answer the innumerable questions he was asked.  Being a ‘Mr Cricket’ was the thing, the literary products occasional expressions of his erudition and his desire to see that truth will out always trumped the straightforward production of pieces for print.

Until his retirement from ill-health he was working full-time, commuting daily from Woking in Surrey to his office a brisk walk from Waterloo Station, but even if he had had all the time in the world he would have been forever too busy to ever become just a cricket writer.  And besides, he loved literature in general, the puckish humour of P.G. Wodehouse, the mysteries of another cricket man, Conan Doyle and to expend ‘too much’ of his time writing possibly never crossed his mind.

Cricket brought him an immensely wide circle of friends from all walks of life from all over the globe.  It enabled him to meet, correspond with and become friends with men who were, frankly, among his boyhood heroes.  He had immersed himself in the game, its history, literature and traditions ever since he was a boy, and for him, that was more than enough reward.

Nevertheless, his books, his privately printed monographs and his various writings (particularly in the Journal of the Cricket Society) constitute a substantial corpus of work amounting to around three hundred thousand words of text.  Knowing this, this was where I began my hunt to rediscover my father’s work; and in many ways to re-establish contact with the father I lost over thirty years ago.

I had thought about reviving and making accessible Dad’s work many times over the years but I never actually got around to it.  But then in February 2016 my Mother died, having long ago vested in me the copyright ‘to do whatever I thought fit’ with Dad’s surviving papers and all his published works.  Belatedly, her passing flicked a switch in my head and got me moving.  In the way of things none of us is getting any younger and I came to the conclusion that ‘now’ was as good a time as any to pick up the baton and to run with it.

Dad would have scoffed at the idea of the re-publication of his writings as being in any way a ‘tribute’.  But that is what the James D. Coldham Series is; for as every writer knows one’s work ‘speaks for itself’.

In making available Dad’s writing I know it will indeed, speak for itself!

In my role as collator and editor I have ‘edited’ with the lightest of touches, faithfully re-producing, re-setting type and adopting a generally common [unabridged] presentational style across the series.

It is my intention to continue to collect and collate material (ie., articles, essays, letters, typescripts) with a view to adding the same to the collection in due course.

In this connection, I have now moved on from mining readily accessible sources (Dad’s books, monographs and articles in the Cricket Society Journal and others) to discover his other writings.

It has been suggested to me that a selection of his book reviews might be the basis for another anthology volume, likewise the countless cricketing obituaries he wrote.  I am also interested in areas such as his correspondence, and any extant typescripts I have not seen, and so on.