Day I was bowled over by John Major
- Credit: Roger Mann
In an earlier article, I recalled the time that, whilst walking to school, a cricket print, in an antique shop, caught my eye.
The colourful print showed an Edwardian cricketer playing an attacking stroke, and, each morning, I stopped and stared, and wondered who “P.F.Warner” might be. Was he still alive? Was he a really good cricketer?
My cricket teacher told me that he was a former England captain, and my mother bought the print for me for my twelfth birthday.
I soon found out that it was a lithograph from a watercolour, with chalk, by Albert Chevalier Tayler, and that there were 47 more of them!
Over the next few years, I had collected them all, and, as I looked at them, I began to wonder just who these cricketers were.
Some were smiling, whilst others seemed so downcast, and I wondered why.
As I learned more about their lives, I became fascinated that some were amateurs, who were applauded wherever they played, and yet others were professionals, who, just because they came from poor families, were despised.
The two classes, even though in the same team, used separate changing rooms, stayed in separate hotels, ate separately, and, often, the professionals were not even allowed into the pavilion.
The more I learned about the history of cricket, the more I wanted to know.
An interest became an obsession, and, as soon as I was earning a wage, I began to go to the London auctions to buy more photographs and other memorabilia.
By the time the 1980s arrived, my wife was having to put up with cricket pictures in almost every room, and even the W.C. became known as the W.G.
Eventually, I had to see sense, and crammed it all into what became a Mann cave of pictures and photos of long ago cricket.
They weren’t particularly valuable, but they took up a lot of room!
Fairly soon, people, who were writing books, began to contact me for photos, and I realised that my interest might become a business too!
In the 1990s, I began to supply “The Cricketer” magazine by sending photos each week until, in 2004, life got much easier, with a computer and a dedicated website.
Then, in 2006, out of the blue, I got an email from the international publishing house, Harper Collins, saying that the former Prime Minister, John Major, was writing a book about the early years of cricket.
They were looking for someone to supply the pictures, and the captions, for the book, and had attached a bid form to be completed by anyone who might be interested.
Even though I knew that I had no real chance of getting the work against huge picture libraries like Getty Images, I still filled in the form, and sent it back.
A month later, they telephoned to say that I had been chosen!
At first, I couldn’t believe it, and then I concluded that, since I couldn’t have been the best option, I must have been the cheapest!
Six months of emails followed and, although I never met the author face to face, I got regular emails asking for my views on many questions of cricket history.
Finally, early in 2007, the book was completed, and my wife and I got an invitation to the book launch in the John Major suite, at the Oval cricket ground.
Former Tory party leaders, William Hague and Michael Howard were there, as were Tim Rice, David Frost, Mike Gatting, and a host of other celebrities.
We hovered about in the background, enjoying the atmosphere, until someone told me that John Major had asked to meet us.
As I shook his hand, his first question was “Why don’t you think Edgar Willsher bowled leg cutters?” It was something we had disagreed upon, and I extended my left arm to demonstrate my reasons. He grabbed hold of it, and laughing loudly, said “Shall we dance?”
He was an absolutely charming person, and very easy to chat to.
I told him how much I had enjoyed the characters in his book, and, just before we parted, he asked “And who’s your favourite character of them all?”
I thought for a moment, and the years flashed before my eyes before I replied “It would have to be P.F. Warner!”
“More Than a Game” was a best seller. It is a wonderfully easy read, and it is still available from Amazon, or signed copies can be bought from Abebooks.