Party to a cricketing confusion
- Credit: Roger Mann
Ever since my early teens, I have been intrigued by 19th century cricket.
In later years, I have added a bit more knowledge, and a fair collection of period memorabilia.
As I type this article, I do so in the shadow of a giant bust of W.G. Grace, who will no doubt be checking its accuracy!
One day in the summer of 1992, I received a phone call from Lillywhites, the famous sports store in Piccadilly.
The caller explained that its management team wanted to re-model the store’s cricket section.
The main room would be given the appearance of a cricket pavilion, and would feature photos of its founder, James Lillywhite, the first England Test Match captain.
Would I come to London to advise their architects, discuss their plans, and provide some pictures?
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Some weeks later, I found myself in the board room, above the store, facing the management team.
I was asked if I could design some Honour Boards, just like those seen in cricket pavilions. One might list England captains, another might honour those who have scored triple hundreds, but one must honour the career of James Lillywhite.
Further to that, they would like the room to be decorated with lots of interesting photographs of their founder, if I could find them.
Finally, and in confidence, I was told that the company would be launching a luxury clothing line, called 'The James Lillywhite Collection' based on cricket wear. It would feature items like highly coloured blazers, and white slacks, and would be aimed at the Far Eastern market, where traditional English fashion was becoming a status symbol.
The designers wanted the collection’s 'traditionally shaped' tie to illustrate the scoreboard at the end of the first ever Test Match in1877... won by their founder.
Nobody knows what the figuration of that board actually was, but they hoped that I could work out the most likely answer for their designer.
I was thanked for coming to London and a young man was identified as my head office contact.
When it was my turn to talk, I responded: “I will be pleased to try to complete the tasks you have set me, but, urgently, need to address one detail. Surely, you are all aware that the founder of your company was the cricketer, William Lillywhite, not his nephew James!”
There was a deathly silence before I was told: “Yes! Mr Mann, you are quite right, but it was a management decision to go with James.”
Everyone rose from their seats, and I felt it best to let the matter rest.
In the weeks that followed, I kept in touch with the young man assigned to help me and, although I sent him the information I had promised, I became more and more uncomfortable about being party to this rather unusual branding episode.
William Lillywhite was a cricket entrepreneur, who spent much of his later life working hard to found this company, while James was simply, a fine professional cricketer.
Further to that, James was only eight years old when the shop first opened!
By early the next year, the rebuild had been completed, and a date for the grand opening was set.
I was invited, and joined the press and a dozen or two cricketing celebrities, on the steps of the store, as the chairman cut the tape.
The day went well, drinks flowed, and everyone approved of the new cricket section, its honour boards, and the rainbow coloured blazers of the James Lillywhite Collection.
Later that evening, over dinner in a Soho restaurant, my young contact thanked me for the part I had played in the project, and hoped that I had enjoyed the experience.
I told him that, although I had enjoyed the work, as someone who respected cricket history, I was a little uncomfortable.
I asked him for what trite reason of convenience were generations of cricket followers going to be confused?
He could tell that I was angry, and raised one hand stop me in mid flow.
Leaning towards me, and glancing furtively around him, I remember him whispering that the reasoning was nothing sinister.
What's in a name, ay?