Roger Mann: Collecting autographs at Torquay Cricket Festival

Roger Mann

Roger Mann - Credit: Archant

As I waited for the number 12 bus, with my brother Tony, and our friend Peter Blackmore, I had no idea that we were about to attend one of the boldest promotions of sport ever staged in Torbay.

Tuesday, September 4, 1954, was the first day of the Torquay Cricket Festival. Sponsored by Torquay Cricket Club, with the support of a £1,000 guarantee from the council, this huge gamble was to bring 31 of the world's finest cricketers to play in Torquay for a whole week!

It was 8am when we joined the queue outside the Recreation Ground.

Our mothers had provided each of us with the day's essentials in a brown paper bag. Two sandwiches in greaseproof paper, 1/- (12p today) for the entrance fee (under-13s), a banana, and, most importantly, an autograph book and pen.

At 10am, the big green wooden gate opened, and what a sight met our eyes!

Six stands circled the ground, each providing tiered wooden bench seating.

Five marquees housed the sponsors, the refreshments, the press, the bars, and the toilet block. Around 3,000 people were expected, and most would enjoy the dining facilities provided in the rugby club.

Most Read

To my 12-year-old eyes, it seemed that Lord's had come to Torbay!

We weren't worried about seats. We took out our autograph books, and headed straight for the pavilion.

Pre-match was never a good time to gather autographs. The players were staying at the Victoria Hotel, and most had walked across Abbey Meadow, carrying their kit bags. However, by the start of play, we had five names in our books... it was a good start.

Today's match was North v South. Not many families had television in those days, so we had only seen photos of these great players in the newspapers... now they were real!

At 11am exactly, the crowd held its breath. Slowly pacing out his run-up, at the pavilion end, was Frank Tyson!

All the papers were saying that 'Typhoon' Tyson was the fastest bowler the world had ever seen. Just two weeks ago, he had played his first Test for England, at the Oval, and now, here he was, in Torquay!

He started running in, accelerated, and then, in a blur of arms and legs, he hurled the ball at little George Emmett.

One bounce, and the ball flew over George's head. We looked at each other, silent and open mouthed... this would be a day to remember!

Lunchtime saw more signatures in our books, and all afternoon we had the unique experience of watching three of cricket's greatest ever wrist spinners bowling in unison.

Australians Tribe, Walsh and Dooland gave youngsters like us a once-in-a lifetime master class. I, for one, have never forgotten it.

At close of play, we checked our autograph books and we were now just two short... Tyson, who, when off the field, had stayed inside the pavilion, and Dennis Brookes who, mysteriously, had not even fielded for the North X1.

'Don't you hang about afterwards!' were our mothers' instructions, so we made our way back to the bus stop.

As we stood there, a car drew up 'Can you direct me to Torbay Road, Paignton, please?' 'Yes! We are going there too!' I replied.

'Jump in lads!' the driver said.

In the front passenger seat, we instantly recognised Dennis Brookes!

'I'm taking Dennis to see a physio,' said the driver. 'He's been at the cricket, and had an attack of lumbago!' We were almost speechless!

We gave him our autograph books to sign, and he asked for my address.

A fortnight later, a letter from one of his Northamptonshire team mates, arrived in the post.

It contained a note that said, simply: 'Sorry we missed each other, best wishes, Frank Tyson'.