The Bearded Wonder AKA Ken Griffiths (1938-1943)
Recently, at Warwick Library, I attended a talk given by Brian Halford, a journalist with the Birmingham Post and Mail who reports on all the Warwickshire C.C.C. matches. Brian has written a book, The Real Jeeves and this was the subject of his talk. Percy Jeeves played cricket for two seasons for Warwickshire just before the outbreak of the First World War. Whilst playing at Cheltenham in 1913 he was seen by P.G.Wodehouse who being impressed by his immaculate conduct and appearance immortalized his name in the manservant cum gentleman’s gentleman to the upper-class twit Bertie Wooster. Jeeves would undoubtedly have played for England had it not been for the war and his untimely death on the Battle of the Somme.
In his teens Jeeves, living with his parents in Goole, and often played for The Goole Grasshoppers. a nomad side. The reporting of a match with Luddington by The Goole Times’ sports correspondent, `Spectator` reminded me of The Old Moseleians` cricket match against Bayton, a Worcestershire village on the borders of Shropshire.
The match had been arranged by Bill Baldwin, an Old Moseleian rugby stalwart, who played after the Second World War. He had left Birmingham to take up the post as Bayton’s schoolmaster. Known as Baldy, not because of his surname but because whilst still at School he had an illness which caused all his hair to fall out. He was an object of curiosity, there being no skinheads then. I can understand how he may have felt. In the early fifties I grew a beard and earned the sobriquet of THE BEARDED WONDER. nowadays beards are ten a penny.
Bill had been coach for the rugby club and devised a series of tactics with the mnemonic FRANKSCOME. Apparently it was necessary for the forwards, generally from set pieces, to get the ball to the fly half. There the ploys began. F stood for Fan Kick (by the fly half), R for Reverse, (some sort of complicated passing between the centres), A for Across Kick. (This may have been carried out by the fly half to the winger or by the winger, having received the ball kicked it across field. This is unlikely as the winger generally starved of possession would want to hang onto the ball. N stood for Nuts (another mid-field complication), K for Kick Ahead, (by the fly half). Jim Bolton the only one to play under Bill’s regime cannot the meaning of the other letters. I think E would have been for the Exhaustion of the Players.
The Bayton match took place in the Summer of 1951 or 52. In 1907 the Grasshoppers braved the journey to Luddington on the Goole & Marshlands Light Railway. The Old Moseleians travelled in various forms of transport to the Shropshire borders. I travelled with Tony Phillips in his van. At that time Tony travelled in ladies’ dresses and the van accommodated them. The van was entered from a rear door. On either side from clothes rails hung the garments. The centre of the long side of the roof was domed to allow would- be purchasers to stand and inspect the wares. Narrow windows in the dome provided light. Syd Shaw (non player) had the passenger seat I was assigned to the interior of the van with no proper seating. Tiring of sitting on the wheel arch I would stand up and gaze through the narrow windows at the passing countryside.
We changed in an upstairs room of the village pub, crossed a road and passed through an orchard to reach the cricket ground. Thistles were being scythed from the outfield and there was evidence of recent occupation by a herd of cows. Spectator of The Goole Times’ description of the Luddington wicket would have applied here. “The match was played on a specially prepared wicket. The pitch spoke for itself. Had it not been prepared the night before, it would have appeared in all its native loveliness as the haunt of cattle. I must in fairness state that the local enthusiasts picked out the best ridge of the lot whereon to make a wicket. And it ‘played’ better than it looked, which is not saying much………………………………
On the curiosity of the wicket the ball played all sorts of tricks sometimes careering heavenward, at others buzzing along the ground in a sly attempt to crawl under the unsuspecting bat.
Our skipper, (maybe Jeff Adams or Roy Moore) must have won the toss and elected to take first knock. Batting second on a wearing wicket was not an option. Anyway W.G.Grace would have batted first no matter the state of the wicket. Early in our inning Roy Willars, who stood over six feet, was knocked to the ground by a ball which pitched and lifted vertically to hit him on the chin. Normally a ‘stonewaller’ I decided it would be better to have a slog. This I did when my time came to bat. I broke my duck but nothing else and soon returned, with a smile on my face, to safety beyond the boundary. We had tea in the pub. When we fielded Roy was given the wicketkeeping duties possibly the gloves and pads offered him some protection after his earlier misfortune. The Bayton innings passed without incident. I don’t remember the result but it wouldn’t have been a draw.
After the match we had a few drinks in the bar of the pub. Then as night fell so did the rain. A mobile ‘chippy’ pulled up outside the pub and after the inner man was satisfied we set off to Cleobury Mortimer for the Saturday night dance. As a change from the local lads, the village maidens may have preferred the city slickers even with their beery-fishy breaths and greasy fingers. Jack Grant (non player), wearing an Old Moseleians’ blazer which had red, white and black vertical stripes roamed around the hall looking for a girl whose eyes matched the colours of the blazer. At that time there were no three-eyed girls in Cleobury Mortimer, probably not even in Shropshire. At the end of the dance, whilst in the Gents standing in front of a window with a broken pane of glass, I tried to put my hand out into the night air to see if it was still raining. A jagged edge tore the flesh of a finger to the bone.
I still have the scar and bear it like the victors at Agincourt.
So ended our only match with Bayton. It was a day to remember.
Reference: The Real Jeeves by Brian Halford published by Pitch Publishing, www.pitchpublishing.co.uk