Test Match Special at 60: still a beacon of public service broadcasting

In Uncategorized on July 6, 2017 by kmflett

Test Match Special at 60: still a beacon of public service broadcasting.

To mark the beginning of the summer’s Test series at Lords on 6th July The Guardian has published an Editorial on TMS. As it rightly notes it was the paper for which John Arlott wrote so there is a long link between the two.

While The Guardian focuses on the style and tone of TMS, with a mention of Sky it only hints at the fundamental point. In a changing world with many commercial pressures TMS remains a beacon of public service broadcasting. Long may it remain so.

Below are some thoughts I wrote earlier in the season which explain at a bit greater length my thoughts.

It’s the 60th anniversary of Test Match Special. Despite obviously being ancient I have not been listening since 1957. However my listening back pages do extend nearly that long.

My late father, a Scottish communist, was a keen cricket fan- the game is full of the unlikely- and a regular listener to TMS. I have memories from the mid-1960s particularly of listening on a portable radio during summer holidays.

The specificity is important. Until relatively recent years there wasn’t that much international cricket played during an English summer and so TMS broadcasts themselves were special. To be listening at 11am on the first morning of a Test was an occasion with much of interest expected.

I went on to become, amongst other things, a research historian so I’m careful about using memory, without other sources. I do of course recall John Arlott, partly because of his distinct voice, but also because he seemed to represent a distinctive small ‘l’ liberal approach to cricket, which I felt fitted better than more ‘Establishment’ based views.

Trevor Bailey, Brian Johnston and Fred Trueman also stick in the memory, as do, a little more recently CMJ and Tony Cozier.
In more recent times the number of TMS broadcasts has multiplied and, thankfully, the team now encompasses female as well as male commentators. The point being that TMS has moved with the times, it’s not stuck in a nostalgic past, though cricket has much to be nostalgic about.

TMS of course has a certain quirkiness to it and Beard Liberation Front comments have been an occasional feature for a good while. I was privileged on at least one occasion to speak to the late Bill Frindall a recipient of several BLF Awards.

Of course the BLF stuff is light hearted, but TMS mixes the less serious with the more so very well and the current presiding officer, Jonathan Agnew, is a master at this. His nemesis Geoffrey Boycott provides a counterweight.

In 2017 it can seem that 5 day cricket is an anachronism and a programme that broadcasts it for 5 days as much so. No doubt there is a lobby to the effect.

That is perhaps why on its 60th anniversary it’s important to underline what TMS has brought to broadcasting and to the national culture more broadly. The chance to consider, reflect, laugh and sometimes feel sad over a period, rather than just the mood of the moment that is a not an unimportant aspect of how life now is with breaking news and so on. TMS suggests however that there is more to life.


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