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Christmas tales from the archive

A cricket scene at Dorset Square, MCC's first ground
A cricket scene at Dorset Square, MCC's first ground

As Christmas is coming and the annual events at Lord’s are in full swing, I thought it appropriate to talk about some items from the MCC Archive with a festive connection.

The first piece to feature is a letter dated 29 October 1946, from Lawrence Gilliam, Director of Features at the BBC.

Gilliam thought it would be a good idea if there was a programme broadcast on Christmas Day from Australia, which would include the MCC team who were on tour at the time. The BBC proposed a five minute feature that would include an informal description of “the Christmas scene in an Australian home” by some of the players. Yet what the BBC was not expecting was a detailed account of how the tour was going from a cricketing perspective. Probably just as well as England had found themselves 2 nil down after the first two Tests, sound familiar?

It was a great idea in principle, but thinking about it, if the England players were to participate in a live broadcast, they would have to stay up until the early hours of the morning! Not ideal if they were playing cricket the next day.

Fortunately they were not as the next Test was not until 1 January in Melbourne. The tradition of Boxing Day Tests did not begin until 1950 and even then did not become a regular annual fixture until the 1980s.

MCC replied telling the BBC that they had no objection to a recording provided the touring party were happy with it, and thus wrote to those in Australia for their thoughts.


Correspondence between MCC and the BBC

Colonel Rowan Rait Kerr, the then MCC Secretary, forwarded the letter on to Major Rupert Howard, manager of the MCC team that year, to see if himself and Wally Hammond, captain of the touring side, were interested.

Kerr believed that "it would probably be a very good thing to co-operate in this special programme". Sadly we do not have the listings to discover whether such an event took place! Things did not improve in the New Year as Hammond and co. lost the series 3 nil.

During the summer I catalogued a group of archive material acquired by Pelham Francis Warner which came to us in a Louis Vuitton trunk! Details of which are on the online catalogue. As well as photographs, telegrams and scorecards, the trunk included a Christmas card sent to Warner from the MCC team that was touring South Africa in 1956/57.


Pelham Warner's Christmas Card from the 1956/7 MCC touring side in South Africa

Indeed, touring sides would also send cards to the Royal Family, and our archives reveal that the MCC team who toured South Africa in 1948/49 gratefully received replies on behalf of King George VI.

There were also telegrams from Princess Elizabeth and the Duke of Edinburgh. The reply on behalf of the King was written by Alan Lascelles, Private Secretary to King George VI and later Queen Elizabeth II.

Another MCC tradition is the release of the annual Christmas card which this year commemorates the Bicentenary of the Ground in 2014.

Our archive holds material relating to the past design and production of these cards. An example below dates back to 1937, the 150th anniversary of MCC.


Part of MCC's 1937 Christmas Card

To commemorate the special anniversary, it was decided that a picture of the first Lord’s Ground at Dorset Square would be used, with verses of poetry by E V Lucas, a writer and humorist who worked at Punch for many years.

The poem is a prose about Lord’s establishment of MCC and the move to each of the three grounds. The great thing about this card is that the verses are still relevant today and could easily describe what happens at Lord’s now – enthusiasts still throng St. John’s Wood Road, for instance, and that the Club still ‘flings a federating girth’ around the earth with tours to places as diverse as Argentina and Uganda in the past year.

Below is a sample of Lucas’s work from the previous year’s card.


Lucas also wrote the prose for the 1938 card, which was a tribute to the cricketer and “Lion of Kent” Alfred Mynn.

Our archives contain lots of correspondence between himself and Colonel Kerr about what words he should use in the poem. The card two years previously contains some nice lines combining cricket and Christmas, particularly at the beginning where it reads:

'No matter what your figures,
How well or ill you do,
Best wishes for the Season
This card now brings to you.'

So to paraphrase Mr Lucas I’d like to offer best wishes for all seasons to all cricket’s friends. Merry Christmas!

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