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England Down Under in the 1950s

MCC's touring party to Australia in 1958/9
MCC's touring party to Australia in 1958/9

The England team popped into Lord’s prior to their departure for their 2013/14 tour to Australia, and I thought it would be a good idea to revisit past tours to the continent.

Immediately I found some intriguing files and unusual documents in the MCC Archive from the 1958/59 tour Down Under, which gives an insight into how overseas tours once operated.

Unlike today, England, travelling under the MCC banner, arrived in Australia by ship on the SS Iberia.

The perks of being the captain, as Surrey's Peter May found out, was that he got a single cabin as well as his own bath, while Assistant Manager Desmond Eagar reserved a shower in his own cabin. The rest of the touring party were not so fortunate and had to use the communal showers on board the vessel.

Lay off my boy!

Yorkshire spin bowler Johnny Wardle was initially meant to go to Australia but was dropped due to articles he proposed to write criticising his county. MCC’s decision to omit Wardle was met with a barrage of letters of complaint, including one from Wardle's mother.  

In the letter Mrs Wardle criticised the MCC Committee for not giving Wardle a chance to defend himself and notifying Wardle of their decision before he played a County Championship match.

angry mother

Part of Mrs Wardle's letter to the MCC Committee

Interestingly, she refers to her son throughout in the third person, referring to him as ‘Johnny Wardle’ rather than, ‘my son’ or ‘my boy’.

Despite Mrs Wardle’s plea, in which she states: 'Even the worst criminal is given a fair trial before being sentenced', MCC stood firm on their decision and Wardle did not travel Down Under.

Those who did first had to ensure that they were dentally fit to attend the tour, and thus the files contain letters from all of the player’s dental surgeons confirming that their teeth were in good working order. The contracts the players signed are all included in the files we hold, as well as details of their hotel expenses.

The birth of 'Fines'

The next item I came across is entitled the 'Saturday Club Night memorandum'.

MCC decided that there should be one evening per week, known as the 'Saturday Night Club', dedicated to team bonding during the tour and so the famous touring tradition of 'fines' was born.

One player had to be a chairman, another was in charge of the accounts, and an appeals committee of two was established.

Another major rule was that cricket was not to be discussed. A barman was appointed and his duties were to make sure no member’s glass was empty and to provide snacks wherever possible.

saturday night club

An excerpt from the MCC's 'Saturday Night Club' rules

The meetings were financed by a multitude of fines, that ranged from not attending the meeting to drinking with the right hand!

In all there were nine different ways a player could be fined. Will this be revisited by Alastair Cook and his team for the current tour?

A Tour to forget

Sadly, England lost the series 4-0, thanks in part to the efforts of Australia captain Richie Benaud.

The MCC Secretary at the time, Ronnie Aird, had to deal with a lot of complaints about the team’s performance – I would be surprised if the current Secretary of MCC receives any complaints nowadays.

In his report to the Committee after the tour, May was proud of the team and could not fault them for their efforts.

He reserved special praise for his vice-captain Colin Cowdrey, describing him as a 'tower of strength' and recommended that the Yorkshire bowler Fred Trueman should receive an extra bonus.

Both the captain, May, and manager, Freddie Brown, believed that the umpiring during the Tour was substandard. Brown was also none too impressed with the Australian bowlers, saying that six first-class players in Australia had suspicious bowling actions. 

Once they had handed in their baggage claim forms, the team received a memento of the Tour from MCC as a thank you for their efforts.

May remained captain of England until 1961 while Brown did not manage another overseas tour, yet he later managed the Rest of the World team against England in 1970 and was President of MCC from 1971 to 1972.

Watch the video - Down in the MCC Archive

What is in the MCC Archive?

Work on cataloguing the MCC Archive, held next to the Ticket Office at Lord’s, commenced in March 2012 as part of a wider Documentation Project.

So far over 45% of the material held in the archive has been catalogued.

This has included minute books, scorecards, plans of the ground and surrounding areas, personal papers of past Secretaries of MCC, deeds relating to the ground and surrounding properties, touring files, audio interviews with famous cricketers and personalities past and present, cash books and scrapbooks belonging to famous figures within MCC such as Gubby Allen and Sir Pelham Warner.

Around 1,400 of over 2,250 cataloguing entries of archival material are currently available to view online at, through the online catalogue, which also contains details of our Museum and Library collections.

As the cataloguing has progressed we have been able to open our collection up to Members and researchers, and as a consequence we have now had more visitors than ever before.

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